Russell Friend (1920-2011): Founder of Russco Electronics, Inc.
Thoughts from Russell Friend (1920-2011) Partial Update02/08/2012 1800 hrs. UTC
Some of the thoughts and observations from Mr. Friend may not be exactly in chronological order regarding the units' construction times and dates, how many were produced, and where. We will do our best to put all his information and personal insights into some semblance of order as we speak more with him and acquire more substantive information. Direct quotes from Mr. Friend will be in bold type, with our editorial comments italicized.
RTC is grateful for his unbridled willingness, candid observations, and his in-depth factual observations in helping to set the "Russco experience" to print. Almost all of the material on this page is directly from Russell's own letters, notes and writings to RTC as well as from the many phone conversations I have enjoyed with him concerning his personal memories of Russco Electronics, Inc. as engineer, designer, and the man behind Russco Electronics, as well as Russco & Associates and Russco Manufacturing. --Rev. David Thompson, former owner/mgr.-RTC
Mr. Friend was only one of many "keepers of the flame" for Russco and other Idler/rim-drive turntables. Knowledge of the 16" transcription and other vintage units is sometimes difficult to put together, due to these being among the first "series" of tables to go by the wayside when stations and recording companies switched over to 33 and 45 vinyl and on to tape, then eventually, digital formats.
RTC will also be adding other material concerning Idler-drive units from a number of turntable manufacturers. RTC is gathering data to publish on this site concerning the Russco B.I.D.-12 (Belt-Idler-Drive) unit, similar to that which we have started doing on the original Mark V "Vari-Speed" and its other two other configurations. Another unit, the BD-12 is a dual idler/belt drive unit introduced early on (pre-dating the Mark V. "Vari-Speed"), a natural evolution in the progression of Russell C. Friend's designs. A few of the units came off the "drawing boards" within Mr. Friend's mind as a direct yet natural progression of the technological advancements in the 70's, including digital LED's, strobes and major circuit board advancements, Russco was keeping step with the times and venturing ahead of the pack.
MARK V. "Vari Speed"
The Mark V "Vari-Speed"--in its three versions--was the precursor to the rare Russco RT700 series of direct-drive units: the first (and last) direct drive table to bear the Russco badge. If you own an RT700--and it is working--we do not have to caution you, be extraordinarily carefulwith this RARE, limited production direct drive unit. The glass (yes, the glass wheel approximately 7" across) under the platter helped set the speed, working in conjunction with a strobe. However, the glass had a nasty habit of cracking or breaking--often during shipping--regardless of precautions taken! As Russ has said,"I wish I had never brought out that table (the RT700). At first, I designed it to use a metal disk/wheel with all the markings/lines on it for the strobe to pick-up, it worked ok but just did not do the job, we went to glass which was about 7" across with all the markings on it to set speed, this seemed to solve the problems associated with keeping speed steady and accurate, after a time we found it just did not work correctly and broke easily."
He went on to say,"...We had to chop off approximately 2 pounds of platter weight to get the direct-drive unit up to speed smoothly and really quite fast. I did not like taking off the weight; that type of mass on a studio unit--especially on the early idler drives--was important; the RT700 direct drive needed it (mass/weight) but it was never really right, considering the glass breaking and the timing...just was not right!"
Russ then spoke about the market at the time:"The Japanese were coming out with a unit much like this about the same time, competition was something in the 70's. If the stations and buyers wanted a unit that had the bugs worked out and ran fantastically well with only minor upkeep they should have purchased the Mark V, which we (Russco) brought out to be the best(*and compete with*)anyone."