Tom Bettenhausen lives half way up the Gunflint Trail and he’s been hooked on Citizens Band Radio since his teens. Now he’s using his hobby to help out in emergencies. CB is system of short-distance radio communication often used by individuals, families or businesses – especially over-the-road truckers.
“Citizens Band radio came out in 1963,” Tom recalls. “It was there for citizens to use for anything except if it was illegal. Channel 19 was from trucks, Channel 9 for emergencies. I got bit by the bug.”
Tom says CBs can be over-used in urban areas, but in isolated rural places, CB is still relevant because of spotty-to-none cell phone service.
“Up here, once you leave Elbow Lake, there’s nothing,” he said.
Lodge owners used to have CB radios in order to coordinate trail activities, report emergencies and share information. Once Tom moved here from Chicago, he realized there was a real communications gap CB could fill.
“I realized CB was being phased out by more modern technology,” he said. “But then I figured, what if there’s trouble and no way to contact anyone?”
Tom says CB radio is still actively used by truckers and others, for example the county plow trucks use it as back-up.
“So we put up an antenna, set up a base station and got a pretty good signal.” Tom says he wants people to realize the service is available. “We’re on all the time. I never shut it off.”
While he enjoys staying in touch, he sees the real role of his CB base station is to help travelers and visitors. He uses the system as a way to relay messages. The CB call comes to his base and then he can use land line telephone to direct the message where it needs to go.
“If I get a call, I relay it for them,” said Tom. “Sometimes they’re pretty desperate – ‘Hey, I just hit a moose.’”
Those calls can go to law enforcement, the DNR, a tow service – anyplace that can help.
“I realize there’s no one else,” he said.
Tom Betterhauser started his love affair with Citizens Band Radio in 1963, and continued through his time in Chicago. He’s been relaying messages locally for a little over a year. Tom says CB is still an option and you don’t need a license any more. CB is there when cell phone service is not.
“It’ll save your life, truly,” says Tom.