Splitsider

Monday, July 28th, 2014

The Golden Age of CB Radio, by Aboubacar Ndiaye

tenfourgoodbuddyYou may not know, it but for the past ten years or so, we have been living through a new golden age in the world of CB radio. Forty years ago, you could turn on your CB Radio, screw around with the dial a little bit, and listen to Big Cocker Jackson, Dakota Bull, and Ted Trouble 324 at their raucous, salacious best. Jellybean would come on at night and rill the boys up, and tell us about this or that strip club, and this or that truck stop, where the girls were easy and the beer was cheap. But then the '80s came with its media consolidation and government regulation and the shows of yesteryear faded away. For 20 years, there was Rush, Howard, and Sean, and we forgot about those halcyon days when radio was radio.

But something happened in the new millennium: out of nowhere, these small CB stations, who had remained independent, bucking the FCC rules, making money on subscriptions and donations, started producing dark, moody radio dramas. Johnny Tapper’s Jukejoint started it all. It was the story of a sheriff in a small town on the Mexican border who smuggled in immigrants and drugs on the side. No one had ever heard the kind of multi-layered storytelling, psychological depth, and macabre humor offered by this show. The radio press, who had long looked down on CB, began writing up the show, dashing off paeans to its tortured, Janus-like lead. Willa Stanley, writing in Radio News, called John Jukas, the main character, “an unholy distillation of all the prelapsarian myths about the American male in the West.” Emily Zoller, in On The Dial Mag, wrote that Jukejoint “was the first step forward in the annals of English-language storytelling since the Globe Theater burned down.”

Jukejoint helped spawn a heap of CB shows centered around dark, anti-hero characters. There was the Dickensian sweep of The Rods, which used the lumber trade in eastern Oregon to depict the corruption at the heart of the American Experiment. There was The Long Haul, about a despicable trucking executive who lied, bullied, and whored his way through life while struggling with manic depression. Rest Stop redefined the radio thriller genre by seamlessly marrying the chill-inducing menace of Hitchcock’s finest efforts and the contemplative nuance of later nouvelle vague films. All of these shows helped bring about the Golden Age of CB Radio we now bask in.

Creative talent from other industries began migrating to CB in the past decade as critics now talked about the medium the same way critics talked about film in the 1970s, art in the 1960s, theater in the 1950s. CB radio had become the place where Auteur Theory still reigned, where showrunners were given free creative reign over their programs. Some in the press and elsewhere started wondering whether other media industries would survive in this new environment, as more and more people forwent expensive cable packages and movie outings, and instead gathered around their vintage radios to listen to the sounds of The Appalachian Trail, a groundbreaking and sexually frank series about werewolves in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Kelassia Road, a fantasy program about a long-distance cart-puller set in a magical medieval world.

And though newer, more derivative offerings are starting to clog up the airwaves as media companies retool in this new era, let us hope that this wondrous, lyrical, and unabashedly cerebral time in CB radio never ends.

Aboubacar Ndiaye is a writer living in Chicago. 

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