Line One
What’s the 20 on the 10’s

By Bill Hudgins


I’m not one to whine about the good old days of anything, including trucking, but I do mourn the passing of some traditions. From what I haven’t heard lately, CB 10-codes are joining that list.

Granted, the foul language that makes up way too much of even routine exchanges of information is a bigger problem, and a reason why more and more drivers are turning down the volume or keeping their CBs off most of the time. And maybe that’s related to the demise of 10-codes as a quick, easy, universal means of driver communications.

One of the first things I did after buying my first CB in 1977 was to learn as many of the 10-codes as I could (not to mention the slang terms). CBs were the gotta-have car gizmo of the era, thanks of course to “Smokey and the Bandit.” I wasn’t a trucker, but I loved the idea of being able to communicate with these knights of the road in their own parlance. I called it speaking “Tenish.”

Within a few days, I was confidently asking for the 10-20 of that 10-73 where a full-grown bear with the bubblegum machine lurked, politely responding to 10-36s and 10-32s, and asking for directions to dodge 10-43s. When I got hungry or was about to arrive someplace, I’d leave my traveling companions with a 10-7.

I’ve seen and heard a lot of debate about why CBers ever needed to use codes. I guess it came from ham radio operators and military and police use, where signal strength and quality could be unreliable and economy of speech was necessary to communicate clearly in a minimum amount of time. As equipment has improved (and drivers discovered kickers), usable talk time expanded.

Sadly, more time to say something doesn’t translate to better communication. These days – when someone’s not cussing out their employer or the guvmint, or trying to provoke a radio riot – you’re likely to hear “anybody know what [expletive deleted] time it is?” instead of “how about a 10-36.” You’re also likely to hear a highly negative description of some driver’s radio when being asked for a 10-32.

As we get away from using CBs, newer drivers never get much chance to learn or use 10-codes. It’s like the foreign language they made you take in high school – how much do you remember now?

Also, today we have more immigrant drivers from around the world who are still struggling with English. Tenish on top of that might be just too much to think about while driving.

Change happens, and these days you’re more likely to see a driver on a cell phone than on the CB. From what I have seen, it looks like some of those drivers are texting as well as talking. They’re using a new code – the ultra-abbreviated and often-pictorial language used in instant messaging and text messages.

CB slang also seems to be fading into the distance, with some exceptions. I have heard countless conversations and alerts about attractive women, but not one has included the term “seat cover” – though there was usually way more info than I desired.

I still hear “meat wagon” for ambulance, and “bear” and “county mounty” and various kinds of wrappers. But: Who the heck knows what “green stamps” or “motion lotion” or a “commercial” are anymore? Does anyone ever see a “Kojack with a Kodak”?

As much as I miss hearing Tenish, I would settle for fewer bucket mouths and less graphic description on the airwaves. The pleasure of listening to where drivers are bound and what kinds of rigs they’re driving diminishes amid the @#$#$# 10-30 expletives, and I tend to click off rather than engage. My loss, because the CB was my first education in trucking and truckers, and I miss the classes.

Until next time, be safe, make money and get back to the 10-20 often. LL


Bill Hudgins can be reached at