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I like to think of ham radio operators as some of the original makers and hackers. They called hacking “kinking,” said “hi hi” instead of “LOL,” and assembled Heathkits long before Makershed, Adafruit, and Sparkfun were around. I had a lot of fun checking out some of the vintage radios at Hamvention in Dayton, Ohio a few weeks ago.

HobbyRadioGiftGuideheathkit.jpgI really like the designs of Heathkit, which was one of the first companies to make electronic kits right after WWII. They started with oscilloscopes, and later made many kits, including radios. Since Heathkits were, in fact, kits, they eliminated the cost of assembly and were able to sell electronics much cheaper, making them accessible to more people. The book Heathkit A Guide to Amateur Radio Products is a great resource if you want to learn more.

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dianaeng

Fashion + Technology
Diana was a contestant on Project Runway season 2, graduated from RISD, and currently lives in New York City.


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Comments

  1. Peter says:

    But they did give you a schematic and the ability to “tweak” the design to fit your needs. I built my first 2 meter rig, an HW-2036A, with backlighted thumbwheel switches in place of the ones they suppled. I think I changed the microphone jack to a quick-disconnect one as well. I loved the combination of a schematic and circuit theory so you could figure out how the circuits worked.

    Their electronics were usually OK designs, but the mechanical design often left you with stripped out threads and wondering why they did that. Fun as heck to build, though. Really, really fun to use something you had built from nuts bolts and components.

  2. http://www.flickr.com/photos/monicastewart says:

    I concur Peter. I am old enough to remember the kits from the late 70s, and by that time modern manufacturing processes and globalization was making electronics cheaper than what Heathkit could really compete with.

    A complaint I remember my father having concerning the kits is that though they did a good job at teaching you how to solder and how to read resistor values, most of the kits really didn’t teach that much about how the electronics worked. I was a little kid too busy having fun soldering to care.

    1. Diana Eng says:

      Thank you for sharing your memories. This was before my time so it’s interesting to know that the kits weren’t actually that much cheaper.

      1. Peter says:

        Diana – I have to say I love your articles. Just when we all thought ham radio was dying of old age, along come the Makers, Arduinauts and Hackers to rediscover that (1) making stuff yourself is fun and (2) the raw materials are all around you if you know where to look (hint: start with the “junk” people put out for the trash!).

        I don’t know how it happened, but I’m *really* glad it did. Like my wife says; being a nerd is *finally* cool. I’ve waited all my life for this :-)

        Keep up the good work. Ham radio is a great playground for anyone interested in communication.

        73 de KA1AXY

      2. Peter says:

        Diana – I have to say I love your articles. Just when we all thought ham radio was dying of old age, along come the Makers, Arduinauts and Hackers to rediscover that (1) making stuff yourself is fun and (2) the raw materials are all around you if you know where to look (hint: start with the “junk” people put out for the trash!).

        I don’t know how it happened, but I’m *really* glad it did. Like my wife says; being a nerd is *finally* cool. I’ve waited all my life for this :-)

        Keep up the good work. Ham radio is a great playground for anyone interested in communication. If you get a chance, check out the QRP scene. It’s full of folks who like to design and build their own low power transceivers. NorCal QRP and QRP ARCI are two of the big ones, but there are loads of small clubs designing and building their own kits and projects.

        73 de KA1AXY

      3. VA5LF says:

        Hi Diana,

        There are still a good number of kits out there these days. Heathkit may be out of the business, but in the last 6 months I’ve built an Elecraft K2 plus a bunch of optional modules, a Winkeyer, an AX.25 modem shield for Arduino, and a Geiger counter I plan to fly on a high altitude balloon, all from kits.

        I find you don’t get much savings by building a kit, but for me it’s all about the fun of building and using something you put together with your own hands.

        73,
        Sean – VA5LF

        1. Peter says:

          I built one of the early ones. Love that radio! Very high quality kit (better than Heath) and works extremely well. Lots of fun to use.

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