There was a time when one of the perks of having a ham radio in your car (or on your belt) was you could make phone calls using a “phone patch.” In the 1970s, calling someone from inside your parked car turned heads. Now, of course, it is an everyday occurrence thanks to cell phones. But in 1977, cell phones were nowhere to be found. Joseph Sugarman, the well-known founder of JS&A, saw a need and wanted to fill it. So he offered the “PocketCom CB” which was billed as the “world’s smallest citizens band transceiver.” You can see the full-page ad from 1977 below.
Remember that this is from an era when ICs that could operate at 30 MHz were not the norm, so you have to temper your expectations. The little unit was 5.5 in by 1.5 in and less than an inch thick. That’s actually not bad, but you had — optimistically — 100 mW of output power. They claimed the N cell batteries would last two weeks with average use, but we imagine a lot less as soon as you start transmitting. The weight was 5 oz, but we suspect that is without the batteries.
The radio spectrum is carefully regulated and divided up by Governments worldwide. Some of it is shared across jurisdictions under the terms of international treaties, while other allocations exist only in individual countries. Often these can contain some surprising oddities, and one of these is our subject today. Did you know that the UK’s first legal CB radio channels included a set in the UHF range, at 934 MHz? Don’t worry, neither did most Brits. Behind it lies a tale of bureaucracy, and of a bungled attempt to create an industry around a barely usable product.
Hey, 2019, Got Your Ears On?
Mention CB radio in 2019 it’s likely that the image conjured in the mind of the listener will be one from a previous decade. Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed in Smokey and the Bandit perhaps, or C. W. McCall’s Convoy. It may not be very cool in the age of WhatsApp, but in the 1970s a CB rig was the last word in fashionable auto accessories and a serious object of desire into which otherwise sane adults yearned to speak the slang of the long-haul trucker.
If you weren’t American though, CB could be a risky business. Much of the rest of the world didn’t have a legal CB allocation, and correspondingly didn’t have access to legal CB rigs. The bombardment of CB references in exported American culture created a huge demand for CB though, and for British would-be CBers that was satisfied by illegally imported American equipment. A vibrant community erupted around UK illegal 27 MHz AM CB in the late 1970s, and Government anger was met with campaigning for a legal allocation. Brits eventually got a legal 27 MHz allocation in November 1981, but the years leading up to that produced a few surprises.
Somehow [hvde] wound up with a CB radio that does AM and SSB on the 11 meter band. The problem was that the radio isn’t legal where he lives. So he decided to change the radio over to work on the 6 meter band, instead.
We were a little surprised to hear this at first. Most radio circuits are tuned to pretty close tolerances and going from 27 MHz to 50 MHz seemed like quite a leap. The answer? An Arduino and a few other choice pieces of circuitry.
Some may be surprised to hear that CB radio is alive and well in the 21st century. From disaster response to operating in areas without reliable communication infrastructure, there are plenty of reasons people are still reaching for their radio and not their smartphone. Unfortunately, modern automotive interior design doesn’t have such an enlightened view. It’s hard enough to get decent cup holders in some cars, let alone a spot to hang your microphone.
When presented with this problem in his Subaru Forester, [Alex Loizou] did what any modern hacker would, he 3D printed a mount that snaps into the stock dash. No drilling was required to attach his radio mount, it simply replaces a decorative trim piece that wasn’t doing anything anyway. Obviously this particular mount would only really work on the same year and make of vehicle as [Alex] has, but this is a good demonstration of how 3D printing can be used to adapt to existing hardware.
As is often the case when trying to print something to match perfectly with an existing object, there was a fair amount of trial and error required. It took a few attempts before [Alex] got the proper shape, and things weren’t made any easier by the fact he was doing his designing in TinkerCAD. While we appreciate the fact that TinkerCAD provides a web-based CAD tool that is easy enough for anyone to use, using a parametric design tool like OpenSCAD is generally preferred when you need to make slight adjustments to your model.
Software limitations aside, [Alex] managed to come up with a mount that not only holds his CB microphone, but also his handheld transmitter. All while looking about as close to stock hardware as something like this could. We especially like that he switched to a darker filament color for his final version to blend it into the dashes color scheme a bit better.
Sometimes art pushes boundaries. We’ve covered a lot of tech art that blurs the lines between the craft of engineering and high-concept art theory. Praydio, by [Niklas Roy] and [Kati Hyyppä] leans easy on the tech, but pushes against viewers’ religious sensibilities.
Playing with the idea of talking directly to God, and with the use of altars as a focal point to do so, [Niklas] and [Kati] took the extremely literal route: embedding a CB radio into a dollar-store shrine. The result? If you’re lucky, someone will answer your prayers, although we’re not too hopeful that the intervention will be divine.
The art critic in us would say that this is a radical democratization of religious authority in that anyone who is tuned in can play the role of Jesus. Or maybe we’d say something about the perception of religious significance in the seemingly random events of our everyday life — maybe it’s not just chance that someone is tuning in at the time you’re asking for help?
Honestly, though, we think they’re just having a bit of fun. The video (below the break) shows someone asking Jesus for a coffee, and the artist on the other end laughs and fetches him one. It’s not high-tech, and it’s not even amateur radio the way we usually think of it, but something about the piece made us laugh, and then to think for a bit. Even if this art isn’t your style, check out [Niklas’] website — he’s got tons of fun projects written up, a few of which we’ve covered here before.
The bulk of HOPE X was the talks, but arguably the far more interesting aspect of thousands of hackers and tinkerers under one roof is talking to everyone about what they’re doing. One guy hanging out at HOPE gave a quick lightning talk to a few people about something very interesting: something the FCC is pushing through that’s open to just about everything: it’s the FCC’s new CB radio service (you’ll want to click the presentation link at the very top of the page), giving anyone, not just people with a radio license, access to a huge swath of microwave spectrum.
The short version of the talk was the fact the FCC is extremely interested in opening up 100 to 200 MHz of spectrum at 3.5 GHz. The idea is to create something like cellular service that can either be implemented by companies, or normal, everyday people. The initial goal of this is to provide -possibly- free Internet to anyone with the right USB dongle. Since it’s just radio, and open to everyone, just about anything can be implemented.
This is something the FCC, Google, Microsoft, and a whole bunch of startups are extremely interested in, and the fact that about half of the spectrum will be open to anyone creates some interesting opportunities. A community-based freenet of wireless Internet links becomes an easy solution, and since the hardware to access 3.5 GHz is similar to other hardware that’s already available means building your own wireless ISP could be relatively easy in 12 to 18 months.
A transcript of the lightning talk is available below.