Why are hams selling their Heathkit radios?

Discussion in 'Ham Radio Discussions' started by KR2C, Feb 5, 2020.

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  1. KE0ZU

    KE0ZU Ham Member QRZ Page

    Which is why I tried heath's kits, but, to me they weren't the great panacea others thought them to be, so I moved on.

    Have a nice day
    KM1H likes this.
  2. N2EY

    N2EY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    OK....you have a nice day too.

    But....this brings up an important point....

    When one looks at classic gear from the hollow-state era, there's such an enormous variety to consider!

    For example, just consider the US made HF gear from the end of WW2 to, say, 1976. Thirty years.

    There's EF Johnson, with their Viking 1 and 2, Adventurer, Navigator, Ranger 1 and 2, Valiant 1 and 2, Five Hundred, Pacemaker, Desk Kilowatt, Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt II, 122 VFO, Matchboxes, and probably some others I've missed. (Yes, they were a kitmaker, but their kits were available wired, some things were only available wired.).

    National - HRO-5, HRO-7, HRO-50, HRO-60, NC-173, NC-183, NC-183D, NC-300, NC-270, NC-88, NC-98, NC-109, NC-400, NCX-3, NCX-5 & MkII, NCL-2000, and many many more.

    Hallicrafters, Hammarlund - Where does one even start? Just listing the receivers is a challenge! From the glorified AA5 S-38 to the SX-101 and similar top-end receivers, from the HQ-100 to the Super Pro family, plus the various transceivers and amplifiers....

    Gonset - mobile converters, the G-66/77 pair (a marvel of packaging), the G-76, the GSB-100, 101, 201, and more.

    CE - 10A, 10B, 20A, 100V, 200V, 600L

    Drake - 1A, 2A, 2B, 2C, TR-3, the 4-line, and more.

    Collins - there's a whole organization devoted just to Collins amateur gear.

    Eico - 720, 730, 722, 723, 753, and more. (Yes, they were a kitmaker, but their kits were available wired, and most were OK).

    SBE...probably the first hybrids.

    WRL/Galaxy...from simple MOPAs to the Globe King to the SSB transceivers....

    Swan - from the monobanders to the 700 family

    Henry linear amplifiers. (Tempo One doesn't count).

    Squires-Sanders, Mosley, and others who were in the game only a short time. And that's just looking at US made hollow-state HF gear 1946/76, without considering the H-word, nor Knight, nor WW2 surplus.

    73 de Jim, N2EY
  3. N2EY

    N2EY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    One more observation:

    Heathkit, Eico, Johnson and others offered kits for hams and other electronic applications. Heathkit was the biggest; they started after WW2, based on war-surplus parts they bought for pennies on the dollar. But the kit era ended about 40 years ago.

    Here's why:

    It used to be that a major part of the cost of electronic equipment was the cost of assembly labor. When electronics were mostly point-to-point wired, with a lot of mechanical assembly that could only be done by human hands, this was a significant part of the purchase price. Kits allowed a lower price because the buyer provided the assembly labor "for free". ("What's your time worth?") Balanced against those labor savings was the cost of writing an assembly manual, but for relatively-simple stuff, it worked. The savings was considerable; just look at old ads like this one:


    That's from the 1955 ARRL Handbook. The wired version cost 1.36 times the price of the kit. The prices may seem low, and a savings of $78.50 might not seem like much. But when you adjust those 1955 prices to 2017 dollars, the kit cost $1996.06, the wired version was $2726.05, and the savings $729.99. (Wouldn't YOU spend a few evenings wiring up a transmitter to save over $700?)

    Here's what the above transmitter looks like inside. Top, bottom, and inside-the-VFO-compartment pictures:




    All of that started out as a box of parts. The Ranger is a pretty simple and straightforward design, too - there were much more complex kits from Johnson at the time.

    Here's a link to the assembly manual:


    (Ranger1Assbly.pdf is the assembly manual - 4 Mb file.)

    Then came PC boards, which at first didn't make too much difference, since the factories had people doing manual PC board assembly. However, PC boards reduced assembly cost, which cut into the savings somewhat.

    Then came parts on reels, automated parts insertion and wave soldering. Then SMT, which is DESIGNED for automated assembly. The assembly-labor savings of kits were drastically reduced because machines could build PC boards for much less, with greater uniformity, and perform many tests along the way.

    At about the same time, the complexity and delicacy of electronics greatly increased, and the need for special tools, test equipment and such became greater. All sorts of designs became impractical for kits because the typical kitbuilder did not have things like a spectrum analyzer, wide-band oscilloscope, frequency counter, etc. (Yes, some folks have such things, but most do NOT.)

    Innovative designs helped - for a while. Heathkit was probably the best at it; their SB line got around many of the problems by using a mix of point-to-point wiring and PC boards, plus pre-wired-and-aligned LMOs, bandpass and crystal filters.

    Heath SB-101 (it's actually much more complex than the Ranger):


    But, over time, things changed to the point where even those methods could not compete with automated assembly and testing in state-of-the-art plants. The savings became minimal, if they existed at all.

    There were two essential elements to kit design:

    1) A design that could be assembled, tested and aligned, at home, by people with minimal experience, tools, test equipment, and electronics know-how.

    2) A step-by-step manual that guides the assembler through the entire process.

    It became harder and harder to meet both criteria for a price that was significantly lower than factory assembly.

    The flood of imported consumer electronics in the 1970s and later didn't help, either. But even without them, the new technologies minimized kit savings.

    So the kitmakers gradually faded away, except in very specific niches. The most common niche today is the QRP CW rig, usually single-band (but there are a few multiband ones, and some SSB).
    KA1DGL likes this.
  4. WZ7U

    WZ7U Ham Member QRZ Page

    ....comment of dubious distinction eliminated....
    N2EY likes this.
  5. KM1H

    KM1H Ham Member QRZ Page

    And its no wonder why Heath HW/SB items generally sell for much lower these days; very few modern hams want to deal with a used KIT of unknown quality and unknown parts availability.

    Even low end Hallicrafters AA5's, S-20R, S-40 series, S-85, etc and similar bring higher prices from those wanting something from their past or recreating their first station.

    With few exceptions you cant even give away a lot of the test equipment....Ive left many behind at hamfests after selling off estates, storage facility auctions, etc. At one time they were scrounged for parts to repair or build something but no more.
    OTOH, RCA, EICO, B&K, HP, Lafayette, Allied/Knight and many others are usually sold.

    Drake, Swan, Hallicrafters, National, early Kenwood & Yaesu, and others have transceiver models that readily find a new home.

    Ham since 1955
    National Radio 1963-69
    Service Dept Tech, Service Manager, Senior Engineering Aide
    Member of HRO-500, NCL-2000, NCX-1000 Design Teams.
  6. N2EY

    N2EY XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Y'know what's really funny?

    An unbuilt Heathkit (and probably other kits) will often bring a very high price - which can be greatly diminished by building it!

    Back in the early 2000s when eBay was new, an unbuilt AT-1 showed up. It was from 1956, 100% complete, and had all the documentation. It was one of the last ones Heath sold; apparently a college radio club had bought it but it just lived in a closet for 45+ years, untouched.

    It went for $5100. That's not a typo - five thousand one hundred dollars. Don't know who bought it or why, or if it ever got built. It wasn't a good transmitter even in its time.

    Plus - if someone does get their hands on an unbuilt kit, the first order of business should be to test every testable part before even thinking about assembly, because at least some of the parts will almost certainly be bad.

    OTOH, some folks are having serious fun by acquiring junker kits for relatively low prices, disassembling, and "re-kitting", replacing any bad or low-quality parts in the process. I've seen some that went down to the bare metal and got chassis parts replated. The results were very nice.

    Personally, I think @K5DH's renovation of a Johnson Adventurer is the way to go.
    K6LPM likes this.
  7. WA2CWA

    WA2CWA Ham Member QRZ Page

    I know from a number of my customers over the years that is exactly what they do. They buy for cheap some original kit built piece of equipment, strip it completely of all parts, electrical and mechanical, clean and/or refinish all mechanical parts if required, replace all hardware (screws, nuts, washers, etc.), and generally replace all electrical components (resistors, capacitors, etc.). They follow the assembly portion of the manual from the start and totally rebuild the piece of equipment just as it was done the first time "X" years in the past. That's why when I do an assembly manual, I have make sure all pages are there, all building steps are clear and readable, so the rebuild process can be seamless and enjoyable.
    K6LPM, AD5HR, N2EY and 1 other person like this.
  8. KM1H

    KM1H Ham Member QRZ Page

    Ive known a few that have done that, it takes time and dedication, something many these days do not have enough of either. My hat is off to those guys.

    The closest Ive come to that (not even close) is finishing the assembly, alignment/testing of 11 National NCX-1000's that were up at the Maine facility when the IRS shut National down for the count in 92. Got good prices for 10, kept one which I sold last year. Great TX audio to the point I mostly used it on AM along with a rebuilt SX-42 for superb RX audio. Imagine a compact CW/SSB/AM KW complete transceiver including PS with only 2 tubes in the late 60's.

    There were also a bunch of unfinished NCL-2000's (those were finished to order and sold one at a time by the person running the place) but that was a simple job in comparison. Kept two, (sold the rest locally or at Dayton over a few years) which I still use with the HT-32B/SX-115, and the CE-100v/75A4 Ive had since 1965.

    Last edited: Feb 15, 2020
  9. KM1H

    KM1H Ham Member QRZ Page

    A few on here have suggested that Im anti Heathkit in general which is completely untrue.
    Here is a list of the current inventory which may be larger than some/most/all of the fussers.

    My remaining Heathkits in no particular order are:

    SB-102/SB-600 with HP-23B
    HA-14 no PS
    A couple each of HM-102/2102
    IM-11 w/HV TV probe
    A pair of QF-1's
    A bunch of various antenna switches
    HN-31 Cantenna, 4 of them
    HW-29 and 30
    SB-200 monobanders for 6 and another for 160
    SB-230 for 6 and another for HF
    SB-220 carcass from CBer

    Probably missed a few. Some are in use and others on shelves.

    My first Heath build was a DX-100 in 1956 as a brand new General Class ham.

    I also built many models in the late 50's thru 70's for others and two Heathkit stores in the Boston area and one in Chicago so unlike a few I actually have extensive hands on experience.

  10. AH7I

    AH7I Ham Member QRZ Page

    Don't toss the sb110! Send it to me.
    That ha-14 with bad band switch? It too.

    73, -bob
    WN1MB likes this.

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