In what has to be the slowest launch of a company in recent memory, the resurrected Heathkit is now offering a few basic kits on their website. First up is the Explorer AM: TRF AM radio receiver kit and it's just what it says it is, an AM radio. The exterior appearance of the radio is very basic, just a power switch, two headphone jacks and a tuning knob. There doesn't appear to be an indicator that tells you where in the tuning range you are, nor is there, from the photos at least, any volume knob. It's battery powered so it's portable and it comes in either a no-solder or solder version.
It is different from the usual basic radio in the quality of the materials used:
This model's hardwood front panel is Afro-Asian Padauk, hand-milled and rubbed with a special sealing oil at our factory in California before we ship it to help preserve its lustre for decades. (We all live in a perpetual ocean of disposable plastic objects. When's the last time any company had the courage and taste to design a radio of wood?)
The metals are aluminum and stainless steel. The tuning knob is custom-machined for you. The beautiful black case is solid anodized aluminum. We want you, or the person you give it to as a gift, to enjoy this radio for another 50 years.
The impression you get reading the sales copy on the website product page is like it's 1970 all over again. That's not a bad thing. It conveys an appreciation of what it's like to build a solid kit from quality materials, learning how it works and after it's built, having a receiver that will last, almost forever. It really hits all the right buttons for someone who remembers those catalogs and those kits, but how many young people today will find the same attraction we did as we imagined tuning in to distant signals from all over the world in the current day of instant internet connectivity. The company seems to be run by people, like us, who built kits years ago and want to recreate the experience for people today.
At $149.95, it's either an expensive radio or an inexpensive time machine and electronics training lab all in one. It may very well be worth purchasing one just to see what it's like and more than a few parents might want to get one as a project for their son or daughter to try and see if they get the bug leading them to want to learn and build more. Let's hope it plants some seeds and starts a few careers in electronics or engineering. On the other hand, it might also be a nice kit just to build for yourself. A pleasant evening with the smell of solder and a nice little radio when you're done, doesn't seem like a bad way to pass the time. Nope, not bad at all.