The Basics
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Few written accounts exist to tell us what classic Star Trek props were made, how, or why.  Memories of those involved are growing ever more rare.  Thus we have endeavored to reassemble a complete history of the communicator prop based mostly on what reliable evidence remains:  DVD frames, vintage photos and known genuines.  In the process, we have sought to differentiate fact from speculation.  Within the latter, some guesses are near certainty and others are a mere likelihood.  Much can still be debated, and we strive to gather more data to fill in the gaps.  If you can help dispel any mysteries, you are welcome to contact us.  Happy hunting...


Star Trek TOS first pilot communicator propWah Ming Chang in his late 40sIn the Spring of 1966, Gene Rodenberry asked Wah Ming Chang (left), a 49 year-old independent special effects artist, to make some props for his new TV series called "Star Trek" that had been given the green light after an unprecedented two pilots.  Wah had previously provided some of the creature effects for the first pilot and was the ideal artist to improve upon the large clunky transparent communicators that were used in those.

Unlike the phaser and tricorder, whose brief story was penned by Herbert Solow and Robert Justman in their book Inside Star Trek - The Real Story pages 118-120, nothing has ever been written first-hand about the making of the revised “classic” communicator.  They simply came to be – directly from the creative mind and experienced hands of Mr. Chang.

This new prop was a unique and durable assemblage of plastic, metal and assorted odds and ends that presaged the flip cell phone by nearly three decades.  A few components were off-the-shelf items, but the majority of the communicator, such as the shell, antenna and moiré ring, was completely hand-crafted.

Screencaps of Star Trek TOS communicator props made by Wah Ming Chang -
(above center is an accurately colorized black & white photo)

According to Wah Chang himself, he was paid for providing to Star Trek a total of ten new black-bodied communicators; two "heroes" mechanized with a stopwatch-driven spinning effect intended for close-ups (Alpha & Beta below), and eight hollow "dummies" for normal work-a-day filming and rugged action.  Here they are, each assigned their own Greek alphabet name to standardize the nomenclature:

Iota Theta Eta Epsilon Gamma Beta Alpha Delta Epsilon Zeta The ten Star Trek TOS communicator props made by Wah Ming Chang -
mouse-over any communicator to see that version's details


> > > The Details - HOW MANY COMMS WERE MADE?  < < < <


These ten communicators may at first glance all look the same, and indeed they share many common elements.  But since they were each made individually by hand - and quickly too - they also all differ in subtle and not-so-subtle ways (features called "tells") that can be used for tracking them through the episodes and for making a positive ID today.  Some of these variations were likely intentional as expressions of Wah's creative whimsy.  Others probably came about simply from the process of trial and error or from a limited supply of parts, time and money.

Note:  HeroComm only explores the communicator as a 1960's TV prop.  No effort is made here to explain the popularity or cultural relevance of the Star Trek series or of the device.  Suffice it to say that it is a very well-appreciated and influential prop, and if you are reading this, it interests you enough.  We also do not attempt to describe its fictional capabilities or its "23rd century" components, beyond showing images from the Star Trek Technical Manual and Star Trek Phase II blueprints and offering links to the technical sites Ex Astris Scientia and Memory Alpha.  The communicator always seemed to work (or not) as the writers needed it to for any given episode.  Comm parts are described here in the way most hobbyists today have tended to label them.

Advance to Part 2:  Creating a Communicator

Advance to Part 3

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