For those not familiar with Citizen’s Band and its slang, the 1975 song Convoy must seem like a mass of jargon and confusion. Surprisingly, the song by C. W. McCall was a hit not only on the country & western charts, but also a crossover hit on the pop charts.
Before we get to deciphering the song, here’s a brief history of the CB Radio. It is described on Wikipedia as both as “professional mobile radio” and a “land mobile radio system” involving communication over a short wave. In many countries it doesn’t involve a license.
The Federal Communications Commission controls and allocates certain bandwidths for certain uses. This prevents radio stations from broadcasting on the headsets of commercial airline pilots and other potentially nasty confusions. In 1945 the FCC allotted a special band (or section of frequencies) for citizens to have personal communications.
In the days before cell phones this became a way for people to communicate with each other when no land line was available. This brought a lot of efficiency to things like fire lookout stations. But in at the hight of their popularity, in the 1970s, they were the bailiwick of professional drivers. CBs were especially useful to long haul truck drivers who were likely to encounter bad weather conditions or surprise road closures.
These long-haul drivers also began warning each other of speed traps. Which made them a valuable source of information to other drivers crossing remote areas, who wanted to avoid being pulled over for speeding.
Many bandwidths of radio broadcast picked up specific nomenclature specific to their needs. HAM radio operators, who use a similar device and operate in a similar manor, actually need to get a licence to broadcast. Part of the licence requires them to learn Morse Code though their bandwidth is generally spoken word.
CB slang developed at an accelerated pace compared to the regular evolution such devices, due in part to desire to inform on police without being blatantly obvious.
What is a Convoy?
The song concerns some kind of driver rebellion, a convoy, which travels from the West coast to the East coast without a break. Biologists refer to this behaviour as swarming, or schooling. It happens in bird or fish that will react to a predator by acting in a uniform pattern, which tricks the predator into treating the group as a whole instead of as a bunch of individuals.
What is one police car supposed to do when 15 semis barrel past going 10 miles an hour over the speed limit? At best they ticket one of them and let the rest go. There is mention in the song of a strong police presence and having to speed past a toll booth.
One reason a convoy might work is that most states only put so many highway patrol on a given freeway, which means a group of truckers could drag a train of patrol cars to the edge of their jurisdiction where they must quit the chase. Provided they obscured their identifying numbers like registration or licence plates.
Eventually police began using roadblocks and tire puncture devises, and the federal highway commission began to require upgraded identification.
Slang in the Song “Convoy.”
Because it takes in so much of America the song wedges in as many nicknames for US cities as decency allows!
Here is a glossary:
(10 codes were a staple on CB. Currently 10-1 Unreadable to 10-33 Help Officer; but many codes have been retired).
19: The traditional channel for CB, pronounced “1-9”.
Bear: The police. “Heading for bear” here means heading for an area which has a police presence, which since they were speeding probably meant trouble.
Bridge: The bridge referred in the song is the Walt Whitman Bridge across the Delaware. They enter New Jersey but they do not pay the toll.
Catch you on the flip-flop: Catch you next time, whenever that might be.
Chartreuse microbus: A VW microbus, also known as a caravan.
Chicken Coups: Truck weigh stations. These are checkpoints a driver must legally stop at.
Clover leaf: An interchange of four roads making a four leaf clover pattern.
Convoy: Three of more truck drivers going to the same place when they exceed the speed limit.
Flagtown: Flagstaff, Arizona.
Front door: The head of the convoy. They were the one charged to look for “bears” or police cars.
Kenworth: A Class 8 truck made in Seattle. The one referenced in the song was “pulling logs” or transporting logs.
Pete: Peterbilt, a truck manufacturer.
Pig Pen: The driver of a pig truck, not the most popular of people!
Put the hammer down: Put the pedal the floor, get moving!
Reefer: A refrigeration truck used to haul food.
Rubber Duck: The leader in a convoy.
Shakey Town: Los Angeles, so-called because of the earthquakes.
Sod buster: A tractor, because it digs up sods or patches of grass.
Suicide jockey: A driver of hazardous material, usually explosives.
Swindle cheats: The log book used to log a truck’s progress. They were not seen as reliable hence “swindle cheats”.
The addition of electronic log books and GPS has eliminated any thought of getting away with most of the traffic offences a convoy was intended to enable, however it’s the cell phone that has done the most to kill CB slang. For better or worse, all things come to an end.