Alvin McBurney, Bob Heil and the Talk Box

I don’t know if you ever noticed, but there are a lot of musicians in our ranks. I’m not sure if that’s a coincidence or not, but there are a lot of them in my circles. What most people might not know is that (sometimes famous) hams had a greater influence on music that you can imagine.

Talk Box
If you’re about my age you probably will remember Peter Frampton with his famous Talk Box. Popular songs like “Do You Feel Like I Do” and “Show Me The Way” stormed the hit parades, and the Talk Box was partly responsible for the success.

The original Talk Box

Contrary to common myth Peter Frampton did not invent that Talk Box himself but Alvin McBurney, W6UK, did. Joe Walsh, WB6ACU, better known as the guitar player and singer in “The Eagles”, loved the effect and started to use it. Unfortunately the device wasn’t powerful enough, so he contacted Bob Heil. Bob made a 250 Watt version of the gadget and the “Heil Talk Box” was born.

Peter Frampton
Peter Frampton loved the effect too, but no one wanted to lend him one or tell him how it was constructed. Peter contacted Bob Heil and now he got the right person. Bob gave one to Peter for Christmas in 1974. The rest is history.

More musical, brilliant hams

It doesn’t stop there. Take Ken Schaffer for example. A lifelong amateur radio enthusiast, in the 1970s he invented the Schaffer-Vega Diversity System, a low-noise/wide dynamic range wireless microphone and then a wireless guitar system.He made more than a thousand systems (at $4,400 each). Among the first bands to adopt the Schaffer system were the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger used a Schaffer microphone when he danced around the stage, as did nearly every other major touring rock group in the 70s and 80s.

What made the Schaffer mic and guitar system worth so much was not just that it just kept rock stars from being electrocuted (KISS switched to Schaffer after a band member was seriously injured), but that it had excellent reliability and sound quality. NASA became a customer and used Schaffer’s innovative preprocessing circuits to improve astronaut voice communication.

Many thanks to Raymond PA7RAY, who interviewed Bob Heil K9EID on this subject