The Strange Story Of 'Convoy': How A Trucker's Protest Anthem Became A '70s Hit "Convoy," a 1976 novelty song attributed to C.W. McCall, topped the charts with its celebration of citizens band radio, trucker lingo and rugged individualism.
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How A Trucker's Protest Anthem Became A '70s Hit

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How A Trucker's Protest Anthem Became A '70s Hit

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How A Trucker's Protest Anthem Became A '70s Hit

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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CONVOY")

C W MCCALL: (Singing) It was the dark of the moon on the 6th of June in Kenworth pulling logs.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

On this June 6, we are digging into "Convoy." The song introduced listeners to the magic of CB radio, citizens band radio. It was 1976, and C.W. McCall drove "Convoy" to number one on the pop and country charts. Meredith Ochs has the song's story.

MEREDITH OCHS, BYLINE: "Convoy" features a conversation between truckers as they drive from California to New Jersey, spoken in the inscrutable vernacular of the CB radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CONVOY")

MCCALL: (Singing) We was heading for bear on I-10 about a mile out of Shaky Town. I says, Pig Pen, this here's Rubber Duck, and I'm about to put the hammer down.

OCHS: Even more bizarre, its singer-songwriter, C.W. McCall, never actually existed. McCall was a character invented and performed by an advertising executive named Bill Fries. He created McCall as part of an ad campaign for a bread company. Along with his jingle-writing cohort, musician Chip Davis, Fries won an award for the campaign. But that was just the beginning of "Convoy's" journey.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CONVOY")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) 'Cause we got a great, big convoy rocking through the night. Yeah, we got a great, big convoy. Ain't she a beautiful sight?

OCHS: To make sense of "Convoy," consider what was happening in 1976. The United States was still reeling from a gas crisis. Motorists had to wait in line for hours to get fuel. Prices skyrocketed, and the federal government imposed a nationwide 55-mile-an-hour speed limit. The economy was in bad shape, and the trucking industry was hit hard.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CONVOY")

MCCALL: (Singing) Well, we laid a strip for the Jersey Shore, prepared to cross the line. I could see the bridge was lined with bears, but I didn't have a dog-goned dime.

OCHS: Enter the citizens band radio. Truckers used it to communicate, to help each other on the job, for camaraderie, even to keep one another awake on long hauls. But when the FCC eliminated the need for an operator's license to use a CB, suddenly anyone could listen in and join the conversation, and Bill Fries did. He learned the code words truckers used and wove them into lyrics. Swindle sheets are log books. Chicken coops are weigh stations. Bears are police.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CONVOY")

MCCALL: (Singing) By the time we got into Tulsa Town, we had 85 trucks in all. But there's a roadblock up on the cloverleaf, and them bears was wall to wall. Yeah, them smokies is thick as bugs on a bumper. They even had a bear in the air. I says, calling all trucks, this here's the Duck. We about to go hunting bear.

OCHS: "Convoy's" narrator, a driver who goes by the handle the Rubber Duck, uses the CB to lead a group of truckers in protest of government regulations. As they move across the country, the excitement builds. Law enforcement tries to intervene, but in a grand act of unity and resistance, more truckers and other motorists join the convoy, making them unstoppable.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CONVOY")

MCCALL: (Singing) Well, we rolled up Interstate 44 like a rocket sled on rails. We tore up all of our swindle sheets and left them sitting on the scales.

OCHS: Even though convoy is sung by a fictional character and its story is fantastic, Bill Fries' use of trucker lingo resonated throughout popular culture. By the end of the 1970s, millions of Americans had used a CB radio. Sure, "Convoy" a novelty song, but it became a phenomenon, inspiring movies and TV shows. It's also an improbable protest song, an asphalt fable of workers pushing back at a system that always seems to lean on them the hardest.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CONVOY")

MCCALL: (Singing) I says, Pig Pen, this here's the Rubber Duck. We just ain't going to pay no toll.

SIEGEL: Meredith Ochs is a talk show host and DJ at SiriusXM Radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CONVOY")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) 'Cause we got a mighty convoy rocking through the night. Yeah, we got a mighty convoy. Ain't she a beautiful sight?

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