Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Will the mighty Phoenix arise?

OK, by the time you read this, I guess this topic will be old news. The blogosphere and the Twitterverse have been abuzz with the news that “Heathkit is back!”

Channeling my inner Captain Picard, no one would like that "to be so", more than I. I loved Heathkit and cut my Novice teeth on building their kits. In addition to a ton of Amateur Radio gear, I also constructed various clocks, scanners and other pieces. My stereo system was just about entirely high-end Heathkit. The only parts that weren’t were the speakers and the turntable. And yes, knowing what the age of the average Ham is, I don’t want to see “What’s a turntable?” comments in the comments box! By the time Heathkit was coming to an end, I had qualified for, and was a member of their Master Builder’s Club. All told, I probably built about 25 or 30 pieces of Heathkit equipment for myself and for others.

But let’s not get all excited, running around at 100 MPH with our hair on fire. There’s a lot more to resurrecting the company other than an announcement on a Website and a new survey. This rumor has come up before, with a lot of anticipation and drooling, only to have our hopes dashed on the rocky shores of wishful thinking.

However,  I was always of the opinion that if Heathkit could have just held on until the age of the Internet – well ………! Heathkit e-mail reflectors, Heathkit user groups, Heathkit forums. I know that these Internet groups exist in various iterations today; but not for an active Heathkit.  It would have been tremendous! (Elecraft squared?) If Heathkit does indeed make like a Phoenix and truly rises from the ashes this time, it will be in large part due to the Internet.

It's alive I tell you ....... it's ALIVE !!!!!!

On the other hand, if Heathkit hadn’t demised ……. Whither Elecraft, Sierra, Hendrick’s QRP Kits, Steve Weber, Small Wonder Labs and the myriad other fine kit companies and club kits that are or were out there? Would the “Maker Movement” be doing as well today? Was Heathkit’s demise part of the catalyst for the birth of these companies and the Maker Movement? I am guessing, that in the end, it will prove to be a symbiotic relationship. The aforementioned companies might not have come to see the light of day had Heathkit not gone out of business. On the other hand, Heathkit may owe its reincarnation due to exactly the success of those companies, whose efforts have revitalized the kit business. The “Circle of Life”, as it were.

Whatever happens, if Heathkit does come back as a force, don’t expect that “what was” will necessarily "be".  Heathkit has a lot of credibility and good will in its name, but that only goes so far. Hams are a peculiar breed with outrageous expectations, at times. However Heathkit comes back (if it does at all), it will find the marketplace to be a totally different landscape from when they first left us. They will have to compete and will have to have a good business model. Relying solely on their name alone is not an option.

The good news, is that from the questions on the survey (which I completed yesterday), I think they realize that, to some degree.

72 de Larry W2LJ
QRP – When you care to send the very least!


  1. Larry,
    Good post. We need to keep in mind that there really isn't much, if anything, left of Heathkit.

    What are the tangible and intangible assets? The name means something to people over, what, 50 years old? There's probably the intellectual property rights to the old schematics and manuals (which have already been broadly shared across the internetz.) But no one is going to bring the original HW-101 or HW-8 back to least not without a major redesign. There is the basic idea of providing quality kits to the ham radio market (but that's not knew either).

    So my guess is that someone out there wants to build kits and has acquired the IP rights to Heathkit to help launch the project.

    73, Bob K0NR

  2. The survey suggest to me that they are planning to re-enter the kit market again. Whether it actually happens (we've been burned before) remains to be seen.