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Widget Of The Week

Shira WT-605CB Walkie Talkies, 1979

Here in the UK the decade between 1975 and 1985 was a very strange time indeed, for so many reasons. One of the many weird things that happened was the brief fad for Citizen’s Band radio. Many relatively sane and apparently sensible blokes (and it was overwhelmingly a male thing…) drove around in their cars at night, talking to  strangers in a faux American accents. They called each other ‘good buddy’, Volkswagen Beetles were known as ‘pregnant roller skates’ and wives and girfriends unflatteringly referred to as ‘seat covers’ and ‘beavers’.


Those of us who were around at the time and involved in the CB madness are probably cringing by now, having done our best to forget that embarrassing period, but it all came back to haunt me when my gadget hunting brother presented me with this pair of Shira WT-605CB Walkie talkies. Included with the outfit was the original instruction sheet, almost a third of which is devoted to CB Slang – and if you fancy a wince you can see it in all its glory in the Manuals section of dustygizmos.


What makes the WT-605CB slightly unusual is the walkie-talkie function, which does not operate on the 27MHz short wave bands used by CB radio (at that time). Instead they work at VHF frequencies, 49.86MHz to be precise, and over the years radio amateurs and TV stations have variously occupied this part of the radio spectrum.


The justification for the CB slang dictionary is WT-605’s built-in 27MHz receiver, which tunes over the 40 AM channels used by the US system. This was never legal in the UK but it was very widely used, before the UK government gave into pressure and legalised a wimpish FM system (also on 27MHz) in 1981. The popularity of illicit AM CB was mainly due to a thriving black market in contraband American ‘rigs’ mostly imported from European countries where it was allowed, or at least tolerated. This is all academic though, and it is highly doubtful that the CB receiver feature on the WT-605CB ever worked. The tuning function is manual, rather than crystal controlled, making it impossible to discriminate between adjacent channels and the telescopic antenna would have a tough time picking up transmissions more than a few hundred metres away.


Just when you though it couldn’t get any odder, one of the WT-605CB’s other headline features is Space Alert. Almost all toy walkie talkie sets of this era had a ‘Morse Code’ or signalling button, which generates a tone that can be sent to the companion handset. The WT-605CB is no exception but the button has two settings; a light touch generates the Morse tone, and pressing the button all the way creates a wacky warbling sound. A small person with a lively imagination could pretend it was the sound of a laser disintegrator or interstellar communicator; holding down the press to talk (PTT) switch on the side of the handset at the same time sends the Morse tone or Space Alert to the other handset.   


Brother Pete found this set at his local Sunday car boot sales, in deepest Dorset. He paid just £5.00 for them, which was something of a bargain as it came in its original box, complete with the poly packing, and the all-important instructions. Both units are in extremely good condition and look as though they have hardly been used. One of them worked straight away, the other one was as dead as a doornail; it must have happened quite early on and it was probably the reason there was minimal wear and tear. Luckily it was the easiest (and one of the commonest) faults to fix. One of the wires to the battery clip had broken, almost certainly as a result of its original owner pulling too hard to detach the 9 volt PP3 battery. All of the functions worked, though as per usual, the performance was awful. The range is around 50 metres and sound quality is dreadful, but it’s worth remembering that the 70s and 80s were simpler times. In the years before mobile phones any form of wireless communication would have been something of a novelty, especially for a youngster. The CB receiver appeared to be working but it was difficult to be certain. Apparently there are still a few AM CBers out there, but none of them were within range at the time of testing.


What Happened To It?

Cheap toy walkie talkies are still with us, as are their more effective grown up cousins but the world has moved on and these days most pre-teens are more interested in communicating over the Internet. Vintage models like the WT-605CB are becoming quite scarce, though on the face of it this is not an especially unusual model. It was one of several thousand designs around at that time, though the CB receiver feature does set it apart from the crowd and gives it a modest rarity value, possibly as much as £20 to £30 on ebay if a couple of excitable bidders got carried away. Other types have become seriously collectible, though, and are now fetching some very impressive prices. The one’s to look out for are early examples from the 60s and 70s, and their appeal increases dramatically if they’re a novelty design with a tie-in to a popular TV series, movie or well-known cartoon character from the period. Needless to say if they are in pristine condition and boxed you can start talking serious money and it’s not unusual for mint examples to change hands for £100 or more.


First seen                1979

Original Price         £15

Value Today           £25 (1015)

Features                 Dual mode walkie talkies (49.8MHz)& 27MHz CB receiver, Morse Code & Space Alert signalling, 8-transistor circuit, PTT switch, pressure-sensitive Morse Code/Space Alert button, variable CB tuner (40 channels…), rotary volume, mode select (Walkie talkie/CD receiver), 50mm speaker/microphone, 7-section telescopic antenna, belt/sun visor clip,

Power req.                     1 x 9v PP3 battery

Dimensions:                   165 x 78 x 48mm (each unit)

Weight:                          250g (each unit)

Made (assembled) in:    Hong Kong

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest):  8




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