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[Articles Home]  [Add Article]  

My 10 Years at Heathkit

from KJ4DGE on February 2, 2014
View comments about this article!

10 Years at Heathkit
By Greg Danes, KJ4DGE

A little about how I came to get the job and what it meant to me:

I grew up with a radio Dad, he was a broadcaster at a number of radio stations during his career. With that we had a Zenith B-600 transoceanic shortwave radio in the sixties in Fla. I grew to love the full AM sound and foreign accents from the RCI, BBC and such. This was a really cool SWL rig!


Zenith Transoceanic

I took to electronics in the mid seventies with the coming of CB. Handle was “mission control”, sounded sort of respectable. Same time tunable VHF/UHF public service radios were all over the place. I had a number of these I could listen to and later began to buy the newer “programmable scanners” that soon followed. These were in their “heyday” then as almost all radio comms were in the clear, cell phones did not exist, and the internet was 20 years away!


Radio Shack patrolman 60 multi-band radio

During the late 1970’s I worked for the state of VA in mental health. During that time and working a night shift, I always wanted to know what traffic was going to be like on the Beltway home in the morning. Having an old Ford Pinto with an Am/Fm radio was not good enough, I wanted to hear those guys in the traffic copters buzzing overhead. I learned about retuning a radio by expanding the coils to make a FM radio pick up 108-125 MHz in range. By “slope tuning’ I could listen to the traffic copters every morning on my car radio! How cool. I had been reading everything I could get my hands on in radio and electronics by this time but had no formal education.

On my way home I would stop in the morning and wait for the local Heathkit store on Rt. 1 to open up. One day they had a “hiring” sign in the window and I went in and filled out the paperwork, suffice to say they were none too impressed with my background and lack of experience. They told me they were waiting on a tech to come down from St. Joseph MI. to fill the slot. So I kept going back every day for 2 weeks and this person never showed up. By this time they must have thought at least I was persistent. Finally the service manager took me aside and said I have a test for you. He handed me a Heathkit manual and a digital alarm clock that was broke and said, fix it. I read the troubleshooting info in the back of the manual and got it working, next he hands me a device called a logic probe, same deal, got it working. I gave my two weeks’ notice soon after and started my adventure!

Well reader. Suffice to say my first day was not the best. I showed up in a suit and tie and got looks from the salesmen like “who is this clown? I soon learned that solder and soldering irons and suits do not mix. My first audio device to repair was an AR-15 stereo; little did I know a device called a Variac is a good thing to have when working on these things. Talk about letting the smoke out!


This plus this


Equal no smoke!

It blew up on the bench minutes after I plugged it into the wall, oil filled electrolytic capacitors were a smoking and two loud retorts like a shotgun sent people running into the back to see. I felt inches tall. I vowed at that point to be the AR-15 king of fix it at that point. LOL

My experiences continued and like a sponge I soaked up any and all facets of troubleshooting such diverse things as Stereos, TV’s, clocks, radios, anything far and wide to include car timing lights and boat depth sounders. If it was a kit and broke, we fixed it. Our motto was “we never let you fail!” I had some great co-workers. Steve was from Peru and had his ham license; he knew his stuff and had been brought up with a father who ran the tech side of a TV station. Berj was the de facto Guru of TV repair and came from Armenia, he taught me about the do’s and don’ts of TV troubleshooting, and likely saved my life in the process. Many customers were also high up in Government or teaching jobs, and more than a few became good tutors to yours truly over the next ten years. During this time (1982-1992) the personal computer was rearing its ugly head in both personal and business arenas. This was the beginning of the corporate and personal tidal wave in desktop and laptop PC’s. Heathkit also began selling the Apple line of computers. This was not an easy venture. Apple corp. had very strict rules as to sales and if you sold it you fixed it which meant sending your techs to Columbia SC to go to school to be certified. The salespeople loved the MAC. It had a GUI interface like today’s windows, it was so simple to install in an office and network, and most salesmen could do it without help. They sold like hotcakes.

Needless to say in the late 80’s zenith was not selling too many IBM-compatible computers. The kit market was slowly dying and the revenue came from the Apple side of the house. ZDS was not pleased and held a meeting for all inside and outside sales reps. “You MUST bring up the Zenith computer sales!” Loud groans of displeasure could be heard. What is DOS? My customers don’t want it and I am making quota every month with the MAC! And so on. Well, between 1985 to 1990, a version of something called “Windows” was released. Early versions of this were pretty bad compared to the MAC OS. But in 1990 a version 3.0 came out which took advantage of the Intel 386 and better graphics. The Apple MAC still was king but the new kid on the block had millions more and cheaper hardware platforms it would run on. Very slowly the Heathkit sales folks took notice and ran with it. The rest is how you say “History”. Two years later Heathkit closed their doors after close to 60 years of kit building and electronic education. Mainly due to stiff competition overseas. I was fortunate enough to have been on the inside during a decade of change and good fortune for the company, Heath will always be in my heart and memories.


Zenith Z-100


Apple Mac Plus


Zenith Z-248

Manufacturers such as HP, Zenith, IBM, Apple, and many others saw the dollar signs on the wall I the 1980’s and started to make PC’s. In the mean time Heathkit still made kits but pre-built electronics and such was soon to be a turning point for the company. In Japan, VHS recorders, stereos TV’s and other such devices were manufactured on robotic assembly lines at a pace America could not keep up with, same was true of automobiles; Two Japanese techs to oversee the robots versus hundreds of Union laborers in Detroit. The corporate model that cheap labor was the way to increase profit margins began to take hold on our nation.

At one point all Zenith computer power supplies were sent to Mexico to be made. This caused the failure rate to skyrocket. Quality control was non-existent. Hard drive manufacturers such as Western Digital and Seagate also moved their plants offshore to places like Singapore and Malaysia. Again the rate of failure was immense. Something had to give. During this time it was also seen that the technical support area was also a good cutting block to whack. Service centers were down-sized in favor of “call centers” in remote locations like New Delphi, India. Personal service became a joke and laughing stock as more jobs went overseas.

Heathkit closed its doors in 1992. The Zenith shareholders seeing loss of profit decided that instead of fixing the micro-managed monster they had created it was more lucrative to sell the broken model to a French conglomerate called Groupe Bull, later unloaded to NEC and then to disappear altogether into history. Oh but during its heyday of kit builders and experimenters the world was its oyster. Few people today realize that towards the end of the 80’s Zenith Electronics, (who had split from the Data division early on ) was one of the major players in HDTV formats and innovation.

Here are some of the neat things I got to work on and repair!


5 MHz Oscilloscope test gear (IO-10)

This was used to troubleshoot Audio equipment and also was handy for many other things


World’s most accurate clock (GC-1000)

The clock in the above picture was unique. It had a radio receiver that picked up the Universal Time coordinate signals from Ft. Collins, CO. It synched with this Government Atomic time-piece and was as accurate as it could be.


RT 1 Robot


ET-18


Multi-meter test gear


Heathkit weather station


Early All-in-one computer


early stereos with digital readout


Amateur radio gear


More amateur radio gear

Some of the weirder stuff!


Metal detector


Auto engine analyzer


Fish finder


Log splitter

This was the number one selling kit of all time I think. It was called the GR-2000 then 2001


25 inch kit color TV with your choice of custom wood cabinet. Because the cabinet was as expensive if not more as the TV, we had a rule, if you bring in the TV for repair, the cabinet stays home!

So it went the Heathkit stores a staple of 50 years of American fun and education are no more. The education part can still be found on the net and there are murmurs of a possible comeback. We can only hope. I say to my co-workers, Carl, Andy, Ed, and Bob (multiple Bob’s) and all the rest, I say, thank you for the great time and “ what a long strange trip it’s been!”


Member Comments:
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My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by AE5QB on February 2, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
If you are more than 40 years old and involved with electronics, you know Heathkit. I used to drool over some of those kits. I learned electronics through a self paced course from Cleveland Institute of Electronics. They were years ahead of the times in remote education. I learned a great deal from those courses. The courses almost always include Heathkit products. There is just something gratifying about putting a kit together and having it work. I first took the CIE TV repair course which included the 25" TV you mentioned. Loved that TV! I also built the Heathkit video Pong game. When digital starting ramping up I built the H8 computer and between it and the U.S. Navy I learned a great deal about computers and programming. I later built the H89 computer which used the Z80 processor and was a major leap above the H8. My first exposure with Ham Radio was late 60's when my dad took me over to see a fellow workers station. It was all Heathkit and I fell in love with those blue boxes. I never owned any Heathkit ham gear but it planted the seed in me.

I do remember the first release of the Mac also. Genius! But I didn't know Heathkit sold them. We didn't have a Heathkit store in our town. Apple had a program that allowed you to take home a Mac for a day to test drive. If you didn't want to buy it, no problem just bring it back. I went to all 3 computer stores in my town to Test Drive a Mac. That was a brilliant marketing program because once you test drove the Mac you didn't want to take it back. What a major breakthrough in personal computing that was! I later went to work for NCR/ATT and purchased several $2800 computers through their employee purchase program. Now a top of the line computer can be built for well under $2000. Progress I guess!

IMO the biggest mistake Heathkit made was trying to spread itself too thin. As your list of equipment shows, they wanted to be everything electronics. That is tough to support over time. Not that a more focused product line would have saved them from the far east takeover, but you never know.

Tom/AE5QB
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by AD4U on February 2, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I credit Heathkit for leading me into ham radio and then into a life long interest and vocation centered around electronics. One day when I was around 13 years old I picked up a Heathkit catalog that was lying on someone's table and started to look. When I got to the ham gear I was hooked.

Heathkit ham gear, like most all other ham gear of the time (except possibly Collins) was a compromise between design, performance, and cost. But when Heathkit gear (especially ham gear) was properly assembled it would "hang" with most other gear.

I especially am fond of the SB series of ham gear. The SB-101 transceiver was my first "real" ham rig. It does not drift, it can hear most anything any other ham transceiver can hear, and I still get unsolicited reports of great SSB audio.

Over the years I have added the SB-200 (another story in itself), SB-600 speaker, SB-610 monitor, SB-630, SB-640 external VFO, SB-650 digital readout, SB-102 transceiver, SB-301 and 303 receivers, and SB-401 transmitter.

Back in the 1980's when I had all this gear assembled on my desk I made a point to have all the radios "on" and the room dark when visitors came over. Often visitors would look in my radio room and comment that my desk looked like a space ship. I still have them all and each and every one still works as well today as it did when new.

As for the SB-200: In 1970 my Dad was diagnosed with a serious illness at age 47. This was right before Christmas. His doctors let him come home from the hospital for several days at Christmas. I think he knew that would be his last Christmas with us.

Even though his hospital bills were sky high (he had no health insurance) he made sure a Heathkit SB-200 was under the tree Christmas morning. I started building the SB-200 around 6PM on Christmas Day night and did not stop until it was finished up into the next morning. It worked perfectly the first time.

Several days after Christmas my Dad went back into the hospital and died a few days later on January 7, 1971.

My Heathkit SB gear means a lot to me.

Dick AD4U

 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by N4CT on February 2, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
REALLY ENJOYED THE ARTICLE AND PICTURES AND COMMENTS BY OTHER HAMS. MY FIRST HEATHKIT WAS THE VFO FOR MY GLOBE CHIEF.
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by KJ4DGE on February 2, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
AD4U, Sorry for your loss. Been there as well. Before anyone says something, LOL, Yes the picture of the Zenith Z-248 was incorrect! Its a Apple Mac II and monitor. I have read elsewhere the SB series radios were considered the "Poor man's Collins" gear. All the Heath HAM rigs were fun to say the least. Even though I had no formal technical training at that time, Tom the service manager I guess saw the enthusiasm and gave me a chance. Right place and right time. Best on the job training no money could buy. I am writing a short story about all this that will not show up here, too long and too many pictures. Anyone interested in a free copy should email me. It may be good for some nice memories of that time and also has some funny stories all of which were true!

 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by N1CX on February 2, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Great read and tnx for sharing. Very fond memories of Heathkit. I got into ham radio via scouts and my heathkit education kits back then started me on a career in electronics. First station was a hw16 rockbound. Second station was a scratchy apache and mohawk combination (and an extra heavy duty table to hold them up)
Third station was a sb303/401 combination. I enjoyed that station the most. Wicked good receiver.

When I was a teenager the new heathkit catalog was like getting the gold ring on the merry go round. I used to read it cover to cover when it came in the mail.

Nowadays ya can't get kids outta the damn video games.
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by AA4PB on February 2, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I think the "early all-in-one computer" was the H89. Two 8-inch floppy drives and expandable all the way to 64K of RAM. I think I had probably $3000 in my kit by the time I added the extra floppy and maxed out the RAM. One of my early DOS projects with it was a CW reader.

 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by AE5QB on February 2, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Was it 8 inch floppies? I thought they were 5.25 inch floppies. Maybe my memory fails me. I spent many long nights playing space invaders on that computer. It was a lot of fun. Between pong and space invaders, I was pretty addicted to computer games in my times. I remember my young wife at the time giving up on me and going to bed leaving me playing space invaders in the dim glow of the CRT. I understand why kids, and many adults, are addicted to them now.

Tom/AE5QB
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by AC5UP on February 2, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Based on a brief web crawl the Zenith Z-248 looks very much like a PC compatible except built on a backplane with expansion cards. See http://www.diskettenschlitz.de/?page=diskettenschlitz.content.museum.zenithZFE15842 for more. That's one way to avoid any hint of a copyright infringement and the proprietary bits will keep the customer coming back. Apple held a 10% market share for years due to being expensively unique but it seems like that doesn't matter as much as it used to.

As for the TV being their most popular kit ev-er, I have to scratch my head over that one... Not doubting it, but run the numbers for the chassis + cabinet + freight and the TV ran better than $3,200 in today's dollars. You could go down the street and buy plug & play for much less.
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by K9CTB on February 2, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Electronics, as the original art existed, is long gone. What they call "electronics" today (iphones, ipads, etc) is about the same as what they're calling "music" now. I can tell a fellow ham exactly how my HW-101 works, even today ... while relatively speaking, I haven't a clue how my 746 Pro works. "Service Manual"? Sure. Push this button, get this response. Not the same electronics at all! Even if Heathkit was resurrected today, it wouldn't be the same ... you truly can't ever go home again ... but those of us who were there had our day in the sun for those wonderful years! Thanks for the great memories!

73,
K9CTB
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by KR4BD on February 2, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
What GREAT Memories! I got my Novice license in 1975 and Heathkit was there for me. Living in the Dayton, OH area at the time, it was a treat to visit nearby Heathkit Stores in suburban Cincinnati and Indianapolis. My first station consisted of a DX-60B, HR-10B and HG10 VFO. Building these rigs was a wonderful learning experience, too. And it was really neat to see them come to life once completed. Today, I still have and use my Heathkit VTVM, RF signal generator, CW Keyer and other accessories I built back then.

Unfortunately, as time went on, the Heathkit stores closed and the company eventually ceased operations. However, I am glad they were "there" for me when I was first learning the ropes in amateur radio! They made solid, quality and affordable equipment as evidenced by the amount of it still being used today.

Tom, KR4BD
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by KB6QXM on February 2, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Heathkit equipment used to make me drool as a teenager. There were many Heathkit products I always wanted but never obtained. I loved the weather station. I liked it's looks. I wanted the ham rig that had your call built in to the chassis. I would own one of their amps, but if I am not mistaken, none of their amps had 160 meters. Shame. Many Heathkit products because they were so well designed, still hold their value.

Another great American manufacturing company gone due to globalization and a culture wanting inexpensive products. Had our government figured out how to tax the imports to make the cost competitive with the imports or subsidized labor or automation as one country does, we might not have had the great late American manufacturing situation happen. As we all know our auto industry had the same fate. I miss all of the great American products that are no longer with us. There are some ham entrepreneurs that are bringing back American ham products, but nothing compared to what it is today. So when you have the choice to buy an inexpensive import radio, choose American. Think Flex radio, think Elecraft. I will support them, not only for their technology, but I do not want to see those companies suffering the fate that Heathkit did.

Heathkit will live on in the hearts and shacks of hams world-wide. The company is missed. I am glad to read about someone who actually got to work at that company. I worked at a great late American company-Atari. Like Heathkit, it is a legend in the Silicon Valley history. Heathkit is a legend in ham radio history. Nice article. It brings back many childhood memories.

73
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by NU4B on February 2, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I remember waiting for the Heathkit catalogs when they came out - was it every year or 6 months? My Dad got the catalogs and I would dream over the radios. This was back in the 60's and 70's.
I finally got my license and ordered a HW-8. Then a HW-101.
And finally my HW-9 and associated gear. I still have my HW-9 (and gear), it all still works, and I still love to operate that rig. Amazing after 30 years.
I know times change, and my K2 is awesome, but there's nothing like the memories when I turn on the HW-9. Nothing fancy, but what a great QRP rig. I'm glad I had the chance to build some of the kits.
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by KB2DHG on February 2, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
YES, as a kid I used to go to the HEATHKIT store and drool over those ham radio kits. I lived closer to LAFAYETTE which I guess was HEATHKIT's competitor.

It was a long time ago and I truly miss those stores. these kids of today don't know what they missed.

I did not build many kits only 2 but I did love to SWL and finally becoming a HAM. Nice story makes me feel old yet brings me back to a much better time in my life...
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by KJ4DGE on February 2, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Glad to see my article struck a memory bank or two. Yes it was a good 10 years and I was proud to be able to be of service to the HAM/computer/robotics/etc. hobbyist community.

73

KJ4DGE
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by KF4HR on February 2, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for posting this article Greg. It sure brought back some nice memories. And like many older hams I looked forward to drooling over the latest Heath catalog and I spent countless hours building Heathkits. At the time I wanted a SB-102 Transceiver but could only afford a HW-101 which I used for years and operated both mobile and base. Then later the accessories followed: SB-610 & 620 scopes, SB-630 station console , SB-650 display, HF amplifiers, 21" CRT and rear projection TV's, scale, clocks, test equipment, R/C equipment, and many more. In fact, I still have a few. It sure was nice to own equipment the average operator could actually dive into and fix themselves. And I learned quite a bit from the circuit descriptions in the manuals; you sure don't see that anymore! (I can hear some of the newbee's now... Circuit Descriptions in the Manuals? What the heck is he talking about? hi) I definitely miss Heathkit. It's too bad the Heathkit's recovery attempts haven't been successful.
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by KG0MN on February 2, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I have now been a ham radio operator for over 40 years and I can remember the catalogs coming in the mail and to be honest I was never impressed with what I saw and this was based purely on my self conceived view of kits being far below pre-made gear from Kenwood, Johnson, Yaseu and the other big names. I think part of my disdain was based on the ugly green color that Heathkit used as their go-to paint scheme. It just reminded me of a John Deere tractor color.

Now that I am well into my 6th decade I can count at least 11 Heathkit items that have found a permanent home in my shack. They range from a Grid Dip Meter to VTVM test gear and two different signal tracers and my first code oscillator which I used to learned to send Morse code with to and SB-200 amplifier. My opinion about kits has now changed and perhaps that is the reason you will also find an Elecraft KX3 in my shack now. I now wait for the new Heathkit company to rise from the ashes like the proverbial Phoenix and let us hope the quality of ham gear will be just as good or better than it was so long ago.
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by AA4PB on February 3, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Heathkit, like most mfgs., made some pretty good rigs and they also made some not so good. The good part is that even the not so good were were pretty easily modified to correct deficiencies.
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by W7KKK on February 3, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
My parents started me out building a clock radio in about 1960 or so.
I made every mistake you could make building that kit but the people that ran the store that sold the stuff helped me fix my problems and it worked great for some 35 years until it just got thrown out during a move.
I also built a depth finder for my Dad's boat and a color TV a little later on for him. I don't remember what other kits I built now.
I was not into ham radio as a kid but I did find out that almost everyone that worked the counter at the electronics store that sold the kits was a ham.
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by W7KKK on February 3, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Forgot to mention I still have an SB-1000 amp on the bench right now.
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by K2JX on February 3, 2014 Mail this to a friend!


Greg,

Thanks for the trip down memory lane...I still have my first Heathkit I built in 1957 as a 12 yr old boy. It is the EA-2 12w mono hi-fi amp. Still works today. I had the DX-60B, HG-10B, SB-303, Heaths digital CW key, and a few other kits whose model I don't remember. Our local Heath store was in Westbury Long Island, head tech was Alex, AI2Q, with whom I have a 40 year friendship with. He's a master with electronics to this day. I spent many a lunch hour in the store looking at the "next" Ham radio kit I wanted but could not afford as a newly wed !

What you posted is sad testament to the decline of this great nation which started in the late 70's early 80's and continues to this day. Here on Long Island with it's highly skilled work force we were in the fore front of aviation, electronics, and products for the military and the consumer, sadly it's no more. We had Grumman Aviation which employed 33,000 workers in it's prime. Now we have only coffee shops and mall jobs ! The old Heathkit store is a bank !

Heath started me on my Ham and work career, I spent 47 years in the work force, 25 as a radio tech for a large police department. Now retired I am still a Ham and enjoy restoring old gear !

73, Jack K2JX


 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by KE7FD on February 3, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Wow, what a flashback! Almost all of the guys in my circle of friends who got their Novice License back in my high school days started off with Heathkits of one or another. I built a HW-16 then later after I got my General, I moved up to a HW-101 (we waited for it to replace the HW-100). One day my buddy and I were talking to some guy in Michigan who said he was using a fully solid state Heathkit... There was no such animal in their catalog but it wasn't too much after that when the HW-104 came out.

I know there's been lots of rumors of Heathkit starting back up but it seems to be more fiction than fact.

Glen - KE7FD
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by WA2JHS on February 3, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I too worked for heathkit back in the mid 80's....it was my dream job as a computer/electronics tech...too bad it closed up...I still miss that job...sigh
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by KD8TVM on February 3, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
What a wonderful article. My story is far shorter than yours, but non-the-less a wonderful expereince. I grew up in Benton Harbor in the 50's and 60's so I knew Heathkit very well. I attended Lake Michagan College and earned my Associates degree in electronics in 1966. Was ready to hit the work roles but decided I would like that engineering degree--So decided to go out to Heath and work for the summer before I went off to the University in the fall. With that technical degree they were excited to get me working in the main service department. As you I started on test equipment and then worked my was up to larger and more complex kits. Even worked that same color television you show. At the factory you could go to the "company" store and bid on kits. Like you I grew up starting with CB radio and that took me into ham radio. I brought my Dad into the CB world with me and he was an die-hard user up until his passing in 1992.
I did find my way into the engineering world and lost my focus on getting my Ham ticket; BUT that ended last year when I found my way back and worked very hard to get all three tickets in less than 3 months.
Today I hold an Extra ticket (AB8LS) and enjoying the heck out of the hobby ---should have accomplished this years ago.
So to bring this comment back---My short stay at Heath was an expereince that will always be close to my heart.

Thank you,
Larry Swanson
AB8LS
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by W6TGE on February 3, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
They WERE 8" floppy drives as "we" made them for Heathkit. In fact, we could not supply enough. There were failures and we had changes to make. So, I spent a week in St. Joseph fixing them. The Heath people were great and gave me some spare parts to a few kits I had. I still have my SB221 that I built as an SB220 after I showed my license!
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by K9IUQ on February 3, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Nice Article, one of the better ones I have seen on eham. Here are some more memories. The developer of Commcat Logger - Howard Nurse grew up with Heathkits.. His daddy was the CEO of Heathkit for a long time, what a lucky kid!! Heathkit made lots of Ham Stuff and I bet Howard did a lot of Beta Testing for Heathkit. :>

http://makezine.com/2008/11/25/the-soul-of-an-old-heathk/

Howard is still around: http://www.commcat.com/
He makes one of the Best Loggers for Dxing Hams. I think he probably started programming on those early Heathkit
computers..

Stan K9IUQ
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by STRAIGHTKEY on February 3, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Eham editors, this is a good article. You need more articles like this.
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by VK3DWZ on February 3, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
A wonderful article. I remember Heathkit well, altho' they were not all that big in Australia, of course. They were only available from one supplier down in Melbourne, often had to be ordered in, and were very expensive. Catalogs were hard to obtain here, and when we obtained the occasional one, it was read with pleasure. Still have an old catalog here -- must drag it out one day. Not all Heath products were available here. Once, a fellow Amateur offered me his Heath transceiver to build. Unfortuantely I didn't have a licence then and, as I was moving to another city, I couldn't take up his kind offer.

I did build several Heath products. They all worked well, and a clock with gas-discharge tubes is still in daily use. Only problem I ever had was an inoperative L.E.D. display (single digit) in an old frequency counter. Replaced it with a local equivalent, no problem.
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by AC7DX on February 3, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
My first transmitter was a Heathkit AT1 I built in 1954 as WN0TMI...what a blast.................
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by W1JKA on February 4, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Nice article, this is a stroll down memory lane. Building my DX-40 and HKit Q multiplier for my S38 rcvr. both of which I still use today 49 years later with a hi tech HyperMite filter for the S38. When we were young we had fun with such gear,I still do.
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by W5YZR on February 4, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Great Story. Thank you.

I too built a lot of heathkits.

Bob.....
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by G7ENQ on February 4, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
There are some designations you just never forget. For me it was railway locomotive numbers, valves (tubes), and the Heathkit DX100-U. After progressing from hours staring into toy shop windows during the Christmas season to trawling through electronics/radio magazines/catalogues, I never forgot my dream rig. Despite having no licence, it gave me something to aim for.

Incidentally, there's a very good vintage radio museum here in Dublin with hours of nostalgia. Obviously the emphasis is on European models but I'm sure any Stateside visitors will find it worthwhile. See:
https://sites.google.com/site/hurdygurdymuseum/home

Bill
EI9FDB, G7ENQ
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by N4UE on February 4, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Greg, thank you VERY much for this article! It brought back a LOT of memories. I have to mention the following:

1. The TV. I never built one, but one of my co-workers did. It worked great. However, he had OCD when it came to picture quality. I can remember watching the Boston Bruins hockey at his house. During the average game, he would 'tweak' the adjustments several dozen times. Drove his wife crazy!!
2. I built a HW-100 soon after they came out and it was a great radio. I never installed the factory VFO mechanism. Instead, I put the Swan 'dual knob' setup in it and it was smooth.
3. I had such great results with the HW-100, I next built a HW-17A. Pretty bad.
4. I was dumb enough to buy and build the 2 M handheld. Even worse. I remember checking the small, ceramic caps while building it. 1/2 of them were shorted!

You could see the end coming for heathkit when they started selling imported radios with their name on them. Also, they were overpriced for the performance they delivered.

I can also remember ordering a SB-110A/SB-600 speaker and a SB-500 transverter. I was soon notified that the 110A and 500 were discontinued but they would ship the speaker! Told them 'no thanks'.

I have several of the Heath/Schluberger VTVMs that were surplused (brand new, never used) by my former company. Although I have a ton of frequency counters, I still have the 30 MHZ counter I built back when it was the 'state of the art'.

Great memories....

ron
N4UE
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by WA5YOM on February 4, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Wow...well my Dad an I built a TA-16 Guitar amp...our first kit...before my interest in ham radio...as a novice we built the DX-60B, HR-19B, HD-10 keyer...then as a General...we built the SB-301 and SB-401....thought I had died and gone to heaven....As much As We enjoyed the kits...what I loved most was building these kits with my Dad...and sharing a great hobby....

Still have the novice gear...

Tim
WA5YOM

My Dad...WA5YON
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by HP1KL on February 4, 2014 Mail this to a friend!

"Same time tunable VHF/UHF public service radios were all over the place. I had a number of these I could listen to and later began to buy the newer “programmable scanners” that soon followed"

This was much more fun back tnen than today (1960's vs 2000)....


73s Tony HP1kl
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by RSHIRE22 on February 4, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I always wondered what happened to the "hams from Heath".
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by K6SDW on February 4, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Greg, what a great article you have written about Heathkit and the early beginnings of the microcomputer ~ you show a gift for writing and with your knowledge of the hi tech history I would encourage you to consider writing a book about your experiences....

Good stuff!!

73

ed
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by KB0XR on February 5, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
DX-20 in 1958. Local Heath store technician repaired all my cold solder joints made with my huge soldering iron.

I had no elmer so I stumbled around and promptly fried the ps and lost interest in ham radio.

Built a lot of Heathkits in the seventies.

Bob in Minnesota KB0XR
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by AC0MP on February 5, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
The reason the TV was so popular, it was part of the course in electronics that DeVry and others offered to veteran s.

I learned a lot but it was mostly the TV that got me and lots of others to sign up.

 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by KL7AJ on February 6, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
I got to know Carl Smith, founder of CIE, quite well in the later years. He did a lot of design and consultant work for us at KJNP, the only directional AM station in Alaska at the time. He also helped do some re-design work in the early stages of HAARP.
He was a real innovator and an engineer without peer.

Eric
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by W3DIY on February 7, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
In regards to the Heathkit TV…they must have a sold a ton of them to Vets. Back in Heathkits prime I worked with guys eligible for GI bill education benefits. They signed up for the NRI TV repair home correspondence course that included the top model Heathkit color TV as a training aid. They had no intentions becoming a TV repair Tech. Their only motivation was the free color TV courtesy of Uncle Sam.
I heard the finished TV kits worked great.
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by N6KP on February 7, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
My 10 years at Heathkit began in 1958. Heath was looking for someone to engineer educztional products and as a science teacher I guess I qualified.

Heath was set up as departments. ie Amateur radio, Audio, Marine, general products etc. Each group was tasked to develop kits in their field. It was pretty much one engineer oriented and he designed and developed each kit. The art of kit design was key. We had many engineers with degrees that could design but few who could design a product that the average person could put together.

I started the Educational group as management wanted to spread the sales over more than the months of November/December. Schools were targeted and as they usually purchased during the summer months the group was in the 2 million dollar sales. I can remember going to the State of New York purchasing department with Charlie Kirkland (president at the time) and the purchasing department wanted a 25 percent discount on each piece of test equipment purchased. My boss told them NO. Even the employees only got a 10% discount.

The most expensive kit was the 21 inch color TV. We all wanted one and so management decided we should pay $125 for the color CRT. We did of course.

Being " one of the hams at Heath" was a perk since we could "proof build" the kits before they were released. I spent many nights in the basement soldering the kits. I think I had everyone of the "green boxes". Our only restriction was we could not sell them for 1 year. (and then the chassis was etched "proof build" to discourage sales.)

After Dave Nurse became president he would bring his son Howard to work in the summer time. I got to teach Howard electronic kit design. Also Dave would come out to our field day site and bring Pizza for everyone.

I built one of the first HW-12 75 meter 200 watt transceivers and took it on a road trip down the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Imagine 60 miles and hour and using SSB. The AMers were impressed.

Most everyone knows the demise of Heath was due to Zenith cutting off the funding for all products except the computer area.

When we could not get enough tubes from American companies we went to Japan and created a company called Daystrom Nichimen. A joint venture. Many customers were upset we were using Japanese tubes. The solution was to send out duplicates everytime a customer thought it was the tubes that failed. Usually it was some wiring error.

We were panicked about kits not having the correct amount of parts so we would take a kit out of the warehouse and count each part. Then we developed a weight program that took the average humidity for the day and began weighing each box down to the gram. We did not want the customer in Podunk ID to have to go looking for a 10/32 quarter inch screw.

Ted, N6KP ex N6IIU, W8RPA



 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by K9MHZ on February 9, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Ted,

I guess as a sluggo ham customer with no insight into the inner workings of the organization, I could never figure why the business relationships kept changing....Daystrom, Schlumberger, Zenith,... And, like you wrote, the Zenith period seemed like the downhill slide point. I do remember catalogs coming out with less and less ham gear in each new printing. One thing that struck me as very odd was the Yaesu (Icom?) HF rig that was rebranded and the Heath XYZ (whatever it was) HF solid state mobile. It just had a cheap and desperate feel to it.

I too built most of their ham stuff in the 60s and 70s era, but became very critical of the company after wrestling with the front end, sensitivity, and bandswitching of the HW-5400. No solution it seemed, coming out of Benton Harbor, was working......LOTS of hams were very POd with that radio. The Heath store in Phoenix had them stacked up like cord wood in their service area. This was probably 1983, and maybe the rebranded Yaesu soon followed the 5400 fiasco, and it was pretty apparent that the ham days were numbered.....not due to one shaky radio design, but as a sign that big change was looming. Too, the big three manufacturers of today were hitting their stride and transportation networks between Japan and the U.S. were advancing rapidly, to bring their products into the U.S. market easier.

Great memories....but just wondering if circumstances were to blame for their demise, or if it was self-inflicted, or maybe a combination of both?

Thanks for that narrative, Ted. Very interesting reading.
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by N6KP on February 11, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Bradley,

The demise of Heathkit was a combination of factors.

Kit design became more dificult with the introduction of solid state devices. Just getting transistors was a big problem. We wanted to buy Fairchild but the FTC squashed that as restrictive trade.

Going from 1/2 watt resistors to 1/4 and eve 1/8 watt resistors caused many builders to fail.

Competing with the Japanese was another. When they could stuff and flow solder a three layer circuit board in minutes, and of course SMT was the final blow.

During the 80's Zenith held the purse strings and Heath was forced to colaborte whith Ameritron, Yaesu etc. None of this seemed to satisfy the builders.

We also lost a lot of talent to other companies, Joe Shafer who lead the amateur division left for Drake,
Al Robertson who was the product manager retired and so it went.

Ted
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by KI4MWP on February 11, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Hi Greg,
Thanks very much for the article. That particular Heathkit store, would it have been the one located at 6201 Richmond Highway? If so, I used to spend many a pleasant hour there in the late 70's through the early 80's--I lived a few miles down the road at Beacon Hill. Great store and I bought lots of interesting chips and TTL related books (remember the "Blacksburg Continuing Education" line of "how to" books?). Anyhow, that building now hosts an AB&W credit union. I still occasionally drive by it and remember with fondness all the great stuff that the store had!
Marshall
KI4MWP
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by WB9USY on February 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Great article. I started with a Knightkit receiver when I was very young but always had a Heathkit catalog near by. I never stopped looking through it until the next one showed up. Finally I got my Heathkit in my mid 20's. Started with the HW-101, Mic and PS then followed up with the Speaker, Keyer, Phone Patch. Final kit was the SB-200 amp. Many hours putting these together, trouble shooting when something gave out. Learned that 6146B's didn't do well in the HW-101 along with a lot of technical learning. Was a great time while it lasted. Thank you for the article. Thank you Heathkit and all associated for the great time.
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by N9DWE on February 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Thanks for the great article. I too miss HeathKit. I believe that I would not be a ham today if it were not for Heathkit. I built a Hr-1680 back in the 70's. A good ham friend told me that receiver was the best sounding he had ever heard. That got me going and have never regretted it. Thanks again.

John N9DWE
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by K9COX on February 21, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
My son is named Heath...what else can I say.
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by K7FD on February 24, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Why don't interesting articles like this ever appear in QST or CQ?
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by NX8J on February 24, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Wow! So many good comments on this story. The pictures bring back memories.

I spent 25 good years in computer programming. No formal education in that field. I lay success on Heathkit and the skills I picked up building an H-89 and later a Z-100 low-profile. Of course, reading many good books and writing hundreds of programs just for fun and staying up all night looking at Compuserve Information Service and hitting the Cleveland Heathkit store for computer club meetings helped. A friend at one of those meetings gave me a book on C written by two guys with the initials "K & R". That gift was easily worth $500,000.

Still have the H-89 and Z-100 (they work fine!) and many floppys filled with software. They are antiques now, and will be passed down to my heirs.
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by KM6GK on February 27, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
What great memories. I started out at the age of 13 building a shortwave receiver. I also remember Dad taking me back to the store in Anaheim, CA to have them fix it. I also built a vtvm, audio signal generator, several digital clocks and indoor outdoor thermometers for gifts. I still have a 1966 catalog with price sheet. I didn't get licensed until 1991 so never got into the ham gear. Thanks for the article.
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by W9DPY on March 10, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Love the article. My first kit was house alarm from Knight. My dad had it in a box; he never did build it. You got the alarm (simple box with an infrared detector) and a separate chassis with a red light. You put both of them behind a door and if the beam was broke - alarm! I was 12 and thought it was great. Then the OM bought me an HW-16. Turned out to be a little too much. I never finished it. Flash forward 40 years. I now build kits again and actually bought a VARIAC. Not as hard as the HW-16 but more than the old Knight kit. What's old is new again!
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by SWL377 on March 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
The ability of Heath techs to troubleshoot mis-assembled kits and fix them was VERY impressive. There was a Heathkit Store in Redwood City CA and there was a tech there who was legendary in his ability to quickly diagnose and fix any Heathkit: TV, hifi, ham, test gear etc.

It's tough enough repairing a piece of gear that was previously functional. Its another thing altogether to troubleshoot gear that never worked and may have a number of errors in assembly. FAR tougher diagnostic problem.

Hats off to the Heath techs.

73
Mark
AF6IM
 
My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by SWL377 on March 12, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
The ability of Heath techs to troubleshoot mis-assembled kits and fix them was VERY impressive. There was a Heathkit Store in Redwood City CA and there was a tech there who was legendary in his ability to quickly diagnose and fix any Heathkit: TV, hifi, ham, test gear etc.

It's tough enough repairing a piece of gear that was previously functional. Its another thing altogether to troubleshoot gear that never worked and may have a number of errors in assembly. FAR tougher diagnostic problem.

Hats off to the Heath techs.

73
Mark
AF6IM
 
RE: My 10 Years at Heathkit  
by KJ4DGE on March 13, 2014 Mail this to a friend!
Well LOL, Had a Japanese couple drop off a ET-18 robot once. It was so far gone. They were building it for the Navy at Norfolk VA. I guess they learned that some things should be soldered a little better. I had to replace ALL the boards they built with wired units. It was that sloppy. charged them full price too. Many a time I saw such great soldering work. We had what was called NASA certified solderers. Never met any that I knew. I guess NASA had a course on soldering :) Mostly everyone did a good job though with that. Kit building was an art form I suppose. It took patience and time and when you were through you had something to be proud of.

73

KJ4DGE
 
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