Abstract

In the mid-1970s, the press and popular culture represented the era’s craze for citizens band (CB) radio, a simple two-way radio communications device, as limited to white Americans. In fact, CB radio had thrived in African American communities since the early 1960s. But African Americans used CB in a different manner and for different purposes than their white counterparts. This article argues that black CB use developed in response to the racial politics of the postwar period concerning meaningful desegregation and full citizenship. The emergence of a distinct black CB culture by the 1970s epitomizes how black use of CB, as a form of “audiomobility,” circumvented white prohibitions against black mobility and audibility, denied white assumptions of technical and verbal superiority, as well as internal black class politics about “sounding black.” From these origins, as an audiomobility network counteracting racism directly and indirectly, black CB evolved into an intra-racial competitive arena, a technocultural practice suited only to the audibly toughest competitors. Black CB’s historical significance rests in its functioning as a nexus for, and challenge to, various histories: of the politics of black speech and oral culture; of the role of radio programming in the creation of black cultural identity; of race and technology. Through research in newspapers and periodicals, interviews with participants, and close listening to recordings, I argue that black CBers built on an already existing black aural public sphere and adapted CB technology to combine with that aural-oral sphere to create a technologically-mediated community based on perceived audible racial identity.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6490
Print ISSN
0003-0678
Pages
pp. 531-553
Launched on MUSE
2011-09-15
Open Access
No
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