This is going to be a long long story so go get a cup of coffee or Tea, sit back... relax.. and we will begin.......
In Britain, the fight for legalisation took longer than in most other countries, because of the way the UK works. The British Government is one of the most
secretive and non-accountable in the western world. The long discredited official secrets act, which successive governments have promised to reform,
has been used for years to prevent the public from knowing what is going on.
The act puts into law the view of the British Civil Service and political establishment that everything should be secret unless it is decided otherwise. The
Americans, who already had the freedom of information act, worked on the opposite principle - nothing is secret unless it is oficially decreed that it has to
be. Most people accept that any government has to keep some things secret for sound Military or commercial reasons, and do not argue with this.
But in Britain the restrictions mean that all sorts of ludicrous things are officially secret. It is against the law to publish information like the internal
telephone directory of the home office or the number of toilet rolls used each week in the foreign office. Investigative journalists keep running up against
the difficulty of getting hold of basic information which would enable them to discover the truth. The press is then further muzzled by the rules of contempt
of court and some of the strongest libel laws in the world. If newspapers got on to anything really serious, they can be stopped by a D notice., an official
government "request" - with no explanation - preventing them from printing certain information. So little was being published about CB at one stage that
many breakers believed that a D notice had been issued over it (In fact it had not)
The beauty of this sort of system from the point of view of the government and the civil service is that it is only many years later, when the records are
finally released, that people can find out what actually happened. Until then massive mistakes can go unnoticed and all sorts of embarrassments are
concealed. The complete shambles of the British Secret Service , studded with double agents like Anthony Blunt, has only been exposed - by private
researchers who blew the whistle on the cover-ups - long after it was too late to repair its disasters, and when most of the people involved had died.
The secrecy has another advantage for the professional bureaucrats of the civil service who stay at their desks whilst politicians come and go. If they
make decisions on information which is only available to them, it is very difficult for those who disagree to put up a detailed argument against them. The
home office said its figures show CB causes serious TV interference; its view cannot be seriously challenged because no-one else has access to the
information on which it is based. Essentially you believe the home office or you don't., and there is no way of checking. Anyone who has seen the
television programme "yes minister" knows how the civil service effectively makes decisions for politicians, who all to often know nothing about the
subject they are supposed to be in control of. (there has been politicians in charge of British roads who couldn't even drive)
The Radio Regulatory Department ...
In Britain the airwaves were controlled by the Radio Regulatory Department (RRD) of the Home Office, which issued licences under the government
monopoly. Until CB came along these were only granted to organisations which the civil service approved of. Huge parts of the spectrum are kept for
government communications, from the military to services like the police, fire and ambulance. (exactly who is where on the spectrum is covered by the
Official Secrets Act and could not be printed) The rest is allocated for commercial use and broadcasting. Before CB the only private citizens allowed to go
on the airwaves were licenced Radio Amateurs (Hams)
This tight control of the airwaves suited the general outlook of the RRD, which is only accountable to the Home Office; it is not known as a regulatory
department for nothing. In an island as crowded as Britain, it was argued, there was simply no room for the general public on the air, and the problems
CB would bring would be insurmountable.
With this sort of background it was not surprising that it took the government so long to give in..
The Early Days ...
It was characteristic of the British Governments attitude to CB that the very first thing they did was to ban it - at least on 27MHz. It was not so much the
government as the more far sighted manufacturers who were really responsible. British manufacturers were in the late 1960's trying to cope with the
flood of Japanese imports which were wrecking the home radio and hi-fi industry. When it was noticed that the Japanese were taking over the American
CB market, it was decided that there should be a ban on 27MHz equipment so that the same thing couldn't happen here.
The only rigs which had arrived in Britain then were a handful of low powered (100 mW) hand-held sets which did not need a licence in the States and
were being sold here as children's toys. But even these were stopped when the manufacturers wishes were put into action by the Statutory Instrument of
1968, which prohibited the making or importing of equipment designed to work on 27MHz.
A group did start CB in London using these hand-held sets, which only had a range of a few hundred yards even in ideal conditions, but was forced to
disband in the early 70's after a number of prosecutions (One member was on channel as he walked past the Radio Regulatory Departments
headquarters at Waterloo Bridge House and was caught by an official who ran out of the entrance and grabbed him)
These original breakers, known as the Charlie Bravo group, were soon re-formed into the Lima Echo group, using 23ch mobile rigs and working on
channel 14. After the CB explosion in the States their numbers began to grow. By 1977 Britain had its first pressure group, the Citizens Band Association
formed by James Bryant, and the subject was beginning to come up in parliament.
The Great Debate ...
This is the official record of a complete debate in the House of Lords about CB. It is one of the few times there has been much discussion of the subject
in Parliament. It may read like a wind-up, but it isn't. Every word is true....
Tuesday 25th April 1978
The house met at half-past 2 of the clock: the Lord Chancellor on the Woolsack.
Prayers - Read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle
RADIO FREQUENCIES: CITIZENS BAND
Lord Torphichen: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the question which stands in my name on the order paper.
The question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesties Government whether they intend to allocate radio frequencies for Citizens Band use in this country, and whether this is to be
included in the brief for United Kingdom delegates to the World Administrative Radio Conference (WARC) in Geneva in 1979.
Lord Wells-Pestell: My lords, we have no plans to introduce Citizens Band Radio in this Country. The World Administrative Radio Conference to be held
in Geneva in 1979 is concerned with the allocation of frequency bands in broad terms. International radio regulations do not distinguish Citizens Band
Radio as such; it is just one of the services coming under the general category of mobile radio, and the allocation of frequencies for such a service is
therefore a matter for national action.
Lord Tanslaw; My Lords, is the Noble Lord aware that he has given a rather depressing answer? May i ask the noble lord whether he would not agree
that Citizens Band frequencies that could me made available are lying unused already in this Country? Secondly, would the noble Lord not agree that a
Citizens Band radio could make a great contribution to civil defence in times of National Emergency?
Lord Wells-Pestell: My lords, my understanding is that there are no bands that are available. Some of the bands that noble Lords may well think available
are used, i am informed, for important and essential Government purposes. Perhaps i had better leave it at that. With regard to the other noble Lord, it is a
matter of opinion whether Citizens Band radios would serve the useful purpose they are alleged to serve. If one looks what is happening in the United
States of America, one can recall not that very long ago one of their major motorways was being held up and all the traffic diverted because somebody
using a CB radio gave an instruction that it was dangerous to go along there. It could be used for all sorts of purposes. His Royal Highness the Duke of
Kent was responsible for a committee which has sent a report to the Government. The Government are looking at that report, and if it has anything to say
that will be helpful they will say so in due course.
Lord Tanslaw; My Lords, the Noble Lord mentioned the United States. Is he also aware that the Chief of Police in Ohio admitted publicly that through the
use of CB Radio at least 500 lives were saved during the great blizzard?
Lord Wells-Pestell: My lords, we are a much smaller Country and there is no reason to suppose for one moment that the facilities we have here at the
moment and those which we use in times of national disasters are not adequate. We think they are.
Lord Harmer-Nichols; my Lords, the noble Lords said that certain wavelengths were being reserved for essential Government purposes? Are they being
reserved unused , or are they being used? Are they used for rehearsals or for practice in case an emergency arises,or are they just being left and not
used at all?
Lord Wells-Pestell: my lords, I would not say they were being used 24 hours a day , but they are in fairly continuous use.
Lord Torphichen; my lords, is the noble Lord aware that one of the problems in parts of Scotland this last winter was lack of communication? Some
farmers were reduced to making signs in the snow in order to attract attention of the helicopter police, because the telephones were down and they had
no other means of communication?
The Earl of Cromartie; my lords, May I support my Noble friend on this...
Several noble lords.. Order, order
Lord Wells-Pestell: My lords, would the noble Earl be good enough to give way? I have to follow the rules of the house , which means I have to reply to
one noble lord at a time. What the noble lord said may well be so, but I think we have seriously to consider the disadvantages of having a vast army of
people who can communicate with each other very easily, given perhaps the hoaxes that are known to exist in America and on the continent in regard to
all sorts of other things. We have to consider those disadvantages with the advantages to which the noble lord has made reference.
The Earl of Cromartie; my lords, may I ask the minister whether he is aware that during the recent blizzard British Rail lost two trains? Luckily there was
no loss of life, but had they had these communications they would have been found. The second train was sent out to find the first.
Lord Wells-Pestell: If British Rail with its vast network of stations can lose two trains, i dont think anything can help them.
Viscount St Davids; my lords, I do not think that society takes very kindly to people who feel they have liberty to rob, plunder, rape and do all sorts of
things. (I dont personally get this statement)
Lord Wynne-Jones; my lords, is my noble friend aware that British Rail have very considerable experience in losing trains?
The debate ended at 2.43pm
Editors Note; Lord Wells-Pestell is former chairman of Wireless for the bedridden, a charitable institution.
The National Electronics Council Report
Again it was the manufacturers, rather than the government, who first saw what was happening. By this time their earlier efforts to prevent the Japanese
take-over of the hi-fi and TV market had failed, and public attention had moved on to the collapse of Britain's motor industry under Japanese and Foreign
competition. The National Electronics Council was commissioned to have a look at the possible future in Britain.
The NEC, which was chaired by the Duke of Kent and included most of the major manufacturers, came out in favour of CB - but not on 27MHz, because
of the problems that frequency caused. Instead its report, published in May 1978, recommended that a "High Quality form of Citizens Band Radio should
be established in the UK, operating between 100 and 500MHz" It estimated a very large market in Britain, worth around £45 million a year, with a potential
of £300 million, and 3 million sets in the Country (The politicians never accepted this figure)
The report predicted that CB on 27MHz would probably disappear altogether;"it is highly likely that other countries at present using 27MHz for CB would
have to dis-continue the service or make alternate allocations at other frequencies ", And it floated the idea of Britain taking a world lead by adopting
something different. "the manufacture of a well-designed system for home use at the present stage could well provide a useful lead in exports to
countries forced to adopt an alternative to 27MHz" was the conclusion.....
Labour says NO ...
This idea of Britain pioneering a new service was to become a constant theme running through the whole debates about CB. But for the moment the NEC
proposals were shelved. As far as the Labour government were concerned CB was "out of the question"
Labours position was summed up in a report by parliamentary consultants Charles Barker, Watney and Powell; "The three principle objections put
forward by the Home Office are that CB broadcasting would interfere with the present users of the spectrum, notably relief and rescue services. Secondly
it could open new channels of communication for criminal activities, and thirdly it would break the monopoly of the Post Office in controlling broadcasting
in the UK.
Crime was one of a number of fairly stupid arguments against CB. A lot of play was made of a spectacular bank robbery in Baker Street in London in
1971. The gang tunnelled into the vaults from a shop next door; their look-out used a hand-held rig to warn them to stop digging when people came
close. The robbery in fact was a perfect example of how CB does not work from criminals - because anyone else can listen in. A radio Ham scanning the
channels picked up the conversation, and alerted the Police. They could have caught the thieves red-handed.
When it was pointed out that CB had saved lives in America, the anti-lobby pointed out Britain wasn't a remote isolated country; and various claims were
made that in Britain you were never far away from a phone box that worked (usually by people who never had to use them) .
The idea that CB was just fun and good for what was called "general chit chat" (as if there was something wrong with that) was dismissed on the
grounds that the radio spectrum should not be used for "trivial" matters.
Most of the arguments against CB were easily swept away by pointing out that just the same objections could be made to the telephone. When its case
began to look thin, the government fell back on the other standard answer - there was no room on the airwaves.
It was not until May 1979, when the tired labour government of James Callaghan was swept away at the polls by the Conservatives that there were the
first signs of change...
The Tories and a wind of change ...
By the time Margaret Thatcher was moving her belongings into number 10 Downing Street the authorities, although they did not seem to know it, were
already beginning to lose control. CB had been given a tremendous "boost" by the box office success of the CB film "Convoy", and for the first time CB
began to get some decent coverage in the media, which devoted pages to explaining truckers "slang".
The crash in the value of the Dollar, and Freddie Laker's Skytrain, made America the number 1 holiday destination and rigs there were so cheap people
started bringing them back. CB, whether the Government liked it or not, was arriving. James Bryant, the founder of the Citizens Band Association, gave
the new Home Secretary William Whitelaw an accurate warning that unless it did something fast the Government would be forced to Legalise on 27MHz
as use was growing so rapidly.
The Tories were more sympathetic. - at least in principal - than Labour had been. In a vague sort of way, letting people onto the radio waves (providing
they didn't interfere with anything that mattered) was seen as encouraging the freedom of the individual which was a fundamental plank of Tory
And the more practical side of CB also fitted their ideas. Under Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph a ruthless programme was being put into action
to try to turn around Britain's Ailing economy. The old industries like textiles and heavy engineering were to be left to die, while the country moved into the
80's with new industries based on the microchip. The idea floated by the manufacturers - that CB represented a wonderful opportunity for the British
electronics industry - was exactly the sort of thing that appealed to the Government.
The Tories were cautious at first. The new junior minister at the Home Office, Timothy Raison, admitted three weeks after the election that the arguments
in favour of CB have some merit, but said the issue was only being kept "under review".
The Government were worried about the "regulatory, social, economic and administrative" problems CB might bring.
But this was sufficiently encouraging for an all party parliamentary committee to be set up in July 1979 to lobby for CB. The committee, headed by Pattrick
Wall (Now Sir Patrick ) , a right wing Tory, and Austin Mitchell, a Labour MP who had pressed his own government several times over CB, was a mixture of
both Left and Right, but did not attract enough MP's to give it much clout
The First House of Commons Debate ...
By the end of the year, However, it had made enough progress for CB to be the subject of an adjournment debate in the commons. Although these sound
very grand, they take place late at night and are poorly attended. They rarely make the news because by the time they finish the morning papers had
already gone to press.
The CB debate on 6th December 1979 was no real exception, but it did give CB its first decent airing in the chamber, and it did show that the government
was moving. Raison said "The argument based on personal freedom is the strong one. It is valid to suggest that Citizens should have the right to the
facility unless there are very strong reasons why not.
The trouble"he said " was the number of civil servants which would be needed to administer CB" (the government had pledged itself to cut down
government bureaucracy) Raison also thought that the usefulness of CB had been overstated (the simple idea that people wanted CB whether it was
useful or not - was still not taken seriously) and worried that CB might be used to warn motorists of police speed traps (someone at the Home Office had
obviously seen Convoy)
On one thing Raison was definite, 27MHz was such a bad frequency that it would not be allowed under any circumstances . Breakers using 27MHz
illegally were not brave freedom fighters, but were selfishly putting the community at risk.
By the time of the adjournment debate things were beginning to move in other spheres. The consumer magazine "which" had come out in favour of CB-
although again not on 27 MHz. Breakers' clubs had started springing up all over the country and various pro-CB organisations had met in November to
co-ordinate their efforts. The meeting at Wednesbury in the West Midlands, led to the formation of the clumsily named NATCOLCIBAR (NATional
COmmittee for the Legislation of CItizen's BAnd Radio) - the outside equivalent to the parliamentary committee. The meeting was a fairly uneasy one, as
not all the campaigners thought the same, but the top table was united on the fact that 27MHz was not on. Most of them did not want it anyhow, and were
certain the government would not change its mind.
NATCOLCIBAR decided to back "any frequency between 40 and 500MHz and estimated that it represented 70 clubs with a total membership of over
By the end of 1979 therefore things were looking quite bright. The government had changed its position, at least in principal, the issue was "under
review" and the CB lobby was beginning to make some impact.
If the government had acted quickly at that stage there is a chance that the breakers would have abandoned their 27MHz AM rigs as the fun of being illegal
was beginning to wear off for many.
But already it was getting too late. Throughout the first half of 1980, whilst the government pursued a leisurely course and the campaigners bickered
about alternative frequencies, sets flooded into the country. Most were smuggled in on container lorries from Southern Ireland and the Continent.
Loopholes in the law allowed other rigs to be imported as simple receivers, which were then quickly transformed into transcievers by a bit of deft work
with a soldering iron and the addition of a couple of crystals to make the transmitter section work.
Demonstrations were growing throughout the country, often locally organised and sporadic, and with varying amounts of publicity. More than 3000 letters
poured into the Home Office (one of them mine ;o) and MP's were lobbied. Many breakers were astonished how off-hand and ignorant they found their
elected representatives and were disappointed in the lukewarm media interest.
The long expected announcement did not come from the government until may, and then it showed how out of touch Whitehall was. The Home Secretary
"William Whitelaw" announced on May 6th, ""we have concluded that we favour, in principle, the introduction of a facility of this general kind. The scheme
that I am considering would, however, differ in certain respects from that advocated by those whos ideas are based on the experience of other countries
and we are proposing to call it OPEN CHANNEL.......
Open Channel..microwaves for all............
Whitelaws statement that the "open channel" document would be published within a few weeks and was about as accurate as the other government
pronouncements on CB. It did not finally appear until August, three months later, when parliament was in recess and everybody was away on holiday.
One of the few people who had grasped from the start that 27MHz was the obvious answer, and who had been actively pushing it for some time was
Disco One - Andy Donovan. Donovan had been one of Britain's earliest breakers with the Delta Hotel group, and towards the end of 1979 had started the
United Breakers Association (UBA) This now took off as the organisation representing the people actually using rigs, rather than other campaigners who
did not use CB's themselves, and were often seen (rightly or wrongly) as more interested in business or politics rather than getting breakers what they
Meanwhile attempts had been made to co-ordinate the breakers demonstrations by having one big one in Trafalgar Square on July the 6th. The demo,
complete with effigies of hanged buzbys and banners from clubs all over the country, revealed how the "official" campaigners for CB were getting
distanced from the people they were meant to be representing. At Trafalgar Square the platform speakers kept insisting that 27MHz was out of the
question, and urging the alternative frequencies they favoured. The crowd started calling for a Pro-27MHz speaker, and partially for Disco One. There was
chaos on the platform as people tried to prevent him getting the microphone and brought the meeting to a hurried close. Disco One finally got on the mic,
only to find himself in direct competition with the band singing the CB song "CB independence". Struggles broke out and the whole affair ended in
shambles, with a free for all for the one microphone that was still working and a hurried retreat to hand in a huge petition to 10, Downing Street.
But although the official campaigners for CB were still against 27MHz they were getting more and more alarmed about the faith they had placed in the
Open Channel - a discussion document ...
When the discussion document was finally published, their worst fears were confirmed. Behind the scenes there had been a lot of work done by the
Radio Regulatory Department. At the end of 1979 a series of tests had been carried out on the extremely high frequencies of 900MHz and 1300MHz to
see whether these provided the answer that the Home Office liked. They Had.
The discussion document - or "green paper" as it became known was the climax of the attempt by the Home Office to close its eyes to the reality of CB in
Britain. By the time it was issued experts estimated that there were 250,000 people on channel, all on 27MHz, and they were not impressed by what the
government had in mind.
The document, entitled "Open Channel - a discussion document", was odd in several ways. It was printed with a green cover which gave people the
impression that it was a proper green paper. Green papers are discussion documents, issued to show what the government is thinking it might do, so
that all interested parties can make their views known early on. They are followed by "White Papers", which show what the government has actually
decided to do, and then by the legislation itself. But although "Open Channel" had a green cover it was denied that it was a proper green paper.
It was also curiously hard to get a hold of. Although Whitelaw had said that he wanted to take into account the public reaction, the document could not, like
other government documents, be bought over the counter. You had to write to the officer in charge of the Home Office's supply and transport branch at
Caxton, an obscure Hamlet near Cambridge.
The document explained why 27MHz was out of the question. The frequency was already allocated to other services, including hospital paging systems
and people who flew model aeroplanes. It added, "Moreover other services outside the band - such as broadcasting, emergency services
communications, old peoples alarms and aircraft landing systems - can be affected by illicit 27MHz transmissions. In recent months there had been
proven cases of interference to a hospital; paging system and to Police and fire service communications, and a significant number of model aircraft had
been driven out of control with a clear risk to members of the public.
It was true that 27MHz CB had caused a few instances of interference, but not that this was widespread. Radio modellers had been given another
frequency anyhow, which they were moving to, and the reference to the hospital paging systems only applied to one case. (These systems too had an
alternative frequency on 32MHz) At least one Major Hospital, ironically, had switched back from 32MHz to 27MHz because of the amount of TVI that 32MHz
The second objection to 27MHz was that "certain technical characteristics of the band made it possible to communicate over long distances - even
internationally - particularly if amplifying equipment (which increases the potential interference) is used". This referred to Skip and the use of Linears or
"burners". This objection was thought by most of the campaigners to be to be more reasonable. Linear amplifiers had started appearing and causing a
lot of trouble, not just by causing interference to non CB'ers, but also by wiping out great segments of the channels for other breakers. Several clubs by
then had started policing their own areas to try to get the really big burners off the air, and most people anyway had smaller ones and were waiting until
late at night before they "threw the switch".
Then the public were told what the government was considering. Citizens Band was out because the British system would be different. To continue to
refer to such a new service as "citizens" band is.. Misleading.. It was stated so it would be called Open Channel.
928 MHz ...
The government had not even bothered to look at 27MHz. Instead it had carried out a detailed examination of the spectrum between 68 and 960MHz and
come up with the solution of "around 900MHz". This, it had been decided, was the only suitable frequency band (frequencies this high became known as
the "microwave oven"frequencies, and there were suggestions that they were dangerous)
Even though it was admitted that the range would not be as good as at lower frequencies - a massive understatement - the government was certain that it
would be good enough.
"Bearing in mind the ranges required to meet the claimed social uses of open channel, we regard the performance obtainable in the 900MHz band as
satisfactory, it declared. The paper flatly stated that breakers would probably not want to broadcast more than 2 -3 miles and that the maximum range that
would be needed in favorable conditions would be 10 miles. The 928MHz tests used a transmitter with an antenna height of 4 meters, or 13 ft (much
longer than mobile rigs would be able to manage) with a 4 watt transmitter the range in towns, suburbs or broken country was at best 6 kilometers (4
miles) and might be as short as 2 1/2 kilometers (1 1/2 miles). In flat open countryside the range might go as high as 10km (6 miles), but since the
signal was attenuated by objects as small as trees, it would not take much in the way of cover or relief to chop the range down again. The tests on the
higher frequency of 1300MHz, which the government also considered, showed an even smaller range , as low as 600 meters among city buildings.
Among semi-detached houses in Wanstead, East London, the range was only 300 meters. These tests used transmitters of very low power, but they
show just how short the range is on very high frequencies.
A very high frequency like this had been discussed in other countries, including America, as the answer to the CB interference problem. But the British
government did not seem to grasp - or certainly did not emphasize - was that this frequency was only seen there as an additional to 27MHz, and not as an
entire replacement which was what was being suggested for us. Then there was the old idea that somehow British industries could grab the lead from
Japanese and South Koreans - especially if 928MHz did catch on elsewhere. The introduction of Open Channel would create a new manufacturing
opportunities, which the government was confident British industry would grasp (laughable really)
The breakers use the post ...
The document harped on the problems of CB and dealt with the advantages in one sentence. It caused an uproar, nobody liked it. Whilst 900MHz and
above might be all very well in theory, it was really nothing to do with CB. James Bryant of the CBA pointed out quite rightly, "the range will be minimal and
the cost astronomic". He estimated a 928MHz set would cost over £400, even on the Home Office calculations, and the range in cities would only be a few
hundred yards. Another campaigner described it as about as much use as "two cocoa tins and a piece of string", and it was generally concluded that it
would work on the basis " if you can see me you can hear me".
But the green paper also "blew a hole" in the "official" campaign for CB. Most of the committees had been trying to get the government to accept a different
frequency from 27MHz, Various ones had been put forward. James Bryant and the CBA had plumped for 230MHz - a frequency officially designated for
military use and known as the "Lancaster Bomber Band", because it was thought to have last been used by the RAF in 1945.
NATCOLCIBAR had published its preferred frequency, the 41 - 47MHz band which was still being used to transmit the old 405-line TV transmissions. But
the Home Office wanted to continue these although no 405 sets had been made for 15 years, and under international agreements the transmissions had
to be stopped by 1987 anyhow. The only other frequency which had really any supporters was around 450MHz, where CB had first started in America. It
was still available there but everyone ignored it. The campaigners had found that the Home Office had ruled out all the various frequencies they had been
asking for. It had not even looked at 41MHz, since that fell below the 68MHz cut off; and tests of 225MHz and 450MHz had shown that they gave as much, if
not more, TVI than 27MHz. So whilst the official campaigners tried to explain to the government what was wrong with their arguments against the
particular frequencies they wanted, the breakers themselves gave their own answer.
By 30th November 1980, when all replies had to be in, more than 9000 answers had been received to the discussion document, all except a few in favour
of 27MHz. It was a triumph for the breakers. In spite of the difficulties of getting hold of the document, the replies were the largest number ever received on
any issue except abortion. There would probably have been more still except for the fact that many breakers were worried that if they did write in, their
names might go on a black list. Reassurance by the official campaigners did little to allay their fears. The answers clearly shook the government, which
was still hopelessly underestimating the number of breakers in the country. The Open Channel document had estimated the number of sets that would
be sold in the first year as 150,000. In Holland, a much smaller country, there had been 500,000 applications for licences within the first four months.
A 10-33 at the RRD ...
Gradually it began to sink in at the Home Office that they might have got it wrong, and there was some hasty back-pedalling. The research laboratories,
who had previously been told not to bother, were instructed to test 27MHz equipment for TVI, and there were some anxious trips to the continent to find out
what had happened over there. In the new year of 1981 it became clear that the whole thing was rapidly getting out of hand. The previous grand
statements about Open Channel and new opportunities for the British Manufacturing Industry disappeared., and it became a matter of salvaging some
pride out of what was fast becoming a rout. The breakers themselves were getting increasingly sick of the campaigners on their behalf and at meetings
of NATCOLCIBAR the gulf between the top table and the representatives sent by the clubs got wider still. by now, most of the officers were appauled at the
way the government had acted. They were coming increasingly to sympathise with the true breakers, as well as realising that if they did not move their
ground they would have no supporters at all.
By now every town in Britain had its CB club, and Andy Donovans UBA rapidly became the focus for the 27MHz campaign. It was soon over 100,000
members with new clubs flocking to join.
The new tack the government was using to cover up the disaster began to emerge at another adjournment debate in February. This time it was more
lively, and thought by most MPs to have been the best attended since the second world war. The public gallery was packed, and outside a large convoy
circled in Parliament Square.
Raison admitted that "most individuals" who had responded to the discussion document had favoured 27MHz - although the organisations had opposed
it. There had been, he confessed, little public support for the governments proposal of a service above 900MHz. But.. The Home Office was still going to
continue with 900MHz - plus another frequency. "We also have to recognise that the world has made its choice, 27MHz in one form or another is widely
used... Any other choice would be a one-off British one which no other country in the world would permit. Thus one of the wishes of the enthusiast - to be
able to take his equipment abroad - would not be met."
A lot of the debate was taken up with talk about TVI specifically for CB interference. Raison claimed that the complaints of interference had recently risen
by as much as 25%. "our warnings of potential risks are therefore being borne out in practice in a way that can only cause concern" he stated. Again he
said the Police, Fire, Ambulance and Hospital paging systems were being affected.
Wrong again ...
The governments way out became clear. CB was to be permitted on 27MHz (at long last) but only on FM. The argument was that FM transmissions
caused much less interference than AM. 27MHz FM could be tolerated, while 27MHz AM could not be allowed. Why this had not occurred to the
government before was not explained. The announcement came 3 weeks later, on 26th February 1981. CB was to be made legal in the autumn, with a
government licencing system and two frequencies. - 27MHz and 930MHz. But there was to be no Amnesty for AM users. Effectively they were being told
that they might as well throw their sets in the dustbin. Again there was stress on the amount of interference being caused by AM use - which gave rise to
the suspicion that the Home Office was spending more time gathering statistics than actually doing anything about it. The Buzbies of British Telecom
had been swamped long before by the number of AM users and were getting increasingly fed up. With no legal sanctions that were effective Raison was
reduced to making an appeal to breakers on 27MHz AM to "act responsibly" and stop using it. Nobody took any notice.
The announcement was greeted angrily by the Breakers, especially when they discovered that the Irish Government was having a two year phase-in
period during which AM sets could be used. From all over the country there was a flood of protest. A glance at the continent, where similar attempts to
confine 27MHz to FM use had been tried and completely failed, should have made the government realise that they had got it wrong again. Their
argument that FM was much better than AM was disagreed with by a number of experts who said that the basic problem was not the mode of
transmission, but the frequency. It was known anyhow that one of the main causes of interference had been rubbishy sets which had been bought
illegally. The rigs coming into the country by then were built to a much higher standard and did not cause so much trouble. Any lingering faith that even the
most loyal campaigners had in the government was finally destroyed when the draft specification was announced.
Raison's pronouncements in the adjournment debate that "the word had made its choice" and that people wanted to be able to take their sets abroad
were made to look completely ridiculous. The Radio Regulatory Department had chosen a set of channels in the 27MHz frequency band which were
completely different to those in use anywhere else in the world. The Home Office choice of frequency band followed consultations with other radio users.
The Department of Health and Social Security was very worried about interference with hospital paging systems, and was talking about a 3 million pound
bill to and 5 years to change every hospital in the country to the alternative frequency of 32MHz. No real test had been done in Britain, so the RRD was lent
the results of tests in the Irish Republic before hurriedly doing some of its own. Then there was concern about the 4th Harmonic of 27MHz - 108MHz -
could interfere with the fuly automated "hands off" system used for aircraft landings. This was solved by providing a 15KHz guard band, which was
reckoned to be enough because of the precise channeling and the narrow band of the aircraft equipment. The choice of frequency band - from 27.60125
to 27.99125MHz - was bad news, as it meant Britain was now different to anywhere else.
The European CB federation backed the worries at home by saying that the EEC was shortly going to propose a Pan-European system with a single
licence, which Britain was unable to join with its channel frequencies. There were also suggestions that the Home Office had breached the treaty of
Rome by preventing free trade in CB equipment. The campaigners were also dismayed at the way the Home Office rushed through the "draft"
specification for both the 27MHz and 934MHz services. They recieced copies on the Wednesday before Good Friday, asking for written comments within
48 hours , and the specs were passed at two meetings of the Land Mobile Specification Consultative Committee - 27MHz thirteen days later on Tuesday
28th April, and 934MHz a week after on 5th May. The committee anyhow had no real power as its only purpose was to say whether it approved or
disapproved, and it could not be over-ridden.
The only sensible thing about the government decision was that it had realised that if it was going to try to get rid of AM use it ought to offer at least the
same power - 4 watts - and the same number of channels - 40 - as American AM. Other countries had legalised FM on either 0.5watt or 2 watts.
James Bryant, president of the CBA, wrote to Mrs Thatcher telling her the Home Office had "taken a decision which it knows to be against the wishes of all
concerned"."It appears" he wrote " that some officials do not wish CB radio to succeed in the UK".
There were more demonstrations and meetings with the government, and the Home Office delayed the issuing of the new spec until mid June. But all the
appeals fell on deaf ears, and when it came out nothing much had changed, except there was a promise by the Home Office to work towards
"commonality" with Europe. Most people did not understand what that meant, and the Mobile Radio Users Association, which represented nearly all the
users in Britain, in an unprecedented gesture told the government they had got it all wrong, and advised members to boycott the new frequency.
And the rig manufacturers were no more pleased. The British frequencies meant changes had to be made on the Korean production lines, and the
manufacturers at home were technically hamstrung by the fact that it was still illegal to make 27MHz sets in this country until the law was changed. Most
of the British manufacturers - who once had been the great white hope of the Open Channel service the government had proposed - saw they could not
possibly compete with the Koreans on 27MHz, and were not particularly interested in making equipment for the 934MHz frequency. The dealers and
importers were thrown into a flat panic by the need to get the Koreans to re-design, build the rigs, and then ship them halfway round the world in time to
satisfy the huge demand on legalization day. They could not even get the government to tell them from what date import into Britain would be permitted.
So in two years of chopping and changing its mind, the Home Office managed to achieve the rare feat in politics - pleasing none of the people any of the
time. The official users of radio, through the MURA, thought they were wrong: the Europeans were appalled; the manufacturers were in complete despair;
British industry had lost out; the new FM channels did not solve the basic problems of CB; and, because of the delay, there were around 500,000 illegal
AM rigs on channel. From that point on it was certain that there would always be two types of CB in the country - 27MHz AM and 27MHz FM. The third,
934MHz wasn't a success and because of its huge cost compared to 27MHz equipment soon floundered and was taken back out of CB hands in January
1999. The Legalisation day was 2nd November 1981
In 1997 we were allowed another 40 channels on the old 'mid block' wavelength but on FM. This now gave the legal CB operator 80 channels to chose
from. The equipment had to be type specified still of course and these radios were emblazoned with the logo PR27/97. AM and SSB was still not allowed.
In January 1999 we had the 934MHz band taken off us and using the equipment from that date was deemed illegal.
On 27th June 2014 AM and SSB was made legal on the CEPT frequencies (Mid block) on approved CB radios, 4w AM and 12w SSB I believe.
The rest...as they say... is History.......