Chronicling My Star Trek V/VI Communicator Build

So this Halloween, my intent is to go as a Starfleet officer from the Star Trek V/VI era. As a cosplayer, I tend to take pride in my costumes and try to get them as close to accurate as budget and time will allow, but I try not to be elitist, and I try to keep in mind that it's not always feasible to be 100% accurate.

To that end, I've acquired a Playmates Assault Phaser, which will do nicely for the phaser prop, though it's got red LEDs instead of blue and no cricket phaser. Alas, acquiring a truly accurate (Master Replicas) one costs around $800 and I'm not about to drop that on a prop.

I have uniforms on order made to my specs. The first one came and was so far off from the photo used, I'm currently arguing with the seller trying to get a refund--it's not even wearable. Hopefully I won't have to get eBay involved. The second one is still en route and I'm hoping it's better. Worst case scenario, I think at least the one I got can be modified, but it's more time and effort than I was hoping to spend.

Now onto the point of this blog: the communicator. The only toy communicator props that have been released are the classic TOS communicator, and the two used in Star Trek II. There are vendors online who sell kits to build Star Trek III and V/VI models, but again, they're very expensive.

For reference, this is what the screen-used props for Star Trek V and VI look like:

These were wired so that the screen would light up when active.

For more images, check this blog entry (you'll need to scroll down a bit to see them).

Back in 1989 or thereabouts, however, Colgate as a promotion offered a set of walkie talkies that are around 75%/80% accurate reproductions of the V/VI communicators. Here's images of the unmodified walkies:

Photo from YourProps

As you can see, there are a number of differences. Beyond the extending antenna, large side button and on/off switch on the back, there's a plastic lid with clear sides, front and hinges and a golden grid painted on top. The speaker grid is black instead of solid white, and there are differences in the "buttons," which are molded in rather than being functional buttons. There's also that big silver UL sticker on the back.

There is one vendor online who sells electronics kits specifically for the Trek V communicators, which consist of an LED and a "chirp" sound...and nothing more. And he wants $80 for them. The same guy sells metallic grid lids for $35. Unfortunately, he and I had an unpleasant encounter, so I can't deal with him. He also told me that I had "no prayer" of getting anything accurate from an "inaccurate walk-in [sic] talkie," while advertising his $300 kits.

The best way to push me into doing something is to tell me I can't do it.

Frankly, it's not worth paying $80 for such a simple sound setup when you can get an old Playmates TOS communicator for much cheaper online, and just gut it. The chirp is the same, and it also has LEDs built into it. The grid becomes a problem, so my first step was to start with a paint job. Here's mine as they sit today.

I'm pretty pleased with myself for mixing an almost perfect color match for the gold. They look quite like metal unless you look at them very closely. I painted the grille silver because my original intent was to leave it function as a walkie by replacing the antenna with a metal grid and doing some other wizardry, then installing an LED under the grille, but it turned out not really feasible, so I went through sourcing sound board-based electronics.

My plan at this time is to install the guts of the Playmates communicator. All are button-based, but I feel confident with the existing holes that I can place the various buttons in ways that will be inconspicuous. I'm going to use a dremel to cut off the majority of the grille, and epoxy a plastic screen with diffusion material over top and sides to create the proper screen, under which I'll place an LED light. I am leaning towards a velcro patch on the back instead of a belt clip, which can be cut to cover up the UL sticker.

As for the buttons, there's nothing much that can be done about the left-right triangles instead of up-down, but it should be mentioned I've seen photos that purport to be of screen used props that do have left-right ones. The three "printed" buttons below them, I'm debating. I may just leave them as they are, as they're close enough for government work. I can also print and laminate proper patterns, and epoxy them on for a slightly raised, more accurate look, and I may go that route.

Next step, however, is getting the electronics in and installed. I have one Playmates communicator on the way for gutting. If it works out well, I'll probably order a second and have two props.

Until then, I look forward to your comments below.

Go here for PART 2 to see the final product!


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