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Heathkit Educational Systems Closes Shop For Good

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the at-least-until-the-next-final-time dept.

Communications 129

scharkalvin writes with this excerpt from the American Radio Relay League's site: "'For the second time since 1992, Heathkit Educational Services (HES) has shuttered its doors. Rumors of the legendary kit-building company's demise were posted on QRZ.com, with several readers bringing the news to the attention of the ARRL. In August 2011, Heathkit announced it was returning to the kit building business, and in September, that it would once again be manufacturing Amateur Radio kits. ... On LinkedIn, a popular networking site, HES Chief Executive Officer Lori Marciniak listed her employment ending at Heathkit as of March 2012. Likewise, Heathkit's Marketing and Sales Director Ernie Wake listed his employment ending in April 2012. An unsubstantiated report on Wikipedia states that "[in] December 2011, Heathkit Educational Systems laid off most employees and in March 2012, the company indefinitely suspended operations."' It looks like Heathkit is gone for good. Their plans on re-entering the kit market died with the current economy."

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Sad (4, Insightful)

DaMattster (977781) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955011)

This is a sad day for education in America. I remember as a kid building stuff with HeathKit products. I guess no one wants to learn how things work and build them anymore. This, I would guess, is prime example of how education is dwindling. I am a proponent of lifelong learning too.

Re:Sad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39955037)

But, in all seriousness, who would ever want a device that doesn't even play MP3s and YouTube!

Re:Sad (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39955055)

The readers of Make Magazine would seem to prove otherwise...

Re:Sad (4, Insightful)

cornface (900179) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955107)

I think it is less that "people" aren't interested in how things work, anymore, and more that nobody cares about amateur radio or clunky robots.

The modern generation of people who would have been building Heathkit things years ago are building weird stuff out of Lego robotics or writing software, or any number of other outlets for inquisitiveness and ingenuity that didn't exist 30 years ago.

Re:Sad (5, Insightful)

Thanshin (1188877) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955237)

One day every kid will have cheap access to a computer and a 3D printer.

In that environment, a genius will appear and change the world.

Re:Sad (2)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955325)

I think it is less that "people" aren't interested in how things work, anymore, and more that nobody cares about amateur radio or clunky robots.

I remember the day when you could build a Heathkit H89 PC or a Heathkit Oscilloscope (I still have the oscilloscope somewhere in storage). Heathkit was more than amateur radio and robots. It used to be general electronics. Of course *used to be* is probably to reason for its demise.

When I built kit radios, I purchased them elsewhere. For example, I built TenTec's 6m transverter and still have it.

While it is sad to see a sentimental brand disappear, it isn't like they had a monopoly on build-it-yourself kits.

Re:Sad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39955569)

My dad is STILL using both his heathkit oscilloscope and signal generator (the former he's got a 'more professional' alternative to, depending on what he's testing for, the former however is still used for all sorts of fun (paying!) diagnostic work... 30ish years after he built it.) Quite frankly he'd thought they went out of business 15ish years ago, and hadn't seen anything they produced that he wanted to buy in at least 20. Disappointing, but judging by the stuff popping up in the local electronics store recently, DIY kits are still alive and well, they've just gone to smaller, 'cheaper', yet more expensive kit. Mostly IC with a bunch of gpio pins and much overpriced sensor modules (not that different from 30 years ago, which is rather... disappointing.)

Re:Sad (2)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957041)

I was hoping they'd come out again with some good quality tube audio amp kits again....

*sigh*

Re:Sad (1)

cornface (900179) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957689)

There are all kinds of tube amp plans and kits available from other sources.

It is a niche market that has taken off in the last couple of years. Look around.

Re:Sad (3, Interesting)

cruff (171569) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955615)

I was really disappointed with the oscilloscope kit. I took pains to build it carefully, but the high voltage supply kept dying, so I could never really use the scope. I even sent it in for repair and it worked for all of a few weeks before it died for the same reason again. The only thing I kept from it were the probes and I repurposed part of the case as a anti-squirrel guard for a bird feeder.

Re:Sad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39957491)

If you sent it in between 2003-2007, I'm sorry about that.

different filter caps, please (4, Informative)

swschrad (312009) | more than 2 years ago | (#39958171)

the wax-ender filter caps used on countless scopes out of Heath were not reliable and shorted a lot. replace with epoxy-fill from some source like CDE, and as long as you didn't kill the transformer, you should have it fixed for good.

if you did kill the transformer, flip some filament transformer insulated to 1500 or 2500 volts backwards, feed from the AC line, and that will suffice.

Re:Sad (1)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957775)

I remember the day when you could build a Heathkit H89 PC

I remember when I was in Grade 7 I had a buddy with an older brother who had built one of these. We used to play with it all the time. I still remember the blinking cursor preceded by the words "Benton Harbor Basic."

Re:Sad (4, Insightful)

TarpaKungs (466496) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955369)

I think it is that there is too much brain dead easy entertainment. My kids, given the chance, will ask to watch Netflix, fiddle with their computers (and I mean play online games, not even read Wikipedia or look for interesting stuff on YouTube). Then there is TV with 58 channels and 1% good content (which they will usually not find with odd exceptions). And modern electronics is perceived to be "hard" (well, it is, kind of) so "therefore anything simple enough to be do-able, must be boring". And yet, when I force them to do something like wire up a "2 way lighting circuit" with batteries and an LED, they actually find it interesting. But they are not bored enough by default to seek to do these things for themselves. That I think is the crux of the problem.

Re:Sad (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39955825)

Yes, yes. People liking things you don't like are stooooopid. We know the drill. *snore*

Modern electronics *is* hard- that's why I get paid the big bucks for it. Most of my designs have thousands of parts interacting with tens of thousands of signals, and that just one board and not counting the firmware and HDL.

You going to wave solder a 1200 I/O ball grid array FPGA to a 20 layer PCB in your garage?

Re:Sad (1)

TarpaKungs (466496) | more than 2 years ago | (#39956387)

Despite the fact that you are an obvious troll, your point, lame as it is, demands a response: Why would you want to solder a BGA when you can do so much with an AVR in a DIP package?

Re:Sad (1)

DeathOverlord3 (645635) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957461)

For the record, you don't wave solder a BGA, you reflow solder it. Hopefully your company takes a fraction of your big bucks and pays a manufacturing engineer that actually knows what they are doing.

Re:Sad (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957927)

And yet, when I force them to do something like wire up a "2 way lighting circuit" with batteries and an LED

I have logged and forwarded that to your state Department of Youth Protection.

There has never been a golden age. (4, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#39958239)

I think it is that there is too much brain dead easy entertainment.

There's always been brain dead and easy options for entertainment - and the type of kids who sought out Heathkits have always been in a distinct minority. The golden age you allude to never existed.
 
On top of which, as another poster said, kids that are interested in that kind of thing today have Mindstorm, or simulation games, or programming, or other things that weren't available back in Heathkit's heyday.

Re:Sad (1)

Frankenshteen (1355339) | more than 2 years ago | (#39956201)

Exactly. Today's Heathkit is an iOS subscription, xcode and itunesU. Or a linux seat, compiler and java how-to. No doubt some bright mind will find a way to resurrect the name and semblance of the original mission - the brand is likely an affordable expense. Many of us wouldn't be doing what we are today w/o the stuff Heathkit brought to our homes and classrooms. RIP.

Re:Sad (3, Interesting)

John Bokma (834313) | more than 2 years ago | (#39956677)

My 5 yo daughter and 2 yo son are crazy about robots. When my daughter was younger she loved the R2D2 we got at Burger King. Later I bought the small R2D2 with sound effects.

For Children's Day -- I live in Mexico -- I bought Fisher Price Trio, the set that has a robot (amongst other models) on the box. And guess which model both my children love the most.... correct, the robot.

I soon want to try to teach my daughter some basic soldering skills. They also love to play with tools, for example, see: Hammer Time with Alice and Adam [youtube.com] . In my opinion, it's not about pushing tech on children, just making it available and let them discover the fun if they are interested.

And no, children are not getting adult tools in day care, or a soldering iron... So there is certainly a task for parents here. But I have it easy, I work at home, so my children see me do things like cleaning a computer, connecting things, programming, etc. Also I have a huge book collection, including a lot of books for (older) children that in my opinion libraries should have ;-).

As for Heatkit: sorry to read this. On the other hand, when I was 13 yo I desoldered parts from old TVs, made holes in a piece of acrylic plastic, and used that to support the components. I made "traces" with pieces of stripped wire. Oh, and I used a soldering iron for plumbing jobs, so I had to be very careful. And yeah, one day I accidentally picked it up by the wrong end. So, if you want to experiment with electronics there are plenty of options, no need for kits. Moreover, nowadays one can find countless circuit diagrams online, with instructions. Back in those days, I had to rely on the Elektuur (Dutch edition of Elektor).

Re:Sad (3, Interesting)

tipo159 (1151047) | more than 2 years ago | (#39956935)

I think it is less that "people" aren't interested in how things work, anymore, and more that nobody cares about amateur radio or clunky robots.

I don't know about clunky robots, but, as posted here a few months ago, there is now a record number of ham radio operator licensees in the US. The statement "nobody cares about amateur radio" is uninformed.

Look at the timeline. Announce that they were back in the kit business in August. Announce that they were making amateur radio kits in September. Lay off most of the employees in December. Sounds like something else was going on if they only had a couple months to make the "return to kits" plan work.

Re:Sad (1)

cornface (900179) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957403)

A record number of amateur radio operators...in 40 years the population of amateur radio operators has increased from ~.15% of the population to ~.23% of the population, and the vast majority of that growth was 20 years ago.

The 90's saw 189,000 new licenses added. The next decade the number dropped to 17,000 new licenses.

It is a dying hobby. I'm sorry if that upsets you, but with the constant shrinking of non-user servicability of nearly all of the modern electronics that youth might be interested in, it is only going to drop more.

Re:Sad (1)

tipo159 (1151047) | more than 2 years ago | (#39958271)

2012 Continues to Show Growth in Amateur Radio Licensing
http://www.arrl.org/news/2012-continues-to-show-growth-in-amateur-radio-licensing [arrl.org]

Looking at new license applications, there were 21112 in 2006, 26728 in 2007, 28066 in 2008, 30144 in 2009, 27528 in 2010, 24,072 in 2011 and 7532 in Q1 of this year. That doesn't look like a dying hobby to me.

However, I don't think it has the DIY element as much as it used to have. But I have only had my license since 2008, so I don't know for sure. I just get that sense looking at the equipment from the silent key acquisitions that I have been involved with as part of my local radio club.

Re:Sad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39957857)

Even "Highest ever" isn't a lot. Plus it came about because of the dropping of the morse code requirement for the basic level license in the 90s. I know since I was the kid of a HAM father who got one to make dad happy. I then got an old two meter radio built an antenna for it and proceeded to use it 2 or 3 times...

I liked the electronics, the math behind the radio waves, understanding how it all works, and being able to scan frequencies and figure out what was being sent... but the payout was a device that allowed me to talk to a repeater to broadcast to strangers (and really OLD strangers at that) in the town we lived in, maybe patch into a phone to make a call that everyone could listen to. At the same time the cellphone was becoming ubiquitous.

I didn't renew my license when it came up, free or not, I don't need it (and forgot I had it). There is no place it'd ever be used by me that either the internet, a cellphone, or a CB radio wouldn't work in a pinch... and that I'd rather use then have a giant expensive antenna in the back yard or thousands of dollars of radio equipment like we did in the house I grew up in. My electronics money is better spent on computers and networking equipment.

Re:Sad (1)

davidshewitt (1552163) | more than 2 years ago | (#39956953)

When my dad was young, he build radios and other electronic devices from kits (including ones made by HeathKit). When I was in high school, I build a few computers, installed Ubuntu on them, and learned the basics of programming. Programming when my dad was in high school was inaccessible except to those at universities. Debugging was extremely hard, and programmers of that day did not have all of the useful libraries of code to choose from. Now, hardware and software have switched places in terms of accessibility. The components of modern hardware require specialized equipment to service, i.e. everything's too small for you to solder. On the other hand, anyone with interest can download an IDE and compilers for free and make use of the vast resources on the internet to teach themselves to program. All they need is a PC, which one can build/buy for just a few hundred dollars.

Re:Sad (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39957097)

Legos do not compare to working with a soldering iron, or learning basic trigonometyry to pass your Ham Exam, or understanding how an oscillator works, or an LC circuit. While I commend hackers on being able to code and do amazing things using any number of languages, their hardware skills stink and totally lack. It's like they do not understand HOW something works, they just know they can program it to do any number of tricks. It's like a race car driver who doesn't know crap about the engine, the axle's or what type of wheels are best suited for the track they're racing on.

Learning the basics of hardware, the design on "things" real things, understanding surface mount technology, and yes, being able to cobble some stuff together and use radio waves to communicate without have an account with AT&T I think is very useful.

Our lack of capabilities in this area is one of the many reasons we've lost our manufacturing edge and our technical edge. Math is hard, Heathkit is closed, and most could not create an OS in a 2k footprint.

I'm glad I'm getting older, I'm glad I was a ham at age 12m I'm glad I taught myself college math to pass my General License exam at age 13, and it all started with me building my first Heathkit radio after having saved money from a paper route. What's a paper route? The route you take to deliver your newspapers. It's back when there were newspapers and you had to hand deliver them, literally throw them onto people's yards.

Americans have much less of the qualities you speak about than ever. Looking at our standings in math, science, the arts or humanities, we're a society in decline.

Re:Sad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39957937)

Writing software didn't exist 30 years ago? Brick-style robotics didn't exist 30 years ago?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fischertechnik

Astonishing.

Re:Sad (1)

cornface (900179) | more than 2 years ago | (#39958213)

If you can't see a difference in the ease of entry into programming and consumer robotics today vs. 30 years ago, you are insane.

Re:Sad (3, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955167)

It depends on whether they were killed by apathy or by arduinos...

The advent of the intertubes seems to have led to an incredible increase in the ease of sourcing parts and learning about designs(unless you need a part in-store, in which case maybe Radio Shack can stop pushing cell plans on you long enough to dig up a yellowed package of resistors from ~1985 and sell it to you for $5...) That must be a bit of a squeeze on the margins of bottom and top ends of the former demand for kit-built products.

If, on the other hand, people used to care a lot more, that would be an unfortunate sign.

Re:Sad (1)

Mike Buddha (10734) | more than 2 years ago | (#39956641)

I concur. You can get Arduino sets at Fry's and Radio Shack for way less than what you used to be able to buy Heathkit Kits for. I remember going into the Heathkit store as a kid and thinking how great it would be if I were rich and could afford something...

Converting my old allowance into 2012 dollar, I would have been able to afford an Arduino in ~3weeks.

Re:Sad (3, Interesting)

TarpaKungs (466496) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955235)

Me too. In the UK, HeathKit were pretty big. I remember their Freezer Door Alarm (simple but effective), but the best was their plasma Alarm Clock. Beautiful display (better than LED and LCD), nice and loud, reliable and direct mains driven (no crappy wall wart). Being frequency locked to the mains also meant no long term drift - I even remember the 50/60 Hz jumper setting that was carefully explained in the excellent manual. No shop bought alarm has measured up since - even the 60kHz radio time signal ones mostly have crappy LCD displays with poor backlighting. Doesn't anyone make decent alarm clocks anymore?

Re:Sad (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957825)

Seems I'm the only person I know who actually uses an alarm clock to wake up with. Everyone these days seems to be using their cell phones.

Re:Sad (1)

InvisibleClergy (1430277) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955249)

Yeah that is sad. I always wanted those, but never got them because my family didn't have the dollars to allocate to me getting stuff like that. Video games seemed like a better proposition, time-wise, especially because my elder brother liked the vidyas too. That's why I'm a programmer, not an engineer.

Re:Sad (1)

Megane (129182) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955255)

Wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.

Maybe if they had come out with something more like an Arduino (or an ET-3400) than a radio?

Re:Sad (2)

CosaNostra Pizza Inc (1299163) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955797)

Yes, this is a very sad day, indeed. I too have fond memories of building Heathkit products. This has been the trend with electronics/science hobby-shops over the last two decades. Remember back when Radio Shack specialized in hobby kits, RC toys and electronics components?...Now all they do is whore out mobile phones and small, cheap electronics appliances.

There are other kit makers out there (4, Informative)

cnaumann (466328) | more than 2 years ago | (#39956545)

Check out Ramsey Electronics sometime. I have build several of there kits with my kids. My only gripe with them is that they do not offer the source code for any of there microcontroller-based projects, and seemed to get offended when I asked.

Re:Sad (3, Insightful)

swordgeek (112599) | more than 2 years ago | (#39958423)

There were three major factors that lead to Heathkit's success, which are no longer true.

1) The cost of manufacturing an item was significantly higher than the cost of the parts.
2) Items were sufficiently simple (or at least discrete) that they could be made at home.
3) Electronics were expensive!

Consider that at one point you could order a kit for about 60% of the price of the finished item. This could save you the modern-day equivalent of hundreds of dollars, and you could assemble it in a week or so.

Nowadays, a chunk of electronics is worth about a hundred bucks or so. Turning it into a kit would be _more_ expensive, and would take three minutes to snap together, if it could be done at home at all.

Ecconomy (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39955069)

"died with the current ecconomy" - Is that the economy of dolphins?

I thought it was taking too long for new kits (2)

swschrad (312009) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955101)

sorry to hear it, a lot of hams were eagerly awaiting product.

Re:I thought it was taking too long for new kits (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39956043)

'Hams' in general are grossly over weight (they've eaten too much Ham!) and have been dying off in large numbers.

If only they made a defibrillator kit!

more ham licenses than any time in history (1)

swschrad (312009) | more than 2 years ago | (#39958193)

at our club, kids under 16 get free membership. half the membership is greyhairs, the rest are under 40.

didn't die with the economy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39955173)

It died because very few Americans have much interest in, knowledge of, or desire to learn about electronics any more.

Re:didn't die with the economy (1)

alphax45 (675119) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955247)

Amen! Fixed it for you:
It died because very few people in developed nations have much interest in, knowledge of, or desire to learn about electronics any more.

Re:didn't die with the economy (4, Insightful)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955329)

That seems contrary to the growth of companies like SparkFun, Adafruit, the popularity of Arduinos, etc.

Re:didn't die with the economy (1)

Bigbutt (65939) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955491)

Yea, I'm sure I've paid SparkFun's monthly rent a few times with my purchases :) (and they're close by so I just drive over at lunch and pick up my order :D )

I also ordered a Distortion kit from a DIY guitar effects site and am building that. Loads of fun :)

[John]

Re:didn't die with the economy (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 2 years ago | (#39956135)

Yeah, like that dying project "Arduino" and everything people are doing with it. And lets not forget the dying art of making stuff like RepRap/DIY CNCs.

They should get back in the game with Arduino (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39955227)

Introduce an "Arduino Plus Projects" kit to compete with Sparkfun, etc, but the HeathKit name will give them a leg up. Then, once they're back on the shelves in Radio Shack, Fry's and Micro Center, the buyers there might be receptive to more original products.

Re:They should get back in the game with Arduino (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957471)

"the HeathKit name will give them a leg up"

Not anymore. "Heathkit" was old when I was growing up, and I'm well over 50.

Where would their customer base come from anyway? (4, Insightful)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955291)

Sad to see it go because it's kind of iconic of a culture who grew up to be scientists and engineers. Something really rare these days. The majority of kids these days are either out playing soccer or inside on the Xbox, DS or whatever. The majority have no more interest in Space than occasionally glancing up at the moon and no more interest in electrical engineering than how many gigs and how to plug it in.

I think kids were more fascinated with technology in the 70s because there wasn't much of it around. Even color TV wasn't mainstream. These days, kids are saturated with it. The thought of building something just doesn't appeal to them.

I don't think the market would have been there for Heathkit. The puttering around of a bunch of old geezers just isn't enough to run a company on.

Re:Where would their customer base come from anywa (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39955845)

I don't know if the market would have been there.

I used to dabble with transmitters when I was 16-17. Very cool, since that was at a time just before the internet and it made my world a whole lot bigger all of a sudden. Today, I can talk to anyone on the planet over the intertubes...

Similarly, I recently wanted to receive NOAA satellite images. I got a cheap digital tuner dongle, installed GNU radio on linux and built a cool antenna. No need to buy a kit anywhere.

Also recently, I wanted to build a device around a PIC micro controller. I was able to find all of the information on line, draw a professional dual layer PCB in KiCad and have it made at a very low cost. No need for kits either here.

I say the kit is dead. As much as I like building things and the idea of kits, now I can build from scratch with all of the information at my fingertips or use of the shelf hardware and a linux PC.

Re:Where would their customer base come from anywa (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957089)

That is wonderful, do you share your successes with parts lists and instructions anywhere?

Re:Where would their customer base come from anywa (1)

matrim99 (123693) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957325)

You already have the knowledge to do all of the things that you mentioned on your own. Kits are a "one stop" solution for others to learn these things; the kits easily address the inevitable "Where do I start?" question that curious novices will ask before beginning to learn.

Re:Where would their customer base come from anywa (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39956001)

This is a huge generalization and not true in my experience. I've been at a few events (birthday parties, etc...) with my 5 year old where the kids have built stomp rockets and all sorts of other things. They love it. I think the comments about other readily available options (legos, computer programs, etc...) are more on target.

Re:Where would their customer base come from anywa (1)

John Bokma (834313) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957953)

In the 70s I was the only child at my school that was interested in electronics, chemistry, etc. In the late 80s I went to a technical school (Dutch: HTS) and I was the only one in my class who already knew the resistor color codes, etc. So, no, in my experience there was certainly not a booming tech interest, were I lived (the Netherlands, close to the Hague).

As for now, my children grow up with a working-at-home dad who was interested in tech, etc. and still is. And nature. We have a very small library, but it has 20+ books on various animals, plants, rocks, minerals, fossils, dinosaurs, planes, photography, etc. My children, 5yo girl, 2yo boy, now and then browse through some of the books. They love the scholastic books on spiders, snakes, butterflies, beetles (highly recommended, by the way).

Right now, their favourite toy is Fisher Price Trio (recommended), the set I bought has various cogs. You can see my son having a lot of fun with a wind mill made with Trio and a fan [youtube.com] . They both love to play with Trio and Duplo [youtube.com] .

In short, I think it's still happening, at least in my house.

Re:Where would their customer base come from anywa (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#39958289)

The majority have no more interest in Space than occasionally glancing up at the moon and no more interest in electrical engineering than how many gigs and how to plug it in.

And - that's always been true. There never was a golden age.

Very Sad (2)

StillNeedMoreCoffee (123989) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955339)

My HW101 and my 35mhz scope will be ophaned at last. Fond memories and fund times. That 100 watt radio let me talk with Sidney from Chicago like they were in the next room, and Argentina. That was wonderful and using the first microcomputer I built myself and turned into a terminal. Sigh

Re:Very Sad (1)

eclectro (227083) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957113)

Not too sad. Most Heathkit stuff being built by it's owners, means that it is also repairable by it's owners (and other owners as it passes hands). Especially with Ham Radio equipment, there are active communities that collect/repair them.

lots of parts for those old boatanchors (1)

swschrad (312009) | more than 2 years ago | (#39958203)

I have had no trouble at all restoring any.

This is sad (1)

cvtan (752695) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955351)

I still have my Heathkit MM1 VOM and it still works. I built an AR-series stereo tuner/amplifier and an auto tachometer diagnostic meter and a dash mounted nixie tube tach. I was too chicken to get the color TV kit (expensive). One lesson I learned during the tuner construction was not to have two color blind people helping to pick out the correct resistors.

too late (2)

scharkalvin (72228) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955353)

My guess is that Heath was already deep in red ink when they decided to re-enter the kit market. They probably wanted to ride the current maker movement. Maybe if their creditors had given them enough time they could have saved the company with new kit products. Just look at Adafruit.com, Evilmadscience.com, or Sparkfun.com and you will see that there IS a demand for kits. No one ever did kits better than Heath. I'm sorry to be the reporter of the bad news. RIP Heathkit.

Heath-Zenith 100, HERO (1)

Green Salad (705185) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955401)

I fondly remember my Heath-Zenith 100 kit computer. S-100 bus, CPM OS on 8-inch floppies. ...and salivating over the HERO robot kit.

I'd tell kids to get off my lawn...if only kids would play outside these days.

Don't blame the economy. (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955403)

Interest in hobbyist computers is at a 20 year high. It's been 30 years since our favorite 8 bit PCs were current. People love new electronics that can replicate or interact with old electronics. The Apple II CFFA was sold out before it was even built. Same for the 1541U-II for the C64. Every time you turn around someone is selling a new reproduction like the minimig or c-one. The guys at AtariAge are planning an entirely new expansion module for the Atari 7800.

If all these people can make it work, why can't Heathkit?

Bummer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39955521)

One thing that prompted me to going into E. Engineering was a heathkit Radio I built. I hope they can re-organize and come back! It's a tough market for that though.

Re:Bummer (1)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 2 years ago | (#39956081)

Design a radio and order the parts from one of the online vendors. You don't need a kit.

Heathkit Computer kits and case mods anyone?... (1)

bdwoolman (561635) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955527)

Why they did not pivot into guided computer system builds of various kinds and levels of complexity is beyond me? Or if they did try that play they just botched it. Certainly I never saw any Heathkit ads in CPU or Maximum PC. Hams and early computerists enjoyed a lot of overlap. (Still do. My Linux Users Group has a strong ham radio element). They could have marketed both. Sorry Heathkit. FAIL. Poor brand migration strategy.

The reason this is sad is that a well-positioned company banked on its past glory. Another case in point: Kodak. RIP.

Case modification and system building is huge. And (sarcasm notwithstanding) customers would end up with something that did "play MP3s and You Tube". And there is lots of ham to PC hybridization so they could have stayed with radio as well in some guise. They could have been a contender.

Re:Heathkit Computer kits and case mods anyone?... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39956391)

How about enclosures and add-ons for Raspberry Pi and Arudino? They could have been a player there.

Think of the price tag (1)

nani popoki (594111) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955627)

When Heathkit was in its heyday, the cost of assembly was a very large part of the cost of the product. With the advent of automated assembly, the labor cost became insignificant and a kit could no longer compete on price. In fact, the kit became MORE expensive because of the cost of developing a by-the-number assembly manual. The kit-building community kept Heathkit going even then for a while.

But I remember the last Heathkit I constructed. It was an FM radio tuner. The "kit" came with a palletized, pre-assembled circuit board. Instead of mounting parts and soldering, you snapped the various boards apart -- the interconnect cables were already attached -- assembled the chassis and screwed the boards in place. There were two solder connections -- for the power cord! And the "kit" was about 30% more expensive than a similar tuner from Radio Shack.

Re:Think of the price tag (2)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 2 years ago | (#39956015)

When Heathkit was big, radios were hand-assembled by middle-aged women in Chicago. Now, they're hand-assembled by underpaid Chinese workers.

Heathkits started going downhill toward the end... (1)

Ellis D. Tripp (755736) | more than 2 years ago | (#39956357)

, with lots of preassembled PC boards and the like. The last few TV kits they offered (after Zenith bought them out), were simply a Zenith "System 3" set with all of the modules shipped loose. Spend 30 minutes snapping boards into place and plugging a few cables in, and you had the same exact set you could have bought already assembled for $100 cheaper from the local appliance store.

Your FM tuner was most likely the same kind of deal, a commercial model sold without the "final assembly".

Using other company's designs probably dictated the preassembled nature of the product. Heathkit's older, original designs were made so that kits like TV sets or FM tuners could be aligned and tested after assembly using only rudimentary equipment that the typical hobbyist would have access to. The TV sets included built-in test pattern generators for performing the convergence setup, etc. The commercial designs were made to be aligned using automatic test equipment on an assembly line, so having the home builder do it was simply not feasible any more.

Re:Think of the price tag (1)

durdur (252098) | more than 2 years ago | (#39956521)

Good points. I remember building their vacuum tube voltmeter kit, which was a beginning kit for a lot of Heathkit enthusiasts. It was difficult! Lots and lots of hand soldering. Later I built the H-89 computer, which was a computer built into the same case used by the H-19 video monitor. Also challenging but could be done in a week or so. Very nice kits, and the quality of the documentation and instructions was legendary.

Re:Think of the price tag (1)

havana9 (101033) | more than 2 years ago | (#39956569)

Another problem is the technology used to solder on PCB and the type of part used. Soldering SMD is significantly harder than though hole components and the soldering irons for SMD have to be more precise and costly than regular irons. The more interesting components are now using soldering system like BGA that are easier to mount in a robotized line than hand made. Designing an interesting kit with through hole components is becoming harder and harder. Arduino and friends solve the problem selling premade boards, so the soldering part is limited to glue them toghether. Anyway in 1985 selling an Apple //e clone kit or a monophonic synth kit was a viable opportunity and the final product was in the same ballbark of the industrially made products. Now is pratically impossible to build in house an iMac or a digital sampler keyboard.

Nostalgia for nostalgia's sake? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39955697)

It's called progress.

This is one of the biggest detriments to Amateur Radio I've seen. Clinging to nostalgia for nostalgia's sake. Yes - it's cool and sentimental to hold on to the 'old ways'. Kind of fun too. But, it's not practical. And very difficult to keep viable from a business perspective.

You want to learn how things work? You fire up GNUradio and hack a flow-graph.

Got an idea? Same - you don't build it up on a perf board unless you're trying to re-invent the wheel - again.

Transceivers can be bought by the hand-full now - they are the 'new' discreet components.

Memories are cool. Nostalgia is what it is. But there are very real reasons why the majority of people no longer shoe their own horses, spin their own yarn or dry their own tobacco in the shed out back. Crap, most don't even have sheds anymore.

Not at all surprising that a business built on an dead model didn't survive. Deal with it.

Re:Nostalgia for nostalgia's sake? (3, Insightful)

morgauxo (974071) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957007)

"And very difficult to keep viable from a business perspective." Umm -- it's called AMATEUR radio for a reason! Still manufacturers such as Yaseu, Kenwood, ICom, Wouxon, TenTec and probably others seem to do all right, as do several large vendors and numerous small ones.

"Clinging to nostalgia for nostalgia's sake" -- What's wrong with that? Not every ham is in to old school gear, hams also get into things like SDR, digital audio/data, etc... but for those that get nostalgic for the glowing warm tubes of an old boat anchor what's wrong with them indulging themselves?

"Kind of fun too" -- What more point do you need?

"You want to learn how things work? You fire up GNUradio and hack a flow-graph" -- Ok, that's one viable method to learn something and certainly not something I would discourage anyone from doing. Real devices still do use components though. I've never seen a consumer SDR with the exception of some ham equipment though so I'm not sure how much it will teach you about the devices around you. GNURadio was started by a ham btw

"Transceivers can be bought by the hand-full now - they are the 'new' discreet components." -- Really? Where? Do tell! I suppose there are some low speed single channel data only transcievers that are pretty affordable. Then there are more advanced things like Xbee which I certainly wouldn't want to buy by the handful out of my pocket! If you know a source of transcievers that are capable of voice and data and video and all the other things hams do and a normal person could afford to buy 'by the handful' then please share!!

"...there are very real reasons why the majority of people no longer..." -- The majority of people don't really do much of anything! Especially anything one would discuss on Slashdot!

"Not at all surprising that a business built on an dead model didn't survive." -- Ahh... I agree with you there! But what was Heath's business model? Sell expensive courses in a day when MIT, Stanford and others are giving them away for free while vaguely promising to eventually sell a small number of kits?

Re:Nostalgia for nostalgia's sake? (1)

morgauxo (974071) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957037)

Oh.. and the USR is still way too expensive for GNURadio to be a 'mainstream' hobbyist tool.

Re:Nostalgia for nostalgia's sake? (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957539)

"But there are very real reasons why the majority of people no longer shoe their own horses,"

You can save, or make, a bunch of money shoeing horses. Many serious horse owners do their own shoeing to save money. Tooth-filing too, which is why horse mouth speculums are readily available on Ebay.

If you don't take proper care of your oat-burner, it won't function properly. :-)

Free Heathkit Manuals at last? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39955813)

Maybe they will release their manuals to the public for free now. That has been my biggest gripe with Heathkit - You can't download their manuals from any of the "BAMA" type websites.

neg. rtfa. (2)

swschrad (312009) | more than 2 years ago | (#39958251)

they sold duplication of their manuals a couple years ago, and the new owner has been assertive in getting the copy sites to take down their files. they did retain all rights to the manuals, however, so that is an asset in liquidation, assuming Heathkit doesn't get up again.

What of the HeathKit name? (2)

AB3A (192265) | more than 2 years ago | (#39955851)

Surely the name and brand are worth SOMETHING. Hasn't anyone purchased the rights to the name or logo?

Re:What of the HeathKit name? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39956637)

Actually what is probably worth the most are rights to all the old assembly manuals. Manuals from back then were very detailed and if you want to fix an old kit you are probably going to need one. There were just file cabinets full of manuals waiting for someone to need a copy of.

Re:What of the HeathKit name? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39958025)

It was a slightly unfortunate name. As a Brit, HeathKit always made me think of Heath Robinson [wikipedia.org] .

Re:What of the HeathKit name? (1)

wmeyer (17620) | more than 2 years ago | (#39958099)

The name has value on ebay, where the old audio and ham products sell well. But as a company, they've been dead a long time, and just didn't understand that.

This is indeed sad (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39955963)

My father was an electrical engineer, and some of my best early childhood memories were playing with two Heathkit breadboards. It was a thrill to watch things work after following the wiring instructions. I even hooked wires between the two breadboards to do things (so epic!). The real bonus was when I connected the oscilloscope to it. I spent hours randomly creating all sorts of patterns by just randomly wiring things around!

If I have kids, you can bet I'll look for the modern equivalents.

annoying (3, Interesting)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 2 years ago | (#39956063)

What annoys me is that a Zuckerberg or a Simonyi or a Cameron could bankroll Heathkit, one of the root enablers of geekdom and a true part of technical history in the US, for less than they spend on tropical fish, and for less of their attention than merely uttering the phrase "make it happen".

Yes, I know, Heathkit chose bad timing to reenter the kit business. They should have laid low, held onto their IP, and waited until the economy was on an upswing. And no company is too big, or too small, or too geeky, to fail. But surely Heathkit deserves more.

"The Current Economy" (1)

djdavetrouble (442175) | more than 2 years ago | (#39956939)

The problem is that people are willing to throw their money at imagined goods and services now, instead of going to the store and buying something interesting or useful. Case in point: App store, Google, Facebook.

Re:"The Current Economy" (1)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957251)

There might be something to that. It's definitely easier and more gratifying to buy imagined goods than real ones -- one click and you receive your "purchase" immediately -- but I'm not sure that's the full story. Buying a kit online, and receiving tech and forum support online, for a reasonable price and for interesting projects, should be a reasonably profitable business if managed correctly. With no brick/mortar necessary, and as inexpensive as it is these days to create and manage a web-based business, someone ought to be able to make a go of it.

It might be a much smaller scale than the Heathkit of old, but kits would continue to be sold.

Leaves a big hole... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39956345)

There are a few companies still left, I've built a couple of Ramsey Kits (http://www.ramseyelectronics.com/), and I've lusted for an Elecraft radio (http://www.elecraft.com/k2_page.htm) for quite some time. But Heathkit was the original legend. Sad to see it go....

useful? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39956365)

I still use my H-19 terminal (as the tty console for my DEC Alpha).

They killed themselves (5, Interesting)

morgauxo (974071) | more than 2 years ago | (#39956727)

At the time Heathkit stopped producing kits their kit business WAS profitable. Their executives just didn't want to be in that business anymore. They wanted to solely be an education company. At the time there were all sorts of articles stating this.

Here's a question, once they dropped the kits who was their customer?

Schools? Certainly not. Schools are busy teaching a state defined curriculum that does little more for teaching kids about technology and building things than would a lifetime spent finger painting. They weren't going to buy anything from Heath. If they thought schools were going to keep them in business then I would like to know what they were smoking!

Universities? Maybe... I don't know, any EEs out there want to speak up and say they did or did not use Heath materials in their classes? I'm guessing not As a CS major I never had a class with any sort of company provided program. It was just textbooks, mostly only read in certain parts and out of order following the professor's personal syllabus. Is EE different? Do universities use Heath for EE? Come on EE majors, respond and let me know!

Were they going to make a living selling courses to individuals? I haven't checked their offerings in quite a while and their site currently says to call for prices. When I did check some years ago I could have just about obtained a degree from an accredited university for the price. Why would anyone buy a course from Heath?

Was this the wrong time to get back into the kit business? I really doubt it. With the maker movement of today? Sure, most of society is very non-technical, non-geek preferring a night of brain-dead reality tv over building something but has it ever been any different? If you got in your Delorian and went back to the 50s when Heathkit was in it's prime do you really think you could pick any average person off the street, question them and expect to hear about the great new kit they assembled last Friday night? Yeah, right! But would you find anything like today's maker movement? People so into making that they commit to creating organizations with overhead like hackerspaces? I think this is a better time for a kit business then there has been in a long time, maybe ever. Heath came back with too little too late. Did they even really intend to succeed?

The mystery to me is what has kept Heath around all this time since they first discontinued kits? My suspicion is that nothing has. I don't think they were trying, I think they were just disassembling the company very very slowly so the money they made years ago could go into somebody's pocket without getting them in trouble. That's my theory anyway.

Re:They killed themselves (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957267)

I forgot what class in high school it was, applied electronics or something, we built a number of kits. Lots of little blinking lights, an AM/FM radio, and a phone. Not sure what company provided the kits, but yea, some schools did use electronic kits to teach kids how to work on electronics.

Re:They killed themselves (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39957517)

Heathkit Educational Systems has been quite profitable since the discontinuance of the kits. The school market was huge, they (we) made a ton of money selling electronics training courseware, and computer repair courseware to thousands of tech schools and colleges. ITT Tech was a big customer. It's a long list of technical topics, some more profitable than others. I visited hundreds of them over the years, around the globe.

FWIW your theory disassembling the company isn't correct. The money went away a long time ago through several ownership changes. Recently a combination of shriveled school budgets and the inability to develop new markets or products ended the run.

kitting died for both reasons (2)

swschrad (312009) | more than 2 years ago | (#39958323)

first, they had a lot of dust on the boxes in the warehouse. second, a major reason was that we as a society lost the ability to wait a little while for the new shiny, and lost the ability to work for it. you had to build a heathkit. it didn't come off the shelf in a shiny 4-color package and crackle with excitement as soon as you plugged it in. there was a lot of "install diode D134, insuring polarity band matches with the band on the circuit board. bend leads over and solder." check the box. "install transistor Q112, insuring tab matches the mark on the circuit board. bend leads over and solder." check the box. check the box at the bottom of the page. turn the page.

I think it was the "turn the page" part that people couldn't get around to any more.

Sad for kids, but maybe for the best (2)

Y-Crate (540566) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957271)

Heathkits would imperil children. They'd be inspired to go on and build things of their own, but anything they'd make would violate 100 frivolous patents, so what's the point in inventing anything?

Just when I was going to sell my.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39957745)

Just when I was going to sell my 75 watt transmitter that my father built for me in 1965. :(

don't worry about that (1)

swschrad (312009) | more than 2 years ago | (#39958349)

idiots on eBay have had heathkits bid up over the kit price in the 60s for months and months now. somebody listed an unbuilt 80s kilowatt amp a little bit ago, and the bids went up over $1800. the commercial equivalent of that is the 80B Ameritron, which new and built with a warranty doesn't cost that (and which was basically the prototype for the heathkit.)

killed by bad decisions (3, Insightful)

wmeyer (17620) | more than 2 years ago | (#39957949)

As stated in another post: "At the time Heathkit stopped producing kits their kit business WAS profitable. Their executives just didn't want to be in that business anymore. They wanted to solely be an education company."

Problem is, Heath's educational stuff was always pretty lame. In audio and amateur gear, they really shone. And they made some really nice test gear, too. I still have my Heath Audio Oscillator, and the Distortion Analyzer. Neither was quite as good as an HP, but they were way less money, and were good candidates for hobbyist upgrades.

Their educational stuff was not only lame, but overpriced. The rest of their offerings were solid value. Even their PC-clone (808x, 1983 or so) was well done and good value.

I built Heathkits, so did my dad. I'd say they will be missed, but I have missed them since they bailed on the business that made them.

Heahkit Demise (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39958429)

Goodbye Old Friend. I built everything from photoelectric light dimmers to tv's to test equopment to a Hero-1 robot. They will be sorely missed. I can still remember the smell when you opened one of the Heaathkit kit boxes. It was quite a uniqe smell. Then the thrill of looking at all of the parts and thinking man I can't wait to finish only to be disappointed when I finished and no more to do except go to the Heathkit store on Joppa Road in Towson, MD. and drool over what I would build next. Thanx for the many years of enjoyment I spend building and using the many kits i purchased. You will be missed.

Goodby Old Friend (1)

loumsc (2636479) | more than 2 years ago | (#39958519)

Goodbye Old Friend. I built everything from photoelectric light dimmers to tv's to test equopment to a Hero-1 robot. They will be sorely missed. I can still remember the smell when you opened one of the Heaathkit kit boxes. It was quite a uniqe smell. Then the thrill of looking at all of the parts and thinking man I can't wait to finish only to be disappointed when I finished and no more to do except go to the Heathkit store on Joppa Road in Towson, MD. and drool over what I would build next. Thanx for the many years of enjoyment I spend building and using the many kits i purchased. You will be missed.
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