Green is the word these days — using renewable things and recycling the used ones. It helps the planet; sometimes it helps the wallet. The concept is not a new one, especially to radio engineers. One colleague used to call it “junking.” The more adventurous call it “dumpster diving.” There are a lot of useful things thrown out as trash every day. While much of it really is garbage, even a slight glance at another man's trash can yield an unexpected treasure.
The first and safest place to look is in your station's trash. How much of it could be re-used? What wears out most often? And what is no longer needed?
You can never have enough hardware. And some pieces, especially small pieces, are often near-impossible to find. Anytime you discard something, harvest any screws, nuts, set-screws, small springs, clips and e-rings. While you may not think of their use right now, at some point during a minor repair when a little clip flies off and can't be located, at least you have one place to look for another one. In the U.S., many metric screws and nuts are difficult to find (and the reverse applies in Europe — a regular 8-32 screw may be impossible to find in a hurry in Berlin or Paris).
Many solid-state components are no longer being produced. Once common, ICs and transistors are getting hard to find and often they are expensive. Anytime a piece of equipment with socketed ICs is discarded, save the ICs. Likewise, save any transistors and voltage regulators accessible and easily removed. As an example MPS-U95 transistors, 7407 chips, LM340T steel regulators, and TO-66 sized transistors are immediately saved. Op-amps in metal cans or 14-pin dual types (UA-739/TBA-231) are also desirable since a lot of vintage equipment uses them. Similarly, any memory chips probably have some value and those should be saved.
Inductors and transformers are of limited use, but you should save anything that might be needed to repair another unit like the one you are scrapping (such as a module from an audio console). Potentiometers and switches should only be retained if you know you will need them. Capacitors should not be saved. They fail the most and replacements are still easily obtained. Rubber drive parts such as belts, idlers and rollers from tape machines have little use and are probably no longer good.
Anytime you see a large dumpster it might not be a bad idea to peek inside to see what's being thrown away. Most of the time it is consctruction debris and there is no further reason to look. Other times you can be surprised. Some of the things I have found in the past year on the street include: a dumpster full of Dell computers identical to ones we still use at work; a pile of 3'×6' blue tinted Plexiglas panels; a Carver stereo receiver that worked; two guitar amps (one missing a speaker); filing cabinets (four- and five-drawer); office desks; a pile of hundreds of 16-inch transcription record sleeves; a two-color date stamp that says “NEED BY 10 a.m.”; laserjet printers; keyboards (that work); a three-speed dual record changer; a box of 50 chrome C-90 cassette tapes; hamper of several thousand CD jewel cases (more than I could take home); And most notably, a lifetime of tech manuals from the past 30 years by all of the major electronics component makers. Sadly, that last dumpster had been out in the rain. A treasure-trove now rendered as trash. Luckily even wet paper can be recycled.
Landry is an audio maintenance engineer at CBS Radio/Westwood One, New York.
Do you have a tech tip?Send it to us at