Eyeball to Eyeball

A CB Radio Q&A

Coffee Pot

Eyeball to Eyeball

A CB Radio Q&A

Coffee Pot

Writer William Hogan and photographer David Titlow are the authors of our new book about British Citizens Band Radio Culture of the 1980s, and more specifically the Eyeball Cards - the business cards of ‘breakers’ exchanged when meeting up in person after chatting on the airwaves. We asked them about their own experience of the wonderful world of CB radio and Eyeball Cards.

When did you first find out about CB Radios?

WH: I must have been six or seven at the time. In my local village in Suffolk (Sizewell), there were a few neighbourhood friends a little older than me huddling around a CB rig in one of their dad’s shed (‘Timbertop’). We weren’t really meant to be in there using the rig so it added to the excitement. 

I remember it feeling like an incredibly sacred piece of kit, and being one of the youngest, I wasn’t even allowed to press a button or twist a dial. I was sort of impressed and intimidated in equal measure. I suppose this sensation was reinforced by listening to foreign-sounding CB phrases wafting through a metallic hiss of static, from mystery locations. 

DT: It was a case of three degrees of CB separation for me in a way too – my mate's best friend’s dad had a rig in his kitchen. We used to hijack it when he was out and make up handles. Mine was ‘Big Rissole’ just because it sounded vaguely cheeky, his was ‘Toe Cutter’ - after a character in the film Mad Max. It seemed to be the tough kids talking to each other and we enjoyed listening and occasionally chipping in. 

Cbradio Rig

And eyeball cards?

WH: Eyeball cards were being swapped at my school. I managed to find a pile of Red Arrows’ cards, but foolishly, after swapping them, I lost the last copy of the card I had. I haven’t been able to track it down since. 

DT: For me it was really the mid-90s when the cards really came home. I was at Leiston Scouts’ jumble sale and somehow managed to unearth two photo albums full of local cards. I couldn’t believe it. I then realised that I knew half the people in the album from the local area and what complete characters they were. Given that they were getting older, I wanted to document them while they were alive and chat to them about it. 

Did you ever attend any CB meetups and swap cards?  

WH: Back in the day, all the card swapping I did was with my friends and neighbours. Being in a very rural area meant CB was a ‘thing’ so there were people to swap eyeballs with. I was too young at the time to go to an organised meet. And in truth, I was always more into the cards than the actual CBing itself.

Eyeball Cards Orville Soc M

What drew you back to find out more about CB culture and track down its users and all the cards? 

WH:  David and I were originally neighbours in the tiny village of Sizewell in Suffolk. Some 30 years later, we found ourselves neighbours once again, this time both of us having families of our own in SE London. Whilst catching up, David excitedly produced a couple of albums of Suffolk eyeball cards, and suggested the idea of tracking down more to create a book or an exhibition. He’d already been on the case some years before shooting portraits of a few of the eyeball card owners as part of his ‘usual’ photographic explorations but come to dead end.

Once we’d begun setting up interviews with subjects and enthusiasts, we were enjoying meeting these characters (some of whom we’d seen only as cards previously) and chatting to other CB’ers with entertaining stories and generally widening the web. Personally, I loved getting under the skin of the subject, not least an almost forgotten sub culture, and massively enjoyed tracking down cards from all corners of the UK and beyond, especially as it taps into fond childhood memories.

DT: That pretty much covers it, although I still love the idea of people making business cards for themselves who would have never ordinarily thought of ever having them made. It’s quite an understated activity – the self-expression comes out through the cards.

Spider Card

How did you go about finding cards and getting in contact with CB Radio users?

WH: By hook or by crook (and any other implement we could get our hands on) is the short answer. Everything from posting on forums and social media to lots of word of mouth, such as being on CB rigs, to interviewing and following up on leads for contacts they had.

It’s quite a closed community so building trust was a massive part of the collection and interview process. Just like the spread of the cards themselves, we had a good Suffolk base to build upon, then realised the web spread out. Being so niche, there are few eyeball cards advertised, so we’ve contacted sellers personally to procure cards and chat to them about the hobby. It’s been a process that’s been going on for nearly two years for me.

DT: Yeah, we found it quite tough at times. We had a plethora of names, and we contacted many of them, but only a few of them wanted to be involved. As much as we were getting leads and branching out, most led to dead ends. Plus, there’s an element of mystery behind the activity – handles are a case in point – CB thrives on anonymity. We’re slowly getting to know others as we write about and visually document the hobby, but it’s been many years in the making and probably will continue to evolve slowly.

What’s your favourite card? 

WH: Very tricky to answer that. I love them all – sounds like a cover-all, but each has its own quality, from craft, to print style, to an intriguing name, to revealing something about their owners. 

If I had to choose, I suppose what says DIY style, simple illustrative lines and an 80s advertising influenced daftness, is ‘Bounty Bar’. It also looks like it belongs to someone with a sense of humour and an eye for composition. It’s also fairly ‘out there’ in terms of name choice. 

Eyeball Cards Int7

DT: Desert Fox - Blown up it wouldn't look out of place in The Saatchi Gallery. Brutal simplicty.

Eyeball Cards Desert Fox

What would your handle be now?

WH: David suggested I should be called ‘Typo’. There’s also perhaps ‘Inkblot’, ‘CapsLk’ or the mildly salacious ‘Hot Fingers Hogan’ (probably illustrated with a hand and some wafting smoke streaks rising from the fingertips).
When not completely leftfield, the cards sometimes obliquely refer to your interest or profession in a casual, down-to earth-way. Writing is both for me, so I’d have to be one of the above handles.

DT: My handle would have to be ‘Shutterbug’ for obvious reasons.

What's your favourite piece of CB slang?

WH: Tricky. Probably ‘Kojak with a Kodak’ meaning ‘policeman with a speed camera’. It has both popular culture in the form of cocktail-stick in the mouth detective Kojak, and Kodak the camera manufacturers. Sort of reminds me when commercials were interesting and integral to common expressions. Nostalgia is a happy state for me it seems. 

DT: ‘We got a bear in the air’ - meaning a police helicopter is flying overhead. I heard this back in when I was on a CB radio in Suffolk. I think the guy got over excited - because in Suffolk nothing that exciting would ever happen.

Sugarbeet

Sugarbeet, portrait by David Titlow

Is there a future for CB in an internet age?

WH: CB should always have a place, and not just with truckers, farmers, ‘preppers’ and survival enthusiasts. With increasing privacy issues surrounding digital comms, the only way to swerve data profiling and have a private broadcasted conversation, is to use CB radio. Somewhat ironic, granted – given that by definition CB radio is for everyone to listen in at any point, but there you go. 

There’s a reasonable argument in suggesting CB radio was the forerunner to chat rooms and social media, just in ‘very’ real-time as I’d call it. And people still love to talk. Interestingly, there are plenty of sellers of CB rigs online and specialist shops do still exist selling new equipment regularly, with the predictable fact of most being manufactured in the Far East. It’s still a bit murky to define growth statistics, but my gut feeling is it’s not going away.

DT: Agreed - there was a newspaper article about an OAP who installed a rig so he can talk to his family. It’s because he can’t afford a mobile phone. Not so long ago I remember Will interviewed a pensioner who’d had one installed in his retirement home - his friends chipped in and he’s back on air. There’s definitely a genuinely helpful community feel to CB – something that may well be lacking in today’s more disjointed and selfie-obsessed online world. 

Eyeball Cards Int3
3015 Four Corners Website Hi Res Covers 0001 Eyeball Cards

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