September 2014

The Nation Reviewed

Airwave wars

By Richard Cooke
Sydney's CB radio scene is a battlefield

Listen,” my friend said, “to this.” He’d taken some walkie-talkies with him on a beach holiday and idly switched one on when he came back to Sydney. “Ready?” A male voice, so gravelly it was chilling, let fly a florid, minute-long insult into the ether. After some stunned silence, a female voice responded tentatively. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, and she sounded about ten years old. “They’re like this every day,” said my friend. “It’s picking up CB radio.” Five years later, I’d find out we’d been eavesdropping on a war.

Bill “Bunter” Anson is a veteran of that war. His townhouse in Wentworthville is still covered in antennas, his garage full of radio racks, but he hasn’t been on CB’s UHF band for years. Not since “all the shit hit the fan. The home invasions …”

The hobby hadn’t been like that when he started. Sure, the “chook band” was looked down on by the serious ham radio crowd, but the fact that CB was unlicensed meant it was egalitarian, democratic. After all, the “C” stands for “citizen”. There were community barbecues – “‘eyeballs’, we called them, where we’d see each other” – people with prams, in wheelchairs. If someone was down on their luck, the others would chip in with equipment or repairs. “George the Pizza Man” would cook for everyone.

“We were pretty close at one stage, helping each other out. But people change … New people come along, try and muscle in. Like the Blacktown group.”

CB radio has the same kind of appeal as an online chat room or a conversation at a party. Anyone can talk to anyone else within range on a given frequency. But only one person can talk at a time, so the operator with the most powerful signal can talk over people, abuse them or shut down the whole band.

Even before the trouble, there had always been trolls, rivals, oddballs. There was “Tripper”, a paranoiac in the bush who went deep on conspiracy theories and threats. “Les Laser” overreacted to taunts until he sounded like he’d had a heart attack. “Nick Harris” was unusual because everyone knew his real name. “He’s one of those strange operators,” says Bill, “who would run gigantic power, with big beam antennas, and just upset people. He was working as a train refueller, and he’d get on the repeater, turn up his power, and he’d sit there and read the log sheets of the day’s trains. How much fuel he’d put in them, how long it took to do it.”

Much of the tension centred on the repeaters, a kind of relay that allows operators to increase the distance over which they can be heard. There are two major repeaters in metropolitan Sydney, SYD01 and SYD07, known as Channel 1 and Channel 7. Large companies once owned them, but as the corporations moved online, the repeater licences were handed over to hobbyists.

The internet and mobile phones didn’t kill off CB, but perhaps they helped sour it. The channels became, in Anson’s words, “a magnet for shit”.

For a long time, Jason Kennedy, known as “JD”, owned the SYD01 repeater. He is a figure of some controversy. “He makes John Laws look perfect,” says Anson. “He makes Kyle Sandilands look perfect.” The Sunday Telegraph, in a 2007 article on the “shadowy, X-rated world of NSW CB broadcasting”, noted that Kennedy had called another operator a “fucking houso derro, wino kero, poverty-packed, Down’s Syndrome, speech impediment stinky fucking unwashed thing”.

“He can be good with words,” says Anson.

There were many ways to exert power. People would “drop the carrier”, taping a mic button down and overloading the repeater so no one else could talk. There was revenge, prankish and good-natured at first. Someone from Channel 7, like “Chesty”, would get on Channel 1 and start revving people up. Eventually a crew headed over and painted “SYD01 was here” in yellow paint on the road in front of Chesty’s house, so big it took up almost the whole street. “The thing about that RTA [Roads and Traffic Authority] paint,” says Anson, “is you can’t get it off. It was still sparkling a year later.”

“On radio I used to shake a spray can so they’d hear that little rattle, and they’d go ballistic. ‘Was it you, Bill?’ ‘Nah, I didn’t do it. But I was there.’”

There were ways to figure out where someone lived, make things less anonymous, broadcast names and addresses. You could send out a fleet of cars, all equipped with radios, until one got a stronger signal, and then fan out across a suburb looking for rooflines with antennas. There were illegal, high-powered radios for getting your point across at long range.

On SYD01 things didn’t go much further than vilification, but on SYD07 the rivalries and taunting changed into something else.

Bill Anson’s stoushes with the Blacktown crew became more and more heated. One afternoon he was watching TV when his neighbour knocked on the door. “Your back fence is on fire,” he said. Half of it was gone before they could put it out.

There’s no doubt in Anson’s mind that the incident was related. “I was getting in their way. I was stuffing up their big dream of control.” Anson says he finally cracked when an operator threatened to rape his 13-year-old daughter. Anson announced on radio that he was heading over to sort things out. A friend gave him a lift: “I said, ‘Don’t worry about waiting. It’s going to be a one-way trip.’”

Two police were ready for him at the man’s letterbox.

“They said, ‘Well, what are you doing here, mate?’ and I said, ‘Well, this guy’s threatened to rape my daughter, I’m going to bash him.’ And they said, ‘No, you’re not.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I am. Just let me bash him and then you can lock me up. I’ll have McDonald’s in the morning, I don’t mind.’”

The cops finally managed to calm Anson down. “When I got back, I thought to myself, Bill, you’re a fucking idiot. You’re becoming like them.

His decision to pull back turned out to be the right one. Another operator, “Clyde”, pushed further, and two hooded men broke into his house and physically assaulted his pregnant wife. “Clyde”, who ended up moving interstate with his family, told reporters he wished he’d never bought a CB radio.

“That was the end of it for me as well,” says Anson. “I thought, Nup, if this is going to happen to one guy, I don’t want it happening to my family. My family is worth more than the hobby.

Things are calmer now. After running their adversaries off the repeaters, the owners didn’t seem to know what to do. There was a prosecution for CB abuse in Adelaide, the first of its kind in Australia. In time, Jason Kennedy and the Blacktown crew gave up their licences, and now both Channel 1 and Channel 7 are registered to a mysterious company called PJ Tubby Transport Pty Ltd. What was it all for?

Anson’s wife, overhearing, interjects. “Can I say something? It’s about control. Domination. It’s nature. You’ve got people that are submissive and people that are aggressive. And it depends on what your nature is, how you’re going to do things.”

“It’s all they’ve got in their life,” says Anson. “They mustn’t have anything more important than CB radio in their life. People used to say that about me.”

Richard Cooke

Richard Cooke is a writer, broadcaster and contributing editor to the Monthly.

@rgcooke

Cover

September 2014

×
×