Farewell MFJ

We were sad to hear that after 52 years in operation, iconic ham radio supplier MFJ will close next month. On the one hand, it is hard not to hear such news and think that it is another sign that ham radio isn’t in a healthy space. After all, in an ideal world, [Martin Jue] — the well-known founder of MFJ — would have found an anxious buyer. Not only is the MFJ line of ham radio gear well regarded, but [Martin] had bought other ham radio-related companies over the years, such as Ameritron, Hygain, Cushcraft, Mirage, and Vectronics. Now, they will all be gone, too.

However, on a deeper reflection, maybe we shouldn’t see it as another nail in ham radio’s coffin. It is this way in every industry. There was a time when it was hard to imagine ham radio without, say, Heathkit. Yet they left, and the hobby continued. We could name a slew of other iconic companies that had their day: Eico, Hammarlund, Hallicrafters, and more. They live on at hamfests, their product lines are frozen in time, and we’re sure we’ll see a used market for MFJ gear well into the next century.

Maybe you aren’t a ham and wonder why you would care. Turns out MFJ made things of interest to anyone who worked with RF transmitting or receiving. If you were a shortwave listener, they had antennas and related gear for you. They also made antenna analyzers and network analyzers that were very cost-effective compared to other options. If you wanted clean power supplies, MFJ had quite the selection of those. They even had a great selection of variable capacitors and inductors, which are tough to find in small quantities. You could even get air-wound coil stock, knobs, meters, and toroids.

Sure, most of what they sold was things only hams or other radio operators wanted—that was the nature of the company. But their loss will be felt by more than just the ham community. Someone, of course, will step into the void as they always do.

So farewell MFJ. We will miss you, but we look forward to meeting your replacement, whoever that might be. While you can spend a lot of money on ham radio, you can get started for $50 or less. Oddly, we haven’t directly featured much MFJ gear on Hackaday over the years, but we have mentioned a few.

33 thoughts on “Farewell MFJ

  1. Back in the days when Heahtkit shut down there were a lot of competitors to fill the gap left.

    MFJ occupy a larger space with a wider range of goodies so their closure will leave a *huge* gap in the market and I’m really not sure there’s any one company can fill it so I think we’re going to lose a lot of the niche products MFJ produce which is a real shame.

    There’s a lot of people out there who will slate them and there are a few products in their lineup which have a rep for poor build quality (not experiences it personally) but it’s an iconic brand which really seems to care.

    My own experience of them was of always excellent and friendly service, only a year or so ago I needed a couple of ‘keycaps’ for an MFJ 259 analyser, I was fully willing to pay but they insisted not and shipped them for free from the US to the UK bundled in with a printed catalogue which is filled with all sorts of stuff I just didn’t know they sold, very reminiscent of the joy of the Radioshack or Maplin catalogues.

    1. I was thinking of the Radio Shack connection/story also. I’m not a ham (although my wife says otherwise 😆), but this story does touch the heart when a niche and caring supplier goes out of business. Best wishes to those of you that did business with MFJ.

  2. Well, even nowadays smart devices companies go out of business (which are supposed to be making tons of money). Generally the un-willingness of the owners to evolve into what the market is buying now, is what causes them to go out of business.

    1. Except I don’t think that’s why MFJ are closing, the owner is in his 70s I think so all that’s caused this is his retirement and lack of buyer for the business(es).

  3. After reading this I visited their website. As of this time there was no indication of them going out of business, so it might be a last change to buy something directly from them.

      1. MFJ has always been pretty old school, and targeted the older ham market. I’m sad they are shutting down, but not surprised. There is certainly innovation in amateur radio, but not so much in the segment MFJ operated in.

  4. My first thought was that the demise of Hygain and Cushcraft would leave an irrepairable hole in the beam antenna supply. A quick google search reveals a number of suppliers posed to fill the gap. Life goes on.

    I shouldn’t have put off ordering that replacement IF xformer for my MFJ Cub, though.

  5. First MFJ product I purchased was the 1270C Packet TNC. I still have that unit in my collection of MFJ equipment. I got to meet him a few Dayton trips in the past and thanked him many a time for his ingenuity. It all started with a CW filter that set him up until now. I still wanted to get an ALS-600 for the house (and get some help to raise my antennas). Thank you, once again Mr. Jue…your legacy lives on with many in the Ham community. 73 de KC8KVA

  6. OP notes that MFJ’s closure is indicative of ham radio’s state of ill health, and I think that’s accurate. Ham radio for me has always been about experimentation and technical ability, and that seems to have been lost these days. The cool thing about MFJ stuff was that you could open the box and tinker if you needed to do that. The current ‘trend’ if you will seems to be about appliance operation. Plug the rig in, turn it on, and smack the crap out of the local repeater. Boom, you’re a ham! You may not know SWR from SWL, but by golly you can talk anywhere with your Baofeng! So MFJ will be missed, if for no other reason than I learned so much from tinkering with their gear.

    1. Kind of, there’s a thriving HF homebrew and kit market out there but the appliance ops tend to monopolise the VHF and UHF repeaters purely because that stuff is dirt cheap to buy and not that easy to homebrew, it was pretty much always like that, about the limit of homebrew for the less technically able was programming and realigning a PMR set.

      Having said that there are so many more projects out there now for V/UHF and even microwave stuff is in reach of a technically able ham, heck you can even lash together microwave stuff from modules available on Aliexpress (I did just that with an Adalm Pluto to create a QO-100 TXCVR).

    2. “The current ‘trend’ if you will seems to be about appliance operation. ”

      That is true with everything… Even in our hacker/hobby world. You don’t build a circuit, you buy it. Microprocessors are a dime a dozen, so don’t wire up a circuit with a 555, just do it in software. Look at the many RP2040 boards out there that all have different interface hardware on board for different needs and qwiic connect systems to just click and go… That said, I don’t mind a bit :) . More projects are ‘attempt-able’ for some of us that aren’t Electrical Engineers.

      1. “That is true with everything… Even in our hacker/hobby world. You don’t build a circuit, you buy it. Microprocessors are a dime a dozen, so don’t wire up a circuit with a 555, just do it in software.”

        No, you’re wrong with your conclusion.
        Please let me educate you.

        The reason why hardware-solutions are dying out is because the current generation has lost the touch to it.

        Similarly how the last generation(s) lost touch to tube era technology.
        It’s not lack of interest or fascination, though. They’re being alienated to it, simply.

        Kids these days grow up with digital technology and don’t even really know physical electronics anymore.
        In fact, we can be glad if they can handle real desktop PCs, still.

        So it’s only natural that they keep a distant to bare metal electronics.
        They know about programming languages and libraries, but not about ohm’s law.
        Transistors? Resistors? Diodes? What are they?!

        However, if they have a chance to play with electro-mechanical relays or see them in action, they’re absolutely interested!

        It just needs people to de-mystify analog electeonics a bit.
        So they can have their own experience of success.

        Once they realize they have the power to make something work without the help of an microcontroller or a computer, they surely will occasionally make use of their new skills.

    3. “Plug the rig in, turn it on, and smack the crap out of the local repeater. ”

      It’s not really VHF/UHF that’s the problem, but the ongoing “sport” craze on the poor shortwave, I think.

      Because, especially the VHF/UHF amateurs used to be modern back in the 60s/70s.
      These were the ones that were part of the early days of microcomputer history, when people met in computer clubs and did make homebrew stuff. The shortwave freaks of the day didn’t even notice and were deeply stuck in the past.
      They had their mechanical telex machines, at best.

      But back on topic. As correctly stated, amateur radio was about fascination, experiments and making friends over the air waves.

      Things like CW, Contest and FT8 are all about dipomas and self-esteem.
      It’s that elitism and greed that’s disgusting, I think.

      In these days, amateur radio must be exciting again.
      Experiments with new fields, like lasers or microwave links. Or underwater communication. Or geo-stationary satellites. Something fresh and new.

      F*ck shortwave and the jerks operating there. They can continue this hobby in their retirement homes.

      Personally, I’m somewhat annoyed by those contesters that ruin every weekend, when normal people have their freetime. They just waste spectrum space for their own amusement, without taking care of others. It’s amateur radio of its worst. They’re shameful.

      That’s no wonder why laymen question why radio amateurs have so many rights.
      To the laymen, it’s not understandable why precious frequencies are being given away to hobbyists for no reason.

      In the past, the legitimation for this was that amateur radio was experimental radio. Amateurs were doing a bit of research everytime they were on the air waves, so everyone dud benefit from a radio amateur’s activity. Things like observing propagation of radio waves. Or studying atmospheric interference.

      These things still exist, sure. There are reverse beacon projects, for example.
      But what about the typical ham?

      He’s gotten a lazy consumer with its 817 or UV-5 on his desk.
      When he “builts something himself”, it’s something like a primtive USB-soundcard to UV-5 cable or a poorly made antenna.

      All of this makes me very sad, because it’s not a technical problem, but a problem of bad character and attitude.
      All the modern technology on this world can’t fix the people.

      Especially the old ones are to be blamed, I think.
      Not all of them, of course, but many of them.
      It was their duty to keep the flame burning, rather than passing on the ashes.
      But they got lazy, started to rest on their existing glory of days gone bye.

      Or worse, they began to make fun of their younger selves, threw their old stuff away and said “now I do have something better than what I had back then”. That way, they’re basically discouraging the youth to step into their footsteps. Such old fools. *sigh*

      These oldtimers were the first to give a way homebrew radios and equipment for shiny new radios from the catalog.
      They essentially created the industry of closed-platform radios that can’t be repaired or modified anymore.

      They have bought those closed radios for years, so that Yaesu, Kenwood, Icom and other manufacturers continued more and more to make consumer radios rather than amateur radios.

      Two or three decades ago, amateurs should have started to boycott radio transceivers that couldn’t be seviced, repaired and modified anymore (space inside the chassis for custom circuit boards).

      Amateurs should have stood up and say no. They should have stayed true to their amateur nature, true to their principles.
      But it didn’t happen. And so radio amateurs made themselves replaceable and irrelevant.

      But that’s just my opinion, of course. As a CBer I can’t speak for the amateurs, also. It’s just sad what happened to the ham spirit. If only a few would act in a way being defined in that code of honor.

      1. You’re very obviously not a ham and have not clue number one of what you’re talking about. The mere fact that you use the term ‘shortwave’ to refer to anything in amateur radio tells us what your involvement has been. None.

        Amateur radio is a broad hobby. VHF/UHF doesn’t necessarily involve repeaters and in fact repeaters are fairly sparsely used these days. I can scan all the repeaters around Sydney every day and rarely hear the squelch break. But HF is alight… with… DIGITAL MODES. FT8, JS8, PSK, Olivia, on and on. Never you mind the nightly HF SSB and AM nets on 80, 40, 20 & 15m.

        If you ever want to get a ham license, there will be a radio club near you which will provide the education and license testing you need, if you can prise yourself away from your X or Y box or whatever.

    4. @Jeff said: “OP notes that MFJ’s closure is indicative of ham radio’s state of ill health, and I think that’s accurate.”

      Yup, I’m licensed and haven’t been on HF for decades due to my inability to erect a decent antenna because of out of control HOA rules and covenants that the ARRL allowed to flourish.

    5. The idea of “appliance operators” has been voiced for decades. But ham radio is the same as cooking, and many activities. Instead of building our own fireplaces or roasting a pig over an open fire (after we slaughter it) we use stoves and microwave ovens (appliances) and cook foods found in grocery stores. They doesn’t diminish the joy of cooking, trying new recipes, and having friends over for dinner.

  7. I wasn’t paying attention to ham radio 52 years ago, but for the last 10 years or so I have uncharitably had the impression that MFJ could be thought of as Mostly Frivolous Junk, a bit like Hazard Fraught. A lot of their stuff seemed to be for aimed at the kind of guy who loves to buy multi-piece sets / purpose-made gadgets and has a default brand and store he always uses rather than shop around. Some of it, like the pictured antenna analyzer line, was just obsolete in later years.

    That said, I’ll acknowledge it’s valuable to have a place with one of everything available in single quantities, even if not always the best one. And it sounds like their stuff was often a good resource or starting point, or filled a niche more directly than the alternatives. To some people, maybe they were more like a Radio Shack than a Harbor Freight.

  8. That there were no purchase offers suggests the market continues to evolve. Not from a a lack of demand, though. I live in a small town of 25,000 and we have 20 or more students in each local license test cohort. That doesn’t include new hams who do it all online. Plenty of people are still interested in Amateur Radio. I think it’s an overabundance of supply. $25 new 2 meter handhelds, SDR everything and digital modes could mean the market doesn’t have room for the MFJ line anymore. In a way, that mirrors the decline of Heathkit, RadioShack and even Frys.

  9. No, MFJ products have never been “highly regarded”. MFJ did a good job of producing decent gear at a low price point, but their quality and reliability was simply AWFUL. I’ve bought seven different items from MFJ over the years and only one of them didn’t fail prematurely for quality reasons … either cheap components or monumentally bad workmanship. There are still a few video tours of MFJ’s manufacturing facility on YouTube that clearly illustrate the garage shop nature and mentality that produces products with bad solder joints, missing parts, and loose hardware. I haven’t bought anything from them in several years … good riddance.

    1. @AZdave said: “No, MFJ products have never been “highly regarded”. MFJ did a good job of producing decent gear at a low price point, but their quality and reliability was simply AWFUL.”

      SOP: 1. Buy a box from MFJ. 2. Open it up and fix it. 3. Use it.

  10. Here is a case of a viable, sustaining business- or at least that’s my impression (reviewing the books could confirm), that just needs someone(s) to come up with financing. So, compared to a company with no viable business model, but tons of investment, the former is most likely to succeed, if given the financing. It would be great to see it sold whole, but if not that, at least by product line.
    Hey ARRL HQ: You guys in Newington use to sell MFJ CW Cubs. And you do sell mechandise other than books. Several products could work.

  11. I dunno where you got the well regarded bit from, every ham I know who has anything of their refers to them as mighty fine junk. It looks nice on the outside, but open it up and to say the innards are gross would be being kind. Low quality parts, low quality construction. The only thing they were good at was keeping the price low.

    1. To be fair, though, their matchboxes (antenna tuners) from the 70s were okay.
      Don’t know about the later stuff, however. Those TNCs and computer interfaces looked usable, at least.

  12. I’m ambivalent about MFJ. Yeah, their attention to quality was…low to nonexistent. I had to re-bend the capacitor plates on my 941 tuner so they didn’t short when I rotated them…bad out of the box. My antenna analyzer seems to work OK, but now, for almost the same price, I can get a VNA from AliExpress.

    They bought Cushcraft, who made decent antennas, so I’ll miss that. Their power supplies were a bit on the expensive side. But they were a reliable and reasonably priced source, even if the quality was…variable. I do think they used their position as the only supplier of ham radio basics to keep their prices up, but then, demand was always going to be low, so…

  13. I went to hamfests with my dad since before I can even remember over 40 years ago – both as attendees as well as vendors. I only quit going when he passed away right before the pandemic hit. Every time we’d go, MFJ was always a staple and was one of the first booths that he wanted to hit. It’s sad how the world of hobby electronics is going the way of the dinosaur, replaced by cellphones and plug-and-play electronic SMBs and modules where code is more important than the actual hardware.

  14. I have had a couple of MFJ tuners. No major problems, the inductance selection switch sometimes needed cleaning and one had slightly bent plate on a tuning capacitor. The SWR metering section was fine, as was the antenna selection switch on the two antenna model (I had a dummy load connected as the #2 antenna).

  15. I have said it before and I will say it again, ham radio needs a marketing make over so it doesn’t seem like its dying. Maybe I am wrong, but what I’ve seen is that the ham radio community is still focused on talking to people around the world in spite of the fact that there are easier ways to do that now. I think it should market some of the alternative communication methods, instead of voice, already available and focus on using ham radio as a means for devices talking to devices. As a licensed ham, I haven’t actually used voice communications is who knows how long, but you know what I have used it for? Grabbing some of the off the shelf 433MHz transceiver boards and using those for communication between devices. I can easily get the boards and incorporate them into projects. Since in the US its a licensed band it’s not crowded like 900MHz, which is the other option for this class of transceiver board, it’s a perfect option. Embrace RTTY, RC control, and digital communications for devices. Show makers how the ham bands and making can go together. Don’t just keep talking about talking around the world on HF.

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