All across America, in appliance stores large and small, sit thousands of 32-channel citizens band radios. The store owners are anxious, even desperate, to sell them, at prices far below list. But you can't buy one.

Eighteen months ago, in August, 1976, an item in the Federal Register informed readers that as of Jan. 1, 1978, sales of 23-channel CBs were banned. The sets had been found to interfere with reception on some television sets, and the Federal Communications Commission decided to permit only the sale of 40-channel models, manufactured under tighter specifications.

For large retailers, people who employ other people to read the Federal Register and inform their clients about its contents, the announcement posed no problem.

But for thousands of small dealers appliances and electronics dealers equipment, the FCC ruling is a disaster.

"The problem is, we've purchased CB equipment, and now all of a sudden they're telling us that we've got to eat all the radios we have in stock," said Theodore Petra, the owner of T & M Electronic Supply, Inc., in Pathogue, N.Y.

Petra said he's stuck with 200 of the 23-channel CBs that he expected to sell for $10,000.

"I'm not a big outfit, and I can't afford to lose all these radios," said Petra. "I didn't hear about this until last August . . . They never informed anybody. I mean, they put it in their dockets, but who the hell sees their dockets?

"They put it in the Federal Register, but where's the Federal Register? It's in Washington. I could make a regulation and put it on my bulletin board, but no one would ever see it. These people make regulations like I eat my lunch."

No one knows for sure how many 23-channle CBs are languishing in inventories. In November, before the Christmas season's high-pressure merchandising and rock-bottom CB prices, the FCC's chief engineer estimated the number at somewhere between 250,000 and 7 million.

Most large retailers, industry sources say, were able to get rid of most of the now-unsalable stock. Small retailers, especially those remote from major communciations centers, have reportedly been hardest hit.

The Chicago-based National Appliances and Radio Dealers Association surveyed 300 of its 3,000 members, according to executive director Jules Steinberg, and found 18,000 of the 23-channel CBs on their shelves.

The crunch has produced some innovative sales techniques. One dealer in rural Illinois reportedly traded $12,000 worth of 23-channel CBs for a used truck. Another talks of selling $12.95 microphones for $50, and throwing in a $50 CB for free.

Still others say they are selling their stocks illegally, risking a fine of up to $10,000 and/or a year's imprisonment. "The FCC has became a dictator," said one. "They're creating criminals out of everyone. And I'm still taking a bath on the price."

A dealer in Memphis went so far as to sue the FCC, in an effortt o dealer implementing the new regulation. The U.S. Court of Appeals here heard the suit and, the same day, upheld the FCC's position, without comment.

Grey Pash, (cq) the FCC attorney who handled the case, volunteered the opinion that the court rejected the suit for the same reason that the FCC has denied all requests for extending the Jan. 1 deadline - a lack of reliable information about how many CBs are yet unsold.

The FCC forbade the manufacture or import of 23-channel CBs after Aug. 1 of last year.

"Responsible manufacturers stopped making the 23s," said a source. "The fast buck operators kept pouring them or hoping for an expansion, because regulatory agencies often don't close the door on time. The big wholesalers pushed his stuff off on the retailers, and apparently the little guys on caught."