SIOUX CITY -- The days of "Big 10-4" and "What's your 20?" radiating across the skies might finally be over.

"Sometimes it's so quiet now, there's just no one to talk to," said Larry Brumm, of Sioux City, one of the last in dying breed of citizens band radio users.

CB radio used to be the Facebook of its day -- a cheap way to communicate across the ether -- immortalized in "The Dukes of Hazzard" and "Smokey and the Bandit."

These days, surfing between channels often reveals empty airwaves. It's so barren out there that Brumm sometimes stumbles onto people from Florida, Hawaii and Jamaica.

Conversations, when they do happen, often are limited to talking shop about equipment, usually in a jargon that leaves most people stumped.

"It's hard to find people who use CB radio or who repair them or sell parts for them," Brumm said. "That's why it's become endangered."

Their popularity peaked in the '70s and '80s, fueled by the Federal Communications Commission eliminating licensing requirements, allowing anyone to broadcast on CB channels.

The void of regulation, however, flooded the airwaves, making it difficult for non-amateur users to talk, said Kevin Grimes, president of the Radio Emergency Associated Communication Team in Omaha.

"It was new, it was cheap, it was reliable and it made it possible to communicate out of vehicles. But it got so crowded, you would hear channels that weren't even in English. It just wasn't a reliable way to communicate," he said.

Many emergency users eventually switched to radios that require a license, then cell phones, then smartphones, Grimes said.

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CB radio usage has been on the decline since the 1990s, but without a licensing system, there is no way to determine by how much, said FCC spokeswoman Melissa Tye.

Ben Bugg, owner of DX Communications in Sergeant Bluff, said commercial truckers make up the bulk of his business today, although there is an occasional farmer or hunter as well.

"CB is a dead horse now, but not with truckers," he said. "Truckers are 97 percent of the market."

CB radios thrive on the nation's roadways because they reach a broader audience and don't require the user to dial another person's number like a cell phone, Bugg said.

The radio is used to socialize, warn about hazards and keep an eye out for "smokey," a nickname for police.

"For truckers, it's solitary confinement in that cab," Bugg said. "The CB radio, it's somebody to talk to. I know truckers who would rather let a load spoil than go without their radio."

Despite the decline, Brumm intends to stick with his CB radio.

He got his first radio as a Christmas gift from his parents in 1976 and has collected about 45 antique sets. Brumm said he enjoys the thrill of getting someone else's voice through his set, especially on days when weather conditions allow radio waves to travel for hundreds of miles.

"It's my hobby," he said. "I don't drink or smoke; instead I collect radios."

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Nate Robson is the education reporter for the Journal. He writes about issues impacting local school districts and colleges.

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