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Sunday, 1999 June 6 : Volume 2, Number 19
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FLASH!

Thanks to Todd Balcom for informing us that a 1974 Old Home Bread poster is up for auction on eBay. The seller had posted a picture of the poster (Holy alliteration, Batman!), which I swiped; that's it on the right. I will, of course, be bidding on this item.

Was A Quarter-Moon On The Sixth Of June

This is the start of the first annual Convoy Week at C.W. McCall: An American Legend, and it starts on the most famous day in C.W. McCall history, the sixth of June.

If you're new here — hey, everyone’s got to start somewhere — then you're probably wondering why this day is so important. It’s not the birthday of Bill Fries; that’s November 15th. It’s not a Rocky Mountain September. It’s not Mother’s Day or Christmas, either. What it is is the day on which C.W. McCall’s most popular song begins. It’s the day of The Convoy.

Flashback

The year is 1975. Two years earlier, President Nixon signed into law a very unpopular decree: the maximum speed limit on National Highways — either U.S. Highways or Interstate Highways — was henceforth set at 55 miles per hour. Prior to this law, the maximum posted speed limit might be as high as 75 miles per hour. This reduction was supposedly made to “save gasoline”, because of an alleged “oil crisis” that was limiting the supply of gasoline and other oil products. The crisis didn’t exist, of course. There was no real shortage of oil or gasoline, only artificial restrictions imposed by the Middle Eastern countries which controlled the majority of the world's oil supply.

Long-distance truckers preferred to deliver their cargoes as quickly as possible; they weren’t paid by the hour, but by the load. The faster they got one load delivered, the more quickly they could get another load on its way. And now they were forced to travel more slowly, because of a alleged “oil crisis”.

In the meanwhilst, the Citizen’s Band radio was becoming more popular. This method of communication wasn’t new, having existed since the 1950s. It had been used mainly for business communications, especially by truckers. But in the two or three years preceeding 1975, the non-trucking populace discovered the utility of CB.

A license was needed to legally operate a CB transmitter — you could listen for free, if you wanted — but the license itself was free. You only needed to fill out a form and send it to the Federal Communications Commission, who would eventually give you a call sign of your very own. But CB proved to be so popular that the FCC couldn’t process all of the applications quickly. And as for enforcing the law on the people who were transmitting without a license, that too was becoming nigh impossible. By the end of 1977, the FCC had dropped the license requirement for Citizens Band Radio.

One of Nature's Most Beautiful Sights

So the situation was this: truckers, who needed to travel quickly, were hampered by the reduced speed limit on national highways. And even when the limits were higher, truckers — and car drivers, too — would travel faster than the maximum speed. The truckers had the CB advantage, though: communicating with each other via radio, they could notify each other of the locations of speed traps or of the presence of police. The game was one of cat-and-mouse.

But these trucking mice also developed another strategy. They would travel in groups, with the lead truck — the “front door” ”watching for police activity ahead, and the “back door” watching behind. In between the doors, there was safety from being caught while exceeding the posted speed limit. These groups were called “convoys”, a term which was usually used to describe a traveling group of military vehicles. But now, “convoy” meant two or more CB-equipped vehicles traveling together. And truckers, the “Knights of the Road”, were the most obvious examples.

Sing a Song of CB

Six of the ten songs on C.W.’s first album, Wolf Creek Pass, dealt with trucking. Curiously, none of those songs mention Citizens Band Radio, except for an oblique reference in “Night Rider”:

Well, Alabammy Mammy got a spell on my life
Kansas City Kitty cut my heart out tonight

“Alabammy Mammy” and “Kansas City Kitty” could be CB “handles”, the nom de radiophonique by which CB users identified themselves. Even though, in 1975, CB transmittors were required to use their call sign identification, that official method was usually bypassed in favor of descriptive names. C.W. would use “Rubber Duck”, “Pig Pen”, and “Sodbuster”.

And here we are. 1975: C.W. McCall was popular, CB was hot, and truckers were angry. That combination produced the best-selling song of C.W.’s career: “Convoy”.

Song A’ Th’ Week

You did read that wonderful essay, didn’t you?

Convoy
(C.W. McCall, B. Fries, C. Davis)

From the album Black Bear Road.