Low End Theory

Breaker-Breaker, Got Me a Deal


By Brendan I. Koerner

Okay, look—I know I promised in last week's column that I'd be talking about cheapo headphones on this go-around. But something came up, and I find myself whiling away mid-March on the outskirts of Carlisle, Penn. I'm actually staying at a HoJo about 300 yards from big-rig weigh station, so the low-end electronics pickings are pretty slim—there's an Arby's and a "Mature Fantasy" store within spitting distance, but no Radio Shack. That means the headphones riff is gonna have to wait until I make my way back home.

The upside is that, surrounded as I am by the gruff spiritual kinfolk of BJ (of BJ and the Bear fame), I've fallen in love once again with a category of gadgets too often ignored: CB radios. Lemme tell you, when I was about yeah high to a grasshopper, I wanted a CB set more than any Transformer or Go-Bot you can think of. My friend Jake's dad had one in his Caddy, and I spent many a sleepless night wishing that he was my dad, too—despite the fact that he smelled like three-day-old Arthur Treachers. Back before cellphones, CB radios were the way to go person-to-person wireless, and to break out some pretty crusty slang, too—gotta love a subculture that coined the phrase "duck plucker" as an obscenity.

Imagine my overwhelming joy, then, upon discovering that CB radios have now descended into low-end territory. After the jump, some tasty sub-$40 (okay, sub-$43) deals on sets that'll help you get your Lincoln Hawk on.

Let's start with the ubiquitous Midland 1001Z, from a brand which I gather is sorta the Coby or jWin of the CB realm. That said, many of the specs on this bad-boy actually seem right in line with units costing twice as much—I mean, hey, with 40 channels, a 4-watt transmitter, and the all-important squelch control, what more could you want? Seems like a serious bargain at $30.99, though I'm open to hearing critiques from readers more knowledgeable than I about the workings of CB radios. If there's a good reason to spend significantly more, if your only intention is to talk smack with some long-hauler coming off a meth binge, I'm open to what you've got to say.

Low End Theory

The Midland brand, though widely available, probably isn't too familiar to those of us unaccustomed to the low-end gadgetry of the trucking set. If you'd rather go with a more celebrated manufacturer, try the Pro510XL from Uniden. That's right, the same company that brought us the glory that is RocketDial is also a player in the CB game. The specs seem to be more-or-less identical to those of the Midland unit; the major difference is the hype-sheet chatter about the Uniden model being a "sophisticated, Euro-styled" option. Um, okay. Can somebody please tell me what a Euro-styled radio is, and how the Pro510XL fits into that definition? True, I'm an uncouth Yank, but this CB looks like the standard black box that generations of my countrymen have known and loved.

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Gotta wrap up the CB parade with yet another gem, the Cobra 19 DX IV. The appeal here&madsh;and a reason to pay an extra Hamilton or so more than for the Midland—is the brighter LCD display, RF gain, and (per the hype sheet) "sculpted design and muted graphics." Can't vouch for that last bit, but I do have a natural affinity for ferocious corporate mascots, so score one for the Cobra brand.

You can't really get CBing on the highway until you have a solid antenna, of course, though serviceable models can be had for under $30. You'll also need full command of the slang, which can be gleaned from a thorough investigation of this indispensable site. Wow, had no idea there were so many trucker euphemisms for "prostitute," including "concrete blonde." Hey, I get it now, guys, thanks; very clever, though I still think your music is abysmal.

Okay, gotta get back to twiddling my thumbs at the Carlisle HoJo; back next week with the promised headphones column. In the meantime, if anyone can shed some light on why you can't buy beer in gas stations in Cumberland County, Penn., I'd be much obliged. Is this a Pennsylvania-wide law? If so, has anyone ever considered the fact that noted beer lover and Pennsylvanian Benjamin Franklin must surely be spinning in his grave? Please advise, thank you.

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for both The New York Times and Slate. His Low End Theory column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.

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