This Old Heathkit


I have a vague memory of The Heathkit H8 computer. To supplement its bread-and-butter amateur radio business, the Heathkit company made quite a stab at staying relevant as the years went by, offering early computers, robots and other things you could build at home and save a few bucks on while learning the art and science of electronics. This fascinating ad and way, way more are available to see at Modern Mechanix. Go to Communications or Computers first.

I remember the Heathkit catalogs from the ’80s — I think the company pretty much faded out by the early ’90s. You could build kit versions of ham transceivers and accessories, to be sure, but I think they also had kit TV sets, stereo equipment, even small radios for those who didn’t have a mint to drop on something that might not work once you got done with all that soldering. I think Heath had a diagnostic service — you could send the finished kit back to them if it didn’t work, and they would help you out. But part of the kit and its instructions were troubleshooting instructions, and I also remember that for ham radios, you needed a VTVM — a vacuum tube volt meter — which itself went for about $100 in the ’80s in order to properly align the circuits.

I bet there’s quite a market for Heathkits, assembled and the rare unassembled ones, on eBay. I wish I saved some of those old catalogs, that’s for sure.

Not to get off track, but this gets me to thinking about old Radio Shack catalogs, which I remember getting every year from one of the local stores — we had one in the now-mowed-over Laurel Plaza shopping mall in North Hollywood (where I built about three “Perf Box” shortwave radios, cost $7.98 each, with coils wound around AA batteries — and none of which ever worked) . I always wanted one of these DX-160 shorwave receivers. This is the kind of thing that fuels eBay — buying the stuff we could never get as kids but which now is cheap, even if it doesn’t work all that well.