Grandmaster Flash

Last night I watched two more episodes of The Get Down on Netflix with my daughter. About 6 minutes into episode 3 of the first season where members of I think the Notorious gang visit Grandmaster Flash to show him the bootleg cassette, you see Flash sitting at a desk with a fat old 2 or maybe even 5-watt resistor and a multimeter. I think it’s a 2.7k ohm value(!).
In the background, there are some signal generators and a big Tektronics oscilloscope. If you visit you can see the actual prop currently being auctioned off. It’s a Tektronics 545A which was made between 1959-64.
Grandmaster Flash's Tinkering Machine according to the site auctioning props from 'The Get Down'.
Grandmaster Flash’s Tinkering Machine according to the site auctioning props from ‘The Get Down’.
The Smithsonian Institution has one of his actual turntables – a Technics SL-1200 MK2 model.
The Technics turntable used by Grandmaster Flash aka Joseph Saddler
The Technics turntable used by Grandmaster Flash aka Joseph Saddler
The description mentions
“Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler), was born in Barbados in 1958. Growing up in the Bronx, he was influenced by his father’s massive record collection. As a teenager, Grandmaster Flash first experimented with DJ equipment and became involved in the New York DJ scene while attending daytime technical school courses in electronics. The innovations and techniques developed by Grandmaster Flash established him as one of the pioneers of hip-hop and deejaying.”
An electronics geek with scant funds, Flash constructed a stereo system using parts scavenged from scrapyards and discarded cars and asked the girls he dated if their parents had any records they didn’t want.
This makes my walking a wheelbarrow around my 1960s middle-class neighbourhood as a 13-year-old gathering old discarded radios during council clean-ups quite tame, compared to the virtual war zone of the late 70s South Bronx.

Arnie Coro and the Super Islander

Looking back over some older email list posts today I came across an interesting exchange of posts on the QRPp list.

In early August Arnie Coro CO2KK announced latest progress on the ‘Super Islander Version 5 QRP transceiver project’. Key design criteria include using “as much as possible parts that could be recycled from easy to find sources of electronic components” such as toroids from PC boards salvaged from failed compact flourescent globes, and other treasures from broken VCRs, TVs and fax machines.

Via the short Wikipedia bio of Arnie Coro I discovered a link to more than seven years of transcripts of his weekly radio program ‘DXers UNnlimited’ broadcast by Radio Habana Cuba. Earlier transcripts are here. He also has a blog last updated in June. They’re practical and full of useful ideas.

One transcript is reproduced on and is an undated description of the project detailing what appears to be the first valve version of the project – I think designed by his friend Pedro, CO7PR. It brings home in a softly stated way the challenges and barriers facing radio enthusiasts in countries which for one reason or another don’t enjoy relatively high wages to afford factory made gear, and who have to be much more resourceful in making do with what they have available to get on the air.

A rude dismissive comment on the QRPp list prompted a firm but calm response from Arnie.

“Yes amigos, it is very easy for people having access to the money and the possibility of buying factory built radios or even well designed kits with full instructions and each and every part required… even washers , to just sign a check or complete and electronic transaction that will bring to  their homes a nice piece of equipment…

But that is not the case for many of us, that do enjoy very much the amateur radio hobby, and think not only about ourselves, but also about those that may benefit from also well designed, easy to assembly and to adjust radios that can be built using locally available parts.

Try to find even the lowest cost ceramic filter for building a single sideband rig in no less than 130 countries around the world and you will meet with the fact that they are impossible to locate, and the same goes for ferrite and powdered iron toroids, IF transformers, RF power transistors, small relays , RF connectors, resistors and capacitors, not to mention quartz crystals and integrated circuits !”

SolderSmoke named Arnie ‘Homebrew Hero’ earlier this year.

Arnie Coro CO2KK - photo by Rodger WQ9E c 2000
Arnie Coro CO2KK – photo by Rodger WQ9E c 2000

Arnie ended one of his missives to the QRPp list with this plea:

“Maybe one day the International Amateur Radio Union could sponsor a similar project to help promote amateur radio among young persons that live in poor nations where buying a factory made transceiver may be equal to the full salary of a worker during five years or more !!!”

I remember that one of the first QRP designs I ever built (back in the late 1970s) was a simple VXO controlled 6 W 20 m CW transceiver that appeared in QST (Dec 1978). It was later suggested as a prototype IARU transceiver as ham aid for developing nations. (This radio certainly worked for me, with a first contact into the US west coast with W6QR from a camp site in Kangaroo Valley!)

Arnie’s idea appears much more economical and self reliant, drawing on the potential of recyclable components. It’s also a design thought through from a Cuban perspective rather than a first world one.

You can even hear an interview with Arnie Coro recalling the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. [audio].

B&W coils

I was surprised to see that one longtime brand I associate with my earliest days playing around with radio, Barker and Williamson, is still thriving – and even better, still providing the product I associate them most closely with, air wound coils, specifically the Miniductors.

B&W coil
B&W coil

There’s a list of the types they have available here. They’re not cheap, but they are convenient. They don’t appear to have a local Australian distributor. They do sell an attractive looking 13-42pF butterfly variable capacitor for US$25.