The New Heathkit Strikes Again

Alright, this is getting embarrassing.

The rebooted Heathkit has added another kit to its offerings. This time it’s an inexplicably simple and exorbitantly priced antenna for the 2-meter band. It joins their equally bizarre and pricey AM radio kit in the new product lineup, and frankly we’re just baffled by the whole affair.

About the most charitable thing you can say about their “Pipetenna” is that it’ll probably work really well. Heathkit throws some impedance and SWR charts on the website, and the numbers look pretty good. Although Heathkit doesn’t divulge the design within the “waterproof – yes, waterproof!” housing, at 6 dBi gain and only five feet long, we’re going to guess this is basically a Slim Jim antenna stuffed in a housing made of Schedule 40 PVC tubing. About the only “high-end” component we can see is the N-type coax connector, but that just means most hams will need and adapter for their more standard PL-259 terminated coax.

Regardless of design, it’s hard to imagine how Heathkit could stuff enough technology into this antenna to justify the $149 price. Hams have been building antennas like these forever from bits and pieces of wire lying around. Even if you bought all new components, including the PVC pipe and fittings, you’d be hard pressed to put $50 into a homebrew version that’ll likely perform just as well.

The icing on this questionable cake, though, is the sales copy on the web page. The “wall of text” formatting, the overuse of superlatives, and the cutesy asides and quips remind us of the old DAK Industries ads that hawked cheap import electronics as the latest and greatest must-have device. There’s just something unseemly going on here, and it doesn’t befit a brand with the reputation of Heathkit.

When we reviewed Heathkit’s AM radio kit launch back in December, we questioned where the company would go next. It looks like we might have an answer now, and it appears to be “nowhere good.”

54 thoughts on “The New Heathkit Strikes Again

      1. Those takedown notices weren’t from the new owners. The ones I’m familiar with were from some pinhead (Peterman? Petersen? Peterpan? …I can’t recall) with a poorly written legal document who got reproduction rights to the manuals (but *NOT* copyright) in the late oughts (’08 ’09 ish) and who then tried to extrapolate the rights he purchased into complete control of the entire body of manuals, whether he had them or not.

        The whole thing was quite silly, and I believe that the new Heathkit owners took steps to work with or buy out (I can’t tell) that guy’s inventory of replacement Heathkit parts (what they’re offering for sale looks to be the same as what he was selling). Heathkit has made it clear on their website that they alone hold copyright to Heathkit manuals/documents/publications, and that the rights otherwise assigned were reproduction rights only. Heathkit’s manual reprint section of their website looks like that guy’s website used to look, so they may well have bought out his code and his replacement parts. You’d have to try asking them for specifics.

        All that to say, the new owners weren’t the ones issuing the takedown notices. It’s not fair to blame them for prior chicanery on the part of unrelated unscrupulous individuals.

        1. That’s not clear. The manual issue came before this iteration of the Heathkit.

          But there’s speculation based on location and some other details, that the “Manual Guy” is behind this iteration. The story goes that he was the one who bought whatever was left of the company and relaunched it.

          I can’t remember where I read this, or how much was concrete and how much speculation.

          One might recall the early announcement about this iteration, mysterious people never identified, but prsented as well known.

          Michael

  1. Like most old great American marques of the past, Heathkit ain’t what it used to be and likely never will be again and there is little use crying about it. If they can find a market for something like this at the price they are asking – sobeit.

  2. Their prices always seem to be their worst enemy. They haven’t learned from their past. With so many kits of all kinds out there, internet tutorials, etc. there’s hardly a reason to charge such a price for simple items. I guess at one time there wasn’t step-by-step guides. With YouTube etc you can find videos to make those antennas all day long. They no longer have a corner on the market.

  3. Just like when RatShack sold out & became “The Source” in Canada. Nothing but over priced crap at the back of a cell phone & trinket store. Didn’t even try to get into the Arduino/Pi/3D printer space.

    Sparkfun is the new Heathkit.

      1. Too little too late.
        I did get some good deals when the stores closed, but the normal prices were way too high even taking convenience into account.

        Microcenter is better than radioshack ever was.

        1. Radio shack was at one time, running construction projects in advertisements in Make magazine as I recall. At a corporate-level they seem to have ‘gotten it’, but that didn’t translate to success in the market.

          >

      2. Radio Shack screwed up, in part, by grossly misunderstanding their market and sinking way too much money into their retail space. This misunderstanding of the market goes back for years.

        Radio Shack had this crazy policy, back when I worked for them at the very end of the 90’s, where corporate wanted a RS within 10 minutes (or was it 15? I can’t remember now) of every single person in America.

        Malls were a particularly popular choice for RS. I’m not sure they ever really understood that no one wants to go the mall to buy some damn resistors or their car radios.

        1. Not to get argumentative, different people can have different perspectives on the same thing, but untold thousands of 150-in-one kits, shortwave radios, CBs, and project box kits wound up in the hands of young kids that otherwise would not have gotten them unless their parents ‘went to the mall’ and stopped in Radio Shack. What they did in the 70’s worked for them – very well, up through the release of the TRS-80, because remember, you couldn’t walk into Best Buy and get a computer – you could count the number of non-radio shack computer dealers on one hand when the TRS-80 was released… By being where Americans shopped, they sold a ton of stuff.

          Then Americans stopped shipping in malls, and their business model failed to evolve – at one time their business model was very successful.

          >

  4. I do feel a little bit of Heathkit’s pain. I sell a through-hole kit on Tindie, and fitting out a through-hole kit BOM is a labor intensive operation. The equivalent gizmo made with surface mount components could be churned out by a factory in Shenzehn for probably a tenth the price even at the same quality level (a shoddy version could probably be made for half again as much).

    Even my SMD products have this same problem. I sell them at a price dictated by correct margin modeling for direct retail sales, and some are still undercut five-fold on Alibaba.

    I don’t say it’s a bad thing. Quite the contrary – it drives affordability in the consumer electronics market. But it does make the learning curve for electronics a little more rocky. It means you have to start with either relatively expensive kit products or development boards and the like with which to learn design, or you need to learn design and assembly at the same time – which is potentially frustrating.

    Open hardware eases this burden a bit – you can start with a proven, open design and learn the design process by iterating over it. That’s kind of how my hardware “career” went over the last few years. I started with OpenEVSE and iterated it into the Hydra, and on the way learned a lot of design and all the rest that goes along with it. But all of that was on a foundation laid down 20 years earlier putting Heathkits together as a teen.

    1. you seem to be really knowledgeable about selling homebrew stuff! would you mind if I reached out so I can ask a few short questions about something I’m thinking about putting on Tindie? my email is in the name :)

    1. Yep, couldn’t care less about the “new” Heathkit here. TY for bringing back memories of hours spent pouring over DAK catalogs though! The copy was fantastic (even if the products were sometimes pretty sketch).

  5. The saddest thing is that the SWR charts are probably cribbed from the slim jim in free air, which they have now destroyed by putting it in PVC and changing the velocity factor. That means that on top of the hugely inflated price, it’s also a bad antenna.

    1. This was my chief concern. However, as I read through their copy they do make the claim that “These are the actual measured resonance (impedance) and SWR charts for a real properly-assembled Pipetenna.” So, assuming they’re telling the truth (I’ll assume that), it probably isn’t a concern. But for some reason I’m still a little nervous.

      The next largest concern is, of course, the price relative to what you’re getting (as discussed here by others). I will be the new Heathkit’s greatest cheerleader if they will only develop and release kits worthy of the Heathkit name. The AM radio (though seemingly overpriced [but not really, considering inflation]) was a good start and I could see how it could be the first in a progression of developing kits and enlarging skillsets.

      I’m not too hung up on the ad copy… it’s not nearly as DAK-ish to me as some other commenters are suggesting. Sure, they could improve the layout up at the top, but the copy itself flows pretty well and they’ve edited it well. I do wish they would make the SWR charts clickable (so that they’d open up full screen in a new window). I also wish they’d publish some E-Plane and H-Plane charts and low mid and hi band positions for 2m and 440. The charts might not show much (or they might), but they’d add additional credence to the product being a respectable antenna. I live in charts such as those on an almost-daily basis and they wouldn’t be difficult to produce.

      This antenna (an antenna for heaven’s sake, that doesn’t do anything without being attached to something and which can’t do any good with their solitary existing receiver [obviously]) doesn’t strike me as a step in the right direction. Price is forgivable if the other requirements are met. In the absence of them, however, even the price becomes a transgression.

      That said, if the engineering on more complex products is taking a while and they want to put something out to market in the meantime to hold people’s interest, this sort of product fits that bill. It’s easy to engineer/test/produce. I can’t blame them. I just wish the price wasn’t so absurd.

      1. That’s really where I’m at. Nothing about it is confidence inspiring. I certainly can’t see myself making the leap to spend as much as you would spend on an FT-2900 for an antenna that feeds it.

    2. I’ve made a few slim-jims in the past, and a couple in PVC. There’s nothing wrong with what they’re doing as long as you do all your SWR measurements with the antenna in the pipe. $150 is a little ridiculous for what used to amount to $10 between Radio Shack and Home Depot, but there’s got to be some value in nostalgia.

      But yes, you’re right, a slim-jim tuned in free air will have bad SWR in a pipe.

  6. http://www.hamuniverse.com/ke4nu450slimjim.html

    There, saved you all $150. Grab some PVC from the hardware store and a cheap SO-239 or N-Female from eBay and you’ll have the same thing…it’s not magic!

    I was hoping for so much more…hell, a simple Forward/Reflected power meter, frequency counter, some kind of arduino shield…something…

    I was so excited because I own so much Heathkit stuff, but I never go the opportunity to build my own due to my age. They could have sold brand new SB-201 and SB-221 kits, or an EB104 solid state derivative, and instead you get an over-hyped, click-bait written pitch for a piece of pipe with some ladder line in it.

    1. I’d love to see them release a Forward/Reflected Power Meter or a Frequency Counter… there’s so much that can be done in today’s microprocessor era to make such products very competitive with professional gear (and therefore, right up Heathkit’s proverbial alley!) and yet still buildable in a learning kit format. If I had a spare 12 hours every day, I would have worked to bring such kits to market long ago… they’re not particularly challenging to develop, just time consuming.

      Step up, Heathkit, step up!

      1. As I recall, when this was installed on a certain desert planet, Mos Eisley, you would never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. Han shot first and it went through Greedo and hit the antenna and the reception was never the same…just saying…

        This “Antenna” reminds me of riding with the inventor of the Q-Stick Antenna to various swap meets. I miss the days of being able to pay for the top of the line radio shack plug and play experimenter board and passing on the love of electronics to my nephews and nieces…

    1. When I read Dan’s article the ventenna did come to mind and was expecting to see a variation of it from Heathkit. Something they could have done using the pipeantenna name because there’s nothing special about the active antenna in the ventenna that ventenna can lay claim to.

    1. They sold for over $600 back in 1929. That’s over $8,000 in now money! Yeah, now you don’t feel so smart, eh? And you can take it with you! No wires! Not like those other wired wirelesses they might sell in Radio Shack.

      Dear me, it’s terrible! Really! They’ll be bragging about how it has capacitors, and monophonic output next. Genuine cuboid box!

      Really poor. An AM radio like you could get for a quid, down the pound shop, for 150 dollars, and it’s in a wooden box. If you really cared about learning, you can get little radio kits for kids for not much more than a tenner. It’s just ludicrous. Who’s in charge of Heathkit, and what’s going on in their minds? What are their aims? AM radio? In 2016?

  7. Heathkit’s own diagram on their sales page for the antenna shows it to be built from ladder line, so characterizing it as a Slim Jim is very likely to be accurate.

    Some additional information regarding J-Poles & Slim Jims is to be found from the folks over at hamradio.me: (http://www.hamradio.me/antennas/slimjim-vs-traditional-j-pole-antenna.html).

    Some key excerpts from that article include:
    Beware any ham radio website, antenna vendor or antenna manufacturer making any of the following knee slapping statements: •This Slim Jim has a freespace gain of 6 dBi (no basis in fact) (…)
    -and-
    Beware “SWR Only” manufacturers: With few exceptions, be critical of antenna manufacturers that don’t publish freespace simulations or chamber measurements of their products. Most “SWR Only” manufacturers, have stellar intent, but are running blind as to actual antenna behavior; There are some who seem to have “the knack,” but these are exceptions.

    Given what’s to be read there (published long before Heathkit’s introduction of their “Pipetenna”), and what’s to be read from LB Cebik W4RNL (SK, RIP), the preeminent antenna engineer of the modern age, from a cache of his site (https://web.archive.org/web/20140424210603/http://w4rnl.net46.net/sj.html), I really don’t have much faith in Heathkit’s claims to having reinvented the wheel. There are already existing patents and prior art going back to 1936 (https://www.google.com/patents/US2124424).

    At best, Heathkit may have found some combination of components which is unique to other prior Slim Jims, and they may be trying to patent that (or they may just be playing the “patent pending in perpetuity” game), but I’m just not seeing how they’re really being novel here. There does not appear to be any secret sauce to be had to justify the asking price.

    Adding further insult (as was pointed out by another commenter here) is Heathkit’s near-infringement on http://www.ventenna.com‘s Ventenna product. IANAL, but come on Heathkit.

    I’m really not impressed yet. I will be interested to see an unboxing if anyone here at HAD buys one… what exactly are they adding to make this uniquely their own, and will I really not be able to (to borrow from Heathkit’s copy) “believe the number of inventions in this little antenna”?

  8. Stealth? I can see a stubby piece of pipe just being dismissed as a vent or something but nearly 2m of plastic pipe just sticking up for no obvious reason? If the view of your roof is obstructed enough that you can’t see this piece of pipe then you could probably get away with a regular antenna anyway.

  9. How is it that so few people realize that this new “Heathkit” is a joke, designed to test the gullibility of technoromantics? After seeing the “crystal radio” you 𝙨𝙩𝙞𝙡𝙡 take them seriously?! C’mon…

    1. Well, that is easy to explain…

      Welcome to amateur radio in the 21st century: “Get on the air!” But just pass the exam, don’t worry about all the physics, technology and other science behind it. No, not just don’t worry, don’t even dare to care.

      With this attitude growing in quite a lot of HAM radio clubs (all over the world, not just in the U.S.), I am almost certain that this company will find a lot of idio** willing to buy their ‘gold certified vintage’ gear and kits.

  10. Go to literally any ham radio swapmeet, someone will be selling a homebrew version of this for 40 bucks. They didn’t invent it, and they most likely didn’t improve on it all that much.

    1. The USPTO is at-best dysfunctional, and likely at-worst corrupt. Welcome to Big Government. But let’s see if the “New” Heathkit is actually is awarded a Patent for this thing (there is NOTHING new going on with their over-priced product).

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