Cracking the Code: A Guide to CB Radio Lingo

In the age of smartphones and instant messaging, it’s easy to forget that there once was a time when CB (Citizens Band) radio was the go-to method of communication for long-haul truckers, emergency services, and hobbyists. Although CB radio usage has waned in recent years, there’s still a passionate community of enthusiasts who continue to use this tried-and-true method of communication. If you want to join the conversation, it’s essential to know the lingo that defines CB radio culture. So, buckle up and get ready to crack the code of CB radio lingo.

The Basics: 10-Codes and Q-Codes

CB radio operators use two primary sets of codes to communicate: 10-codes and Q-codes. The 10-codes were initially developed for law enforcement, while Q-codes were designed for use in Morse code and radiotelegraphy.


The 10-codes represent a set of standardized phrases that convey specific messages. Some common 10-codes include:

  • 10-1: Receiving poorly
  • 10-4: Message received, understood
  • 10-9: Repeat message
  • 10-20: Location (e.g., “What’s your 10-20?” means “What’s your location?”)
  • 10-33: Emergency traffic


Q-codes are three-letter codes beginning with the letter “Q”. They originated in the days of Morse code but have since been adapted for voice communication. Some examples include:

  • QSL: Can you acknowledge receipt?
  • QSY: Shall I change to another frequency?
  • QTH: What is your location?

CB Radio Slang

Besides the 10-codes and Q-codes, CB radio operators have developed their own unique slang over the years. Here’s a list of some common CB radio terms and their meanings:

  • Handle: Your CB radio nickname
  • Breaker: A request to join a conversation (e.g., “Breaker 1-9” means “I’d like to join the conversation on channel 19”)
  • Good buddy: A friend or fellow CB radio user
  • Roger: Message received and understood
  • Copy: To hear and understand a transmission
  • Over: Indicates the end of a transmission and invites a response
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Popular Phrases

CB radio operators have also created a variety of popular phrases that are unique to their community. Some examples include:

  • Bear: A police officer (e.g., “There’s a bear at mile marker 45”)
  • Bear in the air: A police helicopter
  • Chicken coop: A weigh station for trucks
  • Four-wheeler: A car or other non-commercial vehicle
  • Hammer down: Drive at full speed
  • Smokey: A state trooper or highway patrol officer

Channel-Specific Lingo

Certain channels on the CB radio spectrum have specific purposes, and the lingo used on these channels often reflects their function. For example:

  • Channel 9: This channel is reserved for emergency communications. Terms like “10-33” (emergency traffic) and “Mayday” (distress call) are common here.
  • Channel 19: This channel is popular among truckers for discussing road conditions, traffic, and other travel-related information. Phrases like “What’s your 20?” (location), “hammer lane” (fast lane), and “back door” (the rear of a convoy) are frequently heard on this channel.


CB radio lingo is a fascinating and essential aspect of CB radio culture. By familiarizing yourself with the 10-codes, Q-codes, slang, popular phrases, and channel-specific terms, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a proficient CB radio operator. So, grab your microphone, choose a handle, and join the conversation!


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