Heathkit logo (fair use)
A couple of years ago, rumors started to circulate that Heathkit was coming back. Last December I posted about “The Great Heathkit Mystery” when the good folks over at Adafruit started poking at the Heathkit hornets nest and finally got them to talk:
Our friends at Adafruit Industries have been doing some sleuthing, and we agree- it’s time for an update. Happily, there’s plenty to report.
Exciting things are happening in the Heathkit labs. We’re pleased at the great feedback from our beta-testers on a range of quality products we’ve been actively developing. As you know, we had hoped to get several of these new products out for the Christmas market, but our team is creating so many new ideas that we’ve been slowed by the sheer work of creating patents (by law we must file them before we may sell our new products, or even advertise them). We remain hard at work, and as excited as ever to ship finished new products meeting Heathkit’s high standards.
The last ten months have given us nothing but rumors — including rumors of a Heathkit retail store. And we waited. Read more
Mike KM5Z posted this article from Bloomberg.com on the Dallas Amateur Radio Club Facebook page that outlines the current negotiations that Radio Shack is making with Sprint Corp. In the proposed deal, Radio Shack would sell around half of their store leases to Sprint, and close the rest. The locations sold to Sprint would operate under the Sprint name, effectively ending the Radio Shack brand after 94 years.
Was nice to see the nod to Radio Shack’s roots in the Ham Radio business. From the article:
The discussions represent the endgame for a chain that traces its roots to 1921, when it began as a mail-order retailer for amateur ham-radio operators and maritime communications officers. It expanded into a wider range of electronics over the decades, and by the 1980s was seen as a destination for personal computers, gadgets and components that were hard to find elsewhere. In more recent years, though, competition from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and an army of e-commerce sellers hurt customer traffic.
Radio Shack is the company that was responsible for my entry into the electronics hobby, which went on to define my career. In my personal opinion, and I will probably come up with a lengthy editorial about this, Radio Shack numbered it’s days when it left the hobbyist market in the 90s and went on to become a place where you would go to buy a cell phone or maybe an audio cable. Radio Shack could have saved itself by watching the market when the maker movement started exploding over the last 10 years and re-entering it with more electronics stuff, which they ended up doing by getting into the Arduino and Raspberry Pi market, but it was too little too late. Online companies like Allied, Digi-Key, and Jameco (to name a few) had beaten them to the punch. When I was young, if Radio Shack didn’t have it, you didn’t build it until you decided to cough up the high minimum orders, or you just bit the bullet and waited until the next hamfest and hoped you could find the part. Now, there are many local electronics shops, and the major vendors no longer have insurmountable minimum order policies. Or you can go on Ebay and get twenty times what you need at the same cost as just a few, if you can wait a week or two for it to get here from China.
Soon it will be time to say goodbye to the Jap Shack. May they rest in peace.
(Published from DFW, Texas)
Adafruit has a featured article on their blog about the current state of Heathkit. When I was a lad I got to tour the Heathkit company in Benton Harbor, Michigan, a short trip from where I grew up. Up until the early ’90s, Heathkit helped many enter the world of electronics, computers, and ham radio by allowing them to build their own equipment and learn how it works step-by-step. In 1992 that all ended when Heathkit closed their doors to the hobbyist market and attempted to stay alive by serving the educational market. That ended in 2008.
Well, last year came an exciting announcement that Heathkit was going to rebuild. We all held our breath, but one year later we’re turning blue. Lady Ada and the intrepid sleuths at Adafruit set to find out exactly who these people were and what they were up to, and their article went viral.
1 year ago to the day today (12/20/2013) a member of the “board of directors” CEO/President of whoever may or may not own Heathkit did a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) – it’s unclear who they are, they would not say when asked and there is not any information on their FAQ page about the ownership. During the AMA, the person with the account “HeathCompany” answered in first person, described the “board” and the “CEO” but didn’t provide any details. The person did say “The CEO is avid musician and composer” and as far as the management team claiming to own Heathkit now, the person said they are: “Active in the industry 25+ years ago? Yes. Hams 25+ years ago? Yes.”
On the FAQ page, it has the following:
Q. So who are you guys?
A. More on this later…
It’s been 1 year and there has not been an update on the Heathkit site or Facebookpage. They had some type of prize they promised during last year’s Reddit AMA, it’s unknown what happened with that, the winner was an account called “IFoundTheHeathKit” that only posted once. There is a twitter account called “Heathkit” but it’s owned by “Just some guy” in Seattle, WA.
Ars Technica revised an article I referenced yesterday to indicate that FTDI removed a few drivers from the latest Windows update:
Update: Microsoft has given us a statement:
Yesterday FTDI removed two driver versions from Windows Update. Our engineering team is engaging with FTDI to prevent these problems with their future driver updates via Windows Update.
A post on Slashdot also references this:
Last night, FTDI, a Scottish manufacturer of USB-to-serial ICs, posted a response to the ongoing debacle over its allegedly intentional bricking of competitors’ chips. In their statement, FTDI CEO Fred Dart said, “The recently release driver release has now been removed from Windows Update so that on-the-fly updating cannot occur. The driver is in the process of being updated and will be released next week. This will still uphold our stance against devices that are not genuine, but do so in a non-invasive way that means that there is no risk of end user’s hardware being directly affected.” This may have resulted from a discussion with Microsoft engineers about the implications of distributing potentially malicious driver software.
I can’t find this in any “official” news reports yet.