Walkie Talkie Xmas

archer_walkie_talkie_02Christmas of 1976 was the best yet! I got a set of walkie talkies!

Man – I loved everything about those things: the cool, textured feel off the new plastic case, the slight oily, mechanical smell of the walkie-talkies themselves, the smell of the styrofoam case in the box – even the plastic bag and the little instruction manual. Looking back on it now, it almost sounds like I had some kind of adolescent plastic fetish.

I groped those little devices like they were made of pure gold. Dad could see how excited I was, and as soon as we could snap in the 9 volts, I tugged on my boots and parka and headed towards the front door. Dad stopped me, and told me a few pointers about communicating with a “transceiver” like this. The fact that it couldn’t have cast a signal farther than a block or two didn’t affect either of us: it seemed important to Dad that I understood the proper usage of terms like “over”, “out”, and “I’m reading you five by five” (which meant loud and clear, back in Dad’s Air Force days). I had studied the little booklet that came in the box, and it told me a few common terms used by Citizens Band Radio users, like “Breaker 14” (to request a chance to chat on channel 14) and “10-4” which meant “yup”.

I figured I was as expert as I’d ever be, and tromped out into the snow, with my sister not far behind. After about 15 minutes of asking each other “can you hear me now?”, Kim got bored and went inside. I decided to head down to the edge of Kingsway and try and talk to someone else.

Kingsway was always full of big semi-truck-trailer rigs, barreling along at all hours of the day and night, and me, Kim and other kids would sometimes try to get the attention of a driver. As they approached we’d always make a pumping motion with our fists – a signal for the driver to blow their horn – kind of like waving hello and asking him to wave back. I heard that the drivers were not technically supposed to blow their air horns for unimportant reasons within city limits, but this only made us want them to do it even more.

I knew that truck drivers used CB radios and that channel 14 was a common channel, so I thought I’d try to chat with some of the passing semi-truck trailers. I stood out there on the slushy sidewalk for five or ten minutes saying “break 1-4, break 1-4”, but got no answer.

Then – a response! I said “Break 1-4” and a man’s voice said “Go ahead Break”. Acknowledgement! I realized for the first time that I had no idea what to say next. I figured he was a truck though, so I asked “where are you?” but it was too late – he was gone, out of range of my meager little antenna. Still, it was incredibly exciting for me – like discovering a new planet or something.

I stood out there for the next 25 minutes, like an unsuccessful fly-fisher, freezing my toes and fingers off, trying to catch another one and repeat my success, but to no avail. The batteries had probably died by that point, as had my enthusiasm.

It was really cool to go back and tell Mum and Dad about my little radio connection. There was a kind of invisible world out there in the airwaves, where people would give each other a break.


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The memoir and family history of E. John Love