Learning CB Radio Codes and Lingos Used by Veterans
Citizen’s band radio - more commonly known as just CB radio - has a long history of allowing average people to talk to other nearby radio users. Today, there may be plenty of other options for this such as cell phones, CB radios are still popular to this day. An entire culture has developed among CB radio users, especially when it comes to shorthand, slang, and other lingo.
History of CB Radio
CB radio has been around for nearly a century. Originally created by the FCC in 1945, the CB radio service was given a specific electromagnetic spectrum for average citizens to use to communicate with for personal purposes. At first, these designations were less than helpful, as the FCC’s Class A and Class B specifications were hard to reach. These frequencies began at 460 MHz and went as high as 470 MHz, and most casual users didn’t have the equipment to make use of these frequencies reliably.
This changed in 1958 when the FCC added 23 channels in around the 27 MHz range to make using the CB radio service more accessible. This 11-meter wavelength proved to be very popular, and today there are 40 channels that share the range. Out of all these channels, there is just one reserved for emergency services - frequency 27.065, commonly known as channel 9, is legally reserved for emergency response use.
The mid-1970s saw an explosion of CB radio popularity. Popular culture embraced CB in television and movies, and the cost of reliable CB equipment became much more affordable during this time. While CB’s popularity might not be nearly what it was back in the heyday, it’s still used today by many. At first, the FCC required you to have a license to operate a CB radio. Today this is no longer the case, however; now, anyone who uses FCC-approved equipment is welcome to use a CB radio however they like.
The Importance of CB Radios
It’s very true that today it’s not nearly as commonplace to see a CB radio in the modern American home or vehicle as it was in the past. Modern telecommunication like mobile phones and high-speed broadband internet has taken some of the wind from CB radio’s sails, yet despite these modern technologies, there will always be a place for this venerated and venerable communications standard.
When it comes to traveling, CB radios are still incredibly useful devices, even when most of us might have a smartphone in our pocket. Not only are CB radios reliable, but they’re also inexpensive - unlike a smartphone you don’t have to pay for monthly service. Additionally, if you’re ever in a situation where you don’t have cell service, such as being out of range of the nearest cell tower or in a situation where your connection is being disrupted (such as during a natural disaster), a CB radio can be a lifeline for both people on the road and those at home.
In fact, CB radios are much less dependent on clear weather conditions than other forms of communication. Thanks to their relatively good range - it’s typical for a portable unit to have a 15-mile range, while a stationary one has a range of around 30 miles - CB is an excellent alternative for communicating during poor conditions. Thanks to CB Channel 9 being reserved for emergencies, it’s also an excellent way to call for help in situations where you can’t otherwise communicate; this channel is actively monitored by volunteers and other emergency service providers to ensure that help is never far.
As if that wasn’t enough utility, a number of CB radios have National Weather Service frequencies built-in, which can give you access to weather-related information when your phone or internet connection can’t. You can also get some of the best and most accurate traffic information from a CB radio, especially while traveling, as long-haul truckers still rely on these devices heavily and not just to warn other drivers about the closest speed trap; there’s something to be said for the company and community on the other end of a CB radio that can’t be discounted!
CB Radio Codes
As a form of communication, CB radio has come to embrace its own idiosyncrasies and paradigms. In a way, it’s developed into something like its own language altogether, especially when it comes to the way CB radio codes have developed over time to aid in making communication clearer and faster. It’s always possible to mishear words over a CB, especially if you’re close to the edge of your receiver’s range, and that means CB radio users have developed shorthand code systems to make sure that confusion and miscomprehension are kept to a minimum.
The Advantages of Learning CB Radio Codes
There’s no need to learn all of the different codes that CB radio users may use. In fact, it may not even be possible to commit all of them to memory - there are simply so many of them that it’s functionally impossible! In fact, many veteran CB radio users such as hobbyists and long-distance truckers might still have a cheat sheet that they can refer to whenever one of the more obscure codes comes over their radio.
That being said, there are many advantages to learning the most common of these codes. First and foremost, you’ll be able to understand much of the back-and-forth that you hear on the radio if you know even just a few codes. Not only that but learning these codes and then using them to communicate yourself will make it easier for listeners on the other end of the horn to understand you. Plus, there’s a point of pride knowing that you can speak and understand this not-so-secret language yourself, putting you in the small population of people who can do so. It’s a major accomplishment and one that you can easily be proud of!
Most Commonly Used Codes
As mentioned above, there’s no reason to memorize every single CB code on the list. There are more than a hundred of them, after all, and some aren’t used as much as others. Understanding generally how they work, and then learning a handful of the most common ones that you’re likely to hear and use in everyday situations, is usually more than enough. As we mentioned already, it’s fine to keep a full list of all the codes close at hand so you can look up one you don’t recognize.
Outside of slang (which we’ll go over in a bit), most coded language over a CB radio takes the form of something called a “10 code”. You may be familiar with some of these from popular culture, as they’re often used in movies and television whenever a truck driver is depicted using his or her CB radio. These 10 codes are often also used by police and emergency responders in the media as well. In fact, these codes were originally created for emergency responders by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials International in the late 1930s and expanded again in the 1970s. While many emergency responders have begun to move away from them in favor of plain speech, you can still hear the unmistakable cadence of 10 codes just about every time you turn on your CB.
Some of the most common 10 codes have long joined our pop culture lexicon. Many people know that “10-4” means “message received”, thanks to how often it’s used in movies and television shows. Hearing “what’s your 20?” in a cop show, with the “20” being shorthand for “10-20”, is also commonly known to mean “what’s your location”. Another common one you may have heard is “10-13”, which is a request for road and traffic conditions. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the full list of 10 codes.
The Full CB 10 Codes List
In the interest of providing as much information as possible, here’s a non-exhaustive list of the 10 codes still used today, though as mentioned above many emergency responders have moved away from many of these and instead use plain speech.
- 10-1 Receiving Poorly
- 10-2 Receiving Well
- 10-3 Stop Transmitting
- 10-4 Ok, Message Received
- 10-5 Relay Message
- 10-6 Busy, Stand By
- 10-7 Out of Service, Leaving Air
- 10-8 In Service, subject to call
- 10-9 Repeat Message
- 10-10 Transmission Completed, Standing By
- 10-11 Talking too Rapidly
- 10-12 Visitors Present
- 10-13 Advise weather and road conditions
- 10-16 Make Pickup at…...
- 10-17 Urgent Business
- 10-18 Anything for us?
- 10-19 Nothing for you, return to base
- 10-20 My Location is ......... or What's your Location?
- 10-21 Call by Telephone
- 10-22 Report in Person too ......
- 10-23 Stand by
- 10-24 Completed last assignment
- 10-25 Can you Contact .......
- 10-26 Disregard Last Information/Cancel Last Message
- 10-27 I am moving to Channel ......
- 10-28 Identify your station
- 10-29 Time is up for contact
- 10-30 Does not conform to FCC Rules
- 10-32 I will give you a radio check
- 10-33 Emergency Traffic at this station
- 10-34 Trouble at this station, help is needed
- 10-35 Confidential Information
- 10-36 Need correct time
- 10-37 Wrecker needed at …...
- 10-38 Ambulance needed at .........
- 10-39 Your message delivered
- 10-41 Please tune to the channel ........
- 10-42 Traffic Accident at ..........
- 10-43 Traffic tied up at .........
- 10-44 I have a message for you
- 10-45 All units within range please report
- 10-50 Break Channel
- 10-60 What is the next message number?
- 10-62 Unable to copy, use phone
- 10-65 Awaiting your next message or assignment
- 10-67 All units comply
- 10-70 Fire at .......
- 10-71 proceed with transmission in sequence
- 10-73 Speed Trap at ............
- 10-75 You are causing interference
- 10-77 Negative Contact
- 10-84 My telephone number is .........
- 10-85 My address is ...........
- 10-91 Talk closer to the Mike
- 10-92 Your transmitter is out of adjustment
- 10-93 Check my frequency on this channel
- 10-94 Please give me a long count
- 10-95 Transmit dead carrier for 5 seconds
- 10-99 Mission completed, all units secure
- 10-100 Need to go to Bathroom
- 10-200 Police needed at ..........
CB Radio Slang - An Introduction
CB 10 codes are straightforward enough if sometimes hard to understand besides the most common ones. However, understanding CB radio lingo becomes much more complex once you throw slang into the mix. While 10 codes are at least quantifiable with a well-defined list that contains a set number, CB radio slang is wild and wooly, sometimes having no rhyme or reason. Plus, there are many terms that could be regional, and that means a novice listener might believe a trucker or some other CB radio veteran is saying one thing but is actually saying another.
Still, there is enough standardization among even radio slang and lingo that it’s possible to impart some knowledge. We’ve gathered a few of them here.
The Most Commonly Used CB Phrases
If you’ve ever watched a film or television show that’s featured long-haul truckers, you may know some of these common phrases already. Anyone who’s seen Smokey and the Bandit will obviously pick up on the idea that “Smokey the Bear”, “Smokey”, or simply a “Bear” is slang for a police officer.
With truckers usually more concerned with getting their loads to where they need to be and less concerned with watching their speed limit, it comes to no surprise that many common CB phrases have much to do with spotting and dealing with police. A “bear bite” is another word for speeding ticket, for example, and a police officer hiding behind a billboard or otherwise on the side of the road looking for speeders is a “bear in the bushes”. Vehicles that are speeding or driving erratically are often referred to as “bear bait” as they’re more likely to get pulled over.
It’s not all about dealing with or avoiding the police of course. Trucker lingo also often refers to the types of loads being carried and how a driver is feeling. Having a “bobtail”, for instance, means driving without a load attached, as well as driving “dead head”, or “hauling fence post holes” or “hauling sailboat fuel”. Meanwhile, truckers having trouble staying awake might report “having shutter trouble” or “checking your eyes for pinholes”. They might be drinking some “hundred mile coffee”, otherwise known as very strong coffee, to keep themselves awake. Finally, speed-related lingo is also common, as a driver “going full bore” or “putting the hammer down” means they’re going as fast as they can. Likewise, traveling in the “hammer lane” means traveling in the leftmost lane, where the fastest traffic can usually be found.
More CB Phrases and Lingos
In addition to the handful of phrases we’ve detailed above, here’s some more common lingo that you might hear coming from your CB, plus roughly what they mean.
- Advertising: A police car that is flashing its emergency lights.
- Alligator: A large piece of blown tire on the road.
- Bean Popper: Someone who is taking a lot of pills (possibly illegal ones).
- Black Eye: A broken headlight.
- Blinders: High beams, not supposed to be used when oncoming drivers may be blinded by the bright light.
- Bumper Sticker: A tailgating vehicle.
- Bunny Hopper: A vehicle that frequently changes lanes.
- Care Bear: A police car with a construction zone, “caring” for the construction workers.
- Checkpoint Charlie: A drunk driving checkpoint set up by police that looks like a roadblock.
- Chicken Coop: A weigh station.
- Chicken Lights: Extra lights on a truck’s exterior.
- Christmas Card: A ticket for speeding.
- Citizen: A person who is not a trucker or a police officer.
- Cocaine Cowboy: DEA officials looking for illegal narcotics.
- Covered Wagon: A flatbed trailer with sidewalls and a tarp instead of a roof.
- Dead Pedal: A truck or car that is moving slowly.
- Doughnuts: Tires.
- Driving award: A ticket for speeding.
- Draggin’ Wagon: A tow truck or wrecker.
- Eyeballs: Headlights.
- Fat Load: An overweight load.
- Flip-flop: A return trip or a U-turn.
- Free Truck Wash: Rain.
- Garbage Hauler: A truck hauling produce or a load of produce.
- Gator Guts: Small pieces of shredded tire on the road. These usually appear before a larger piece, called a “gator” or “alligator.”
- Georgia Overdrive: A dangerous driving maneuver in which the transmission is put into neutral on a downgrade, allowing the truck to go extremely fast.
- Granny Lane: The right-side lane on a multi-lane highway or interstate, where traffic will be going slower.
- Greasy: A slippery or icy road.
- Greasy Side Up: A vehicle that has flipped over.
- Ground Clouds: Fog.
- Ground Pressure: The weight of a truck.
- Gumball Machine: A patrol car’s lights.
- Handle: A unique name used on the radio to identify a speaker.
- Harvey Wallbanger: A driver who is driving recklessly or appears to be drunk.
- Hitchhiker: A tailgating vehicle.
- Hole in the Wall: A tunnel.
- Ice-Capading: Losing traction on the road during icy conditions.
- Invitation: A traffic ticket or citation.
- Jet Pilot: A speeding vehicle.
- Jewelry: Cables or chains on tires.
- Keep the Shiny Side Up: Have a safe trip. The top of the truck is the “shiny” side, while the bottom is the “greasy” side.
- Kiddy Car: A school bus.
- Little White Pills: Stimulants used to stay awake on the road during long hauls. May refer to illegal substances; can also be used ironically to refer to legally used coffee or caffeine pills.
- Loot Limo: An armored car.
- Magic Mile: The last mile of a trip.
- Meat Wagon: An ambulance.
- Motion Lotion: Fuel for a truck.
- Mud: Truck stop coffee.
- Neighbor: Another trucker.
- Organ donor: A civilian motorcyclist driving erratically or without a helmet.
- Paperwork: A speeding ticket.
- Parking Lot: A traffic jam.
- Piggy Back: One truck towing another truck.
- Plain Wrapper: An unmarked law enforcement car or truck.
- Polar Bear: An unmarked white police car.
- Popcorn: Hail.
- Portable Barnyard: A truck that is hauling livestock.
- Professional Tourist: A trucker
- Raking the Leaves: The last person in a multi-truck convoy.
- Rambo: A person who talks aggressively or acts tough on the radio.
- Reading the Mail: Listening to the radio without talking.
- Road Pizza: dead animals in the road or on the side of the road.
- Roller Skate: A small car.
- Rolling Roadblock: A construction vehicle ahead that is moving at a slow speed.
- Running on Rags: Driving a truck with little or no tread on the tires.
- Sandbox: An escape ramp off to the side of the road that large vehicles can pull off on to stop. These are often made of sand.
- Seat Cover: The drivers or passengers of smaller four-wheel cars.
- Shiny Side Up: A vehicle that has not flipped over after an accident.
- Smoking the Brakes: The brakes of the trailer are smoking from overuse. This can happen while going downhill on a steep grade.
- Snowman: Someone selling drugs.
- Someone Spilled Honey On the Road: Police, usually state troopers, are everywhere.
- Stagecoaches: Tour buses.
- Thermos Bottle: A tanker trailer.
- Throwing Iron: Putting on tire chains.
- Toothpicks: Lumber.
- Triple Digits: Traveling at over 100 miles per hour.
- Turtle Race: A zone with a speed limit under 45 miles per hour.
- Twister Tracker: A storm chaser or tornado chaser
- Van Gogh: A vehicle without a CB radio (because it has no “ears.”)
- West Coast Turnarounds: Uppers, such as Benzedrine or speed.
- White Stuff: Snow.
- Wiggle Wagon: Double or triple trailers being hauled by a single truck.
- With a Customer: A police officer who has pulled a car over.
CB Communication Courtesy and Respect
CB radio bands are accessible by quite literally anyone with the proper equipment. This means that you should keep quite a few things in mind while communicating with others, especially when it comes to being courteous and respectful.
Some of these guidelines are pretty straightforward. You want to speak clearly and to take your time, as this aids in making your message understandable. Keeping your message short, simple, and to the point also helps, as this keeps the channel free for others to talk to, not just you. Also, it’s not a good idea to share any confidential info over a CB channel, as you’ve got zero privacy and anybody could be listening.
Other than these rules, there are some other ways to remain courteous and respectful. “Stepping on” other callers, such as transmitting the same time as another operator, is considered quite rude. If someone breaks into your conversation, give them the chance to repeat themselves so you can figure out if they need the channel. Finally, always use good judgment whenever you’re using your CB. This will result in you not just being able to communicate clearly but also in being respected by your fellow CB users!
- Flood, W. (n.d.). CB Radio Is Still A Powerful Communication Tool When on the Road. Mobile RV Living. https://mobilerving.com/amp/the-buzz-articles/outdoor-gear/cb-radio-is-still-a-powerful-communication-tool-when-on-the-road
- FCC. (n.d.). Federal Communications Commission PART 95—PERSONAL RADIO SERVICES. Federal Communications Commision. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CFR-2009-title47-vol5/pdf/CFR-2009-title47-vol5-part95.pdf
- APCO International. (n.d.). APCO International. https://www.apcointl.org
- NPR. (2019, October 13). Plain Talk Eases Police Radio Codes Off The Air. National Public Radio. https://choice.npr.org/index.html?origin=https://www.npr.org/transcripts/113738105
- Truck Road Service. (n.d.). 10 codes CB Codes. http://www.truckroadservice.com/10_codes.html
- Davis Law Group, P.S. (2020, March 11). Trucker Lingo: 171 Common CB Radio Slang Terms. https://www.injurytriallawyer.com/blog/trucker-slang.cfm