It’s a lazy Sunday and I am feeling nostalgic. For those of you who were around back in the CB craze, what was your first antenna? Do you remember? Many of us radio geeks can remember our first citizens band radio. But remembering the first antenna is a bit more difficult.
My first CB antenna was…are you ready for this…a random length of 300 ohm “twin lead” TV antenna cable! It was the summer of 1976 and I was 12 years old. More than anything else, I wanted a CB. My parents were the type who didn’t just “give” their kids stuff. They made you earn it. At the time, I thought this was really mean and “unfair.” Now, of course, I’m glad they brought me up in this manner. As soon as school was out, I began doing odd jobs. Mowing lawns, washing cars, weeding gardens, etc. Whatever I could do to earn enough money for a CB by the end of the summer. This was my goal.
By the end of August, I had $100. This was just enough to purchase a Midland 13-882C from Target. The price on this radio had been $139.99, but they dropped it to $99.99 for one week only. On the last day of the sale, I showed up with a big wad of $5 and (mostly) $1 bills to purchase my new radio. I was thrilled! One small problem, though: in order to operate it from my room, I also needed a base antenna and a power supply. I could afford neither. What to do now?
I spotted an old car battery in the garage. I knew I could get the required 12 volts by hooking my new CB directly to the battery. My parents wouldn’t let me bring it in the house because of fears that it would leak acid. I soon found their concerns were warranted. So, the garage became my “radio room.” Since this battery was near the end of it’s life (which is why it was sitting in the garage), I found and connected the battery charger in parallel. I quickly learned to only charge the battery when I was NOT transmitting. Otherwise, everyone was treated to a nice “buzzzzzzzz” noise underneath my voice. Now, for the antenna:
We had recently replaced our VHF rooftop TV antenna and cable. The old antenna and about 50 feet of twin lead were sitting in the corner of the garage. I twisted the wires on one end of the cable so that it would fit in the center hole of the radio’s SO-239 connector. Wrapped plastic electrical tape around the wire and SO-239 to get it to stay in place. Then, I ran the flat cable out the window, across the patio, and tied the other end to a deck support pillar. Somehow, it worked! Not very well, but good enough to hear all the CB’ers in my immediate area. Back in 1976, that was quite a few CB’ers! Even more amazing was the fact that I transmitted this way for nearly a month and did not destroy the radio’s finals! The Midland had an AWI (antenna warning indicator) lamp that lit up when the SWR was more than 2:1. Sure enough, it became bright red every time I keyed the mic! The reflected power level was so great that I barely showed 1 watt transmit power on the built-in meter. That was one tough little radio!
I continued to mow lawns and work on the weekends. A few weeks later, I came across a cash windfall when Dad asked me to help paint at one of his rental properties. This allowed me to earn enough money to buy a REAL antenna: a Radio Shack Archer 1/4 wave ground plane, then selling for the princely sum of $12.95 plus tax. It also bought 40 feet of RG-58/U coaxial cable, a 10′ steel antenna mast, and an eave mount. My father and I completed the installation the following weekend. I thought that little antenna was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen! I could now talk back to ALL the people I heard…and they could hear me! I could be heard all over town. Plus, that little red lamp on the front of the radio didn’t light up anymore when I keyed the microphone. The watt meter now swung all the way over to ‘4.’ I had arrived in the CB world as a legitimate operator. Life was good!