Heathkit Ham Radios - We all built them back in the day.

by Tim Kies
(Muskegon,MI USA)

I think that the title says a lot. Back in the late 1970s, I built a Heathkit receiver. I think the model was an HW 1680. Back then, my license class was called Novice, and we had a lot more restrictions than the Technicians have today.

First, we had to use only CW, or Morse code. Another restriction we had was, our transmitter had to be crystal controlled. Also, we were limited in power to, as I recall, 100 watts P.E.P., or Peak Envelope Power.

I built the receiver, but I had a problem with it and could not get it to work properly. I ended up sending it to Heathkit, which was headquartered in Benton Harbor, Michigan, just straight south down the coastline of where I lived. They found that I had made a mistake on the wiring harness and corrected it, checked everything out and sent it back. I did have to pay them to fix my mistake, of course.

It was a fine receiver for me and my usage. I had at the time an old transmitter, I think it was called a Globe Chief.

I made numerous contacts throughout Canada and straight south, as my antenna was a dipole in an east/west direction, so it faced north and south.

I learned ham radio from two men, and one of them helped me build a transmitter from a QST article, based on a 6l6 tube, and a 600-volt center tap transformer, with xtal control and plug in hand wound coils. It put out about 25 watts, and it worked quite well. But I eventually invested in a Heathkit HW 7 and, using 3 watts, I actually was able to make many more contacts than before. I suspect that it was because I had been improving my skill at operating.

I eventually got married,and a friend in the ham radio club needed a rig, so I sold him the HW 7.

Then,a missionary I met, was heading to Togo, Africa. His wife was a nurse and he was a pilot studying for his ham license. Before they left to go back to Africa, I felt the urge to give him every piece of radio equipment that I had collected over the years, to help him with his calling and to be a part of it. I gave him a receiver and a different transmitter that I had built. I gave the other one to my Elmer. I gave him a couple of straight keys and a Bug, or electronic keyer. A morse code practice oscillator, and a bunch of assorted items, including an antenna called a " Double Bazooka" or a coaxial dipole that radiated on several different frequencies.

I had gotten married, and was working in a foundry to support my growing family, and my hobby took a back seat to raising my kids. After just a couple of years, I missed it too much and wrote to the FCC, asking if I could get my license back, or if I had to pass the test for Novice again. To my surprise, I received not an answer in the mail, no email back then, but my new ticket, as a novice!

I operated with a newly purchased HW 8, for a time, and then life got in the way again. Eventually I studied and got my Tech Plus license, and a year later, I went and got my General, at a time when you no longer needed CW. So I was a General license holder with credit for 5 wpm. I bet there were not all that many of us.

Right now, I am mostly active on 2 meters, but I just got a QRP kit in the mail, and I have a cheap straight key coming next week. Eventually I plan on buying an inexpensive HF rig, maybe one of the Elecrafts that are for sale, after having already been built. I have not heard anything but good things about them.

And while I have been a ham forever, I have never gotten into the digital modes, so perhaps I will buy a Raspberry Pi and do some learning in that direction.

That is the most fun part of Ham Radio. You can go in just about any direction and learn something new, and find everyone wants to help you. I know that there must be bad Hams out there, but I have never met one. So I would never be ashamed to invite a friend into the hobby.

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Nov 22, 2020
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Tim Kies Memories
by: James Renforth

Tim - I enjoyed reading about your experiences with Heathkit ham equipment. It brought back a lot of fond memories for me. I often yearn for the days (and nights) I spent in my ham shack -- initially with CW only (as a Novice) and dreaming of the day I could begin "talking" on the air instead of just dit-dot. Thanks for sharing.:)

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