New from Heathkit: the Explorer Jr TRF AM radio receiver kit

HeathkitExplorerJr

The Heathkit Explorer Jr. (Image Source: Heathkit)

Yes, the legendary Heathkit company is back and their first kit is a simple Tuned Radio Frequency (TRF) AM/mediumwave analog receiver: the Explorer Jr.

I knew Heathkit was back in business and under new management, but hadn’t heard any updates as of late. Their president, Andy, just sent a message to the “Heathkit Insiders” group explaining what the team has been up to:

“We’ve designed and developed a wide range of entirely new kit products. We authored the manuals for these kits, complete with the beautiful line art you rely on, preserving and respecting our iconic historic Heathkit style. We developed many new inventions and filed patents on them. We relocated Heathkit, and set up a factory, and a warehouse, and offices, in Santa Cruz, California, near Silicon Valley. We built the back office infrastructure, vendor and supply chain relationships, systems, procedures, operations methods, and well-thought-out corporate structure that a manufacturing company needs to support its customers, to allow us to scale instantly the day we resume major kit sales. All this effort enables us to introduce a fleet of new kits and helps ensure Heathkit can grow, prosper, and continue to bring you great new products for a very long time.”

The Insiders’ message goes into much more detail–I would encourage you to contact Heathkit about joining this group.

The big news in this message was the launch announcement of the Explorer Jr. kit which can be ordered from their website now. The price is $149.95 plus shipping. Heathkit anticipates a 30-day shipping time for the first set of orders.

Here’s a description of the kit from their website:

A Radio Kit Whose Time Has Come.

Again.

When Heath started designing & selling do-it-yourself airplane kits shortly after the Great War, the state-of-the-art in radio was the Tuned Radio Frequency (TRF) design.

A TRF radio was a great deal. If you had a great deal of money. A TRF receiver became a fixture in the homes of families around the world, receiving the news and music AM broadcasts of the day. A family AM radio was a big investment — $100 to $625 in 1929 dollars. (With inflation, that’s $1,400 to $8,700 in today’s dollars.)  Of course, at that price radios also were beautiful. They were made of fine wood, and designed to last. Radios were a visible and attractive furnishing you could be proud to have in your living room or parlor.

Heathkit’s TRF radio is a great deal. And a great deal of radio. This Explorer Jr TM radio is modeled on the original TRF designs, but better. You get to build it yourself. It’s safe and simple enough for beginners to assemble and understand. But it receives AM broadcast stations with performance superior to the vintage radios of 1930.

With the number of Heathkit enthusiasts out there, I suspect this first run of kits won’t last long. The kit trim is available in six colors: Silver, Cranberry, Cucumber Green, Plum Pie, Sapphire Blue, and Tangerine.

Click here to view and order the Explorer Jr on Heathkit’s webstore.

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25 thoughts on “New from Heathkit: the Explorer Jr TRF AM radio receiver kit

  1. James Surprenant/AB1DQ

    Hello again!

    I completed my build of the GR-150 Explorer TRF radio this weekend and can finish my report. I had no difficulty winding the coil, which involved 56 turns of magnet wire around a ferite core and securing it with transparent tape.

    The next problem I encountered was attaching the wound coil to the PCB. The kit came with two zip cords to use as fasteners, but the zip cords were much much too large to fit through the holes drilled in the PCB. So this required a trip to the hardware store.

    Once I had the coil mounted, I encountered the problem again with the bolts and nuts shearing off the leads – this time, it took me about 4 tries to attach the thin fragile coil wires to the PCB. It’s a very fragile process that again had me wishing this was a solder kit.

    The rest of the assembly went well. The only other glitch I encountered was in assembling the cabinet, the kit came with six locking star washers for the cabinet, in fact the parts list indicates that six should have been included in the kit. But then the actual assembly called for 10 star washers.

    So, how did the radio perform? About as expected. It is a single stage TRF receiver without a proper audio amplifier. The instructions say you should use earbuds to listen to the radio, but I found that my standard stereo earbuds to be off too low an impedance for while the radio worked, all stations heard were very faint – about as strong as you’d hear from a typical crystal radio kit.

    I hooked the radio up to a set of PC speakers which helped – a lot. Once I could hear the audio output, I was very pleased with the radio’s performance. The tuning cap is geared and it takes a good five turns of the tuning knob to cover the entire broadcast band. The radio was fairly sensitive and not too selective – again, as you’d expect. Still, it was fun.

    So, was it worth it? For me, sure… but it depends on what you are looking for. It’s a bit pricey for what you get, but if you want to support Heathkit as it attempts to rise from the ashes, and if you have the $$$ to ‘donate’ towards the cause, it may be worth it.

    Here is my take:

    THE GOOD….
    – VERY nice quality materials….the PCB, tuning cap, and cabinet were of a quality you don’t often see in kits.
    – Nostalgia factor. From the packing to the manuals, the kit really does capture some of the Heath Nostalgia.
    – Level of detail in the step by step instructions – I can’t imagine anyone would end up with a non-functioning radio if you followed the steps closely.
    – Documentation. The manual ends with a very nice feature on radio theory and theory of the different stages of the TRF and how to read a schematic. It’s clearly written for a youngster as it’s complete with drawings of smiley-faced electrons moving through the components and circuits.
    – The radio does work and is a joy to tune across the dial.

    THE BAD…
    – Quality control is lacking. It’s hard to imagine a kit ever leaving Benton Harbor back in the day with such glaring errors in the manual (wrong color code, missing steps), or with the wrong size zip ties, etc.
    – Price. Even though the materials are high-end, the retail price seems a bit high.

    THE UGLY…
    – I really wish Heathkit had included either a built in audio amp circuit (there is plenty of room in the cabinet to add a simple IC-based amp), or would have marketed a separate audio amp kit. Having an amplified speaker would add A LOT in terms of pleasure from the completed kit. Another kit vendor, Peebles Originals, peeblesorininals.com, sells a nice little audio amplifier kit for use with their regen radio kits. I’ve built it, and it’s a simple straight forward kit. Heathkit could have done this and it would have made a big difference. (I think I’ll try my Peebles amp with the Explorer!)

    Overal, I really enjoyed the build and I like the radio. I’m looking forward to see what the ‘new” Heathkit does next.

    Reply
  2. James M. Surprenant

    I received this kit for Xmas from dear old dad and have begun my build last night. The manual is very nicely done, spiral-bound, and very reminiscent of the old Heathkit manuals in terms of lay-out and detail. The packaging of the parts is also reminiscent of the old Heathkits with parts grouped into envelopes by phase, ie. “Active Components,” “Passive Components,” “Small Parts,” “Knobs,” etc.

    Last night I worked through completion of the circuit board attaching all electronic components and stopped at the step for winding the coil. I thought it would make sense to start fresh on that step since winding coils is generally a pain in the ass.

    As much as I’m having fun, I do have several criticisms at this point. Here is the not-so good….

    – A couple of the envelopes were ripped open when I unpacked the kit. There were nuts, bolts, spacers and an Allen wrench loose in the outer box. That said, no parts were missing.

    – I found two errors in the manual.
    (1) The color code for one of the resistors was incorrect in the manual. With my aging eyes, and the miniaturization of components today, I always use an ohm meter to test all resistors before attaching them to the PCB when I build a kit.
    (2) The circuit contains 10 resistors and all 10 were included in the kit. But one was completely missing from the step-by-step instructions. After I finished attaching all active and passive components, I had one resistor left over and fortunately there was a matching empty space on the circuit board for the same value resistor. I double and triple checked the instruction manual and I can not find where it calls for this resistor to be attached.

    – My biggest criticism so far is the fact that this kit is “solder-less.” All components are attached to the PCB with screws, lock washers and a nut. You insert the leads for each component through the over-size pass-through holes no the PCB, and bend the leads tight against the edge. Then you insert a screw in from the topside, place a lock washer on the bottom side and fasten with a bolt.
    On the upside, the fact I didn’t need to work with a hot solder iron meant I felt comfortable building the kit at the kitchen table. (My XYL would not be pleased if she found burn marks on the table!) So I had a nicer environment to work in than the basement work bench.
    On the downside, I managed to sheer off the leads on TWO resistors when tightening the screws. Fortunately I was able to replace the busted resistors from my on-hand stock.
    The other odd thing about this method of attaching components is that Heathkit included a nifty screwdriver in the kit, but leaves it up to the kit builder to provide a small socket wrench or pliers to hold the nut in place while tightening the screw.
    Finally, the instructions call for the kit builder to ‘bend the excess leads back and forth’ until they snap off, rather than instructing the kit builder to snip off the excess leads with nippers. That seemed really strange to me.

    Oh well, that’s my 2 cents so far. For what it’s worth I am definitely having fun building the kit and look forward to winding the coil and doing the final assembly, hopefully tonight. I would be happy to post again with news of how the project concludes, my opinions of the radio’s performance and even share a few photos.

    I applaud Heathkit for making a go at a come-back and will continue to support their efforts by buying and building their pricey stuff – yeah, I’m that guy.

    73 de AB1DQ
    James

    Reply
  3. Steve

    O.K., It’s well after xmas, where are the promised posts sharing their experiences building this new kit, including photos.

    So far nothing.

    When posting please post drawings, schematics, and technical Spec’s.
    All of which were gladly shared with previous Heath Kit builders.

    Reply
  4. Steve

    Some guys out there seem to be blinded by the thought of HeathKit of yesterday.
    This is not it.
    It appears that some of these “kits” were sent.
    Others have not received anything.
    Still there is little to no communication with the “company”
    Again, the company is HEATHKIT VINTAGE LLC

    Besides all the short comings already pointed out by previous posts, one thing not mentioned is that this is a screw together kit.
    No soldering.
    It’s like a low end model you snap together, but wait it’s at a high end price.
    Everyone, should stay away and hope someone else picks up the torch and runs with it.
    In the meantime there are kit makers out there offering interesting, much ,much less expensive kits, and yes you will have to solder components in place.

    Hopefully very few will be taken in by this attempt to tap into a market of those of us that spent hours of fun making Heath Kits.
    And hopefully, even more important, those that jump on this wagon will not loose their hard earned money in doing so.

    Again, not ONE person to date has offered their experience building one of these kits.
    Not just here….but on the net in general.
    Though there are a few claiming to have gotten them, there seems to always be an excuse why more info can not be shared at this time? hmmm

    Reply
  5. Wes

    Looking for the manual, which I can’t find online. Wasn’t the fun of having a Heathkit to modify it and improve performance? In this case, I’d love to see what a preamp does, along with an AF amp, AF gain control, and internal speaker (can’t wait to drill holes in the cabinet). Also, I’d like to add 80M CW and SSB reception, with a band switch, injected BFO, and increased selectivity on that band. Yes, built the kit as is, then tinker away, in the process learning even more about how receivers work and what they’re capable of. That was one of the joys of growing up with Heathkit gear in the 50s and 60s.

    Reply
  6. Steve

    Here we are enough days after the release of this kit for those out there that jumped on this DEAL to have gotten the kit.
    So far there has been no word out there that anyone has.
    So far there has been no identification of who is “Heathkit”, who is the owner? or if a corporation, who are the officers?
    Please anyone ordering these kits, do not allow the elapsed time after the order to exceed the time you can file for a refund through paypal.

    Don’t get me wrong, this is something that a lot people hoped would happen, namely the revival of the heathkit brand with new innovative fun kits to build, me included.
    It appears it’s not going to happen. Very disappointing and sad.

    Maybe an investigative reporter can get to the bottom of this story and share it with the world .

    Reply
    1. steve

      This whole thing is very strange, This appears on the surface to be an elaborate con.
      The person or persons representing themselves as Heathkit are registered with the state of California as :
      ——————————————————————————-
      Entity Name: HEATHKIT VINTAGE LLC
      Entity Number: 201503710107
      Date Filed: 02/04/2015
      Status: ACTIVE
      Jurisdiction: CALIFORNIA
      Entity Address: PO BOX 3115
      Entity City, State, Zip: SANTA CRUZ CA 95063
      Agent for Service of Process: GKL CORPORATE SEARCH, INC. (C1673485)
      Agent Address: *
      Agent City, State, Zip: *
      ======================================================
      Note the address is a match for the “HeathKit” contact on the website
      Again, no body seems to know who this is nor have any kits been received.

      Why would he / they call themselves Heathkit Vintage LLC if he owned all the previous rights and intellectual properties?, as well as the name.

      Please Buyer beware.

      Maybe someday this will shake out and the Heath name will live once again,
      however this appears not to be that time………very sad.

      Reply
      1. Mike

        It is not a scam. I just got both of my radio shipped USPS Priority mail to me. The reason the company might just make it this time is they are not spending every last dime on publicity and expensive startup costs. They are interested in the Heathkit guys not the general public. It is obvious to me, because they sent the information to the Heathkit insiders that filled out their questionnaire. As we all know Heathkit will never be the big company it used to be, but if I can get a few kits from them I will. I think they are a small group of guys that love Heathkit and want to preserve them. I do not think they are interested in all the fame and glory stuff, but just a solid product line to those who love Heathkit to. For all we know it is only a couple guys doing this. 73, Mike.

        Reply
        1. Thomas Post author

          Mike: After Santa officially delivers your kit, take a few photos and let us know how you enjoyed the build. We can post it here to share.

          I can see where Heathkit is going for a very targeted audience. This kit is pricey and, obviously, meant to help the company get its sea legs and shake out the kit-building process while testing the market. I don’t hold this against them. Obviously the people funding the company are doing this mostly out of passion and aren’t expecting to retire early off of the proceeds.

          Enjoy building your Heathkit!

          Thomas

          Reply
  7. Paul

    Take a look here:

    http://www.mouser.com/ProductDetail/Silicon-Labs/Si4731-Demo/?qs=J2%252b99Ok4JhIMUF24NLYHNg%3d%3d

    or here:

    http://www.digikey.com/product-detail/en/SI4731-DEMO/SI4731-DEMO-ND/2277977

    Not really a kit, but a lot of fun at $40. I bought one of these years ago and played quite a bit with it. Summary of another user’s findings are here:
    http://forums.wtfda.org/showthread.php?3735-Silicon-Labs-Si4731-Eval-Board-Fun!

    As for the stripped down Heathkit, for $150 … you must be kidding me.

    Reply
  8. Mike

    Great news, I bought 2 of them. One to build and one to keep in kit form. I don’t care about the price. This is Heathkits first new kit. I will support the group. We cry and complain about so many things and then wonder why we don’t have a kit to build.

    Buy one and support the company. The screws are all stainless steel, the cabnet brushed aluminum and the faceplate is real rosewood. If you want a real performer go by a radio that costs hundreds or thousands more. This is a kit, and a nice one. I am tired of the crying. 73, Mike.

    Reply
    1. Steve

      Wow, what’s wrong with you.
      I’ve got a bridge for you.
      This is not the Heathkit we all know.
      There is basically no information given about who is creating this product.
      There is almost zero information about what you are buying.
      Lets take a basic question, how many transistors are there? Do you know?
      I don’t.
      The current owner of the Heath name has told us that there is NO power amp in this state of the art Am radio since it needs a “powered speaker” to have a speaker.
      There is no dial, there is no volume control, there is no power supply
      It’s basically a portable am radio and appears to be a poor one at that installed in an almost wood case with real stainless screws….what? for $150
      You have no idea that he didn’t go to a Hong Kong supplier and ask for a radio in parts instead of assembled, and contacted local suppliers for a cabinet.

      Are there table radios out there currently marketed in that price range, yes.
      Do they have amps, dials, volume controls, speakers and full wooden cabinets and power supplies..sure do (oh and they have FM too)
      How is it marketed, by telling you what great specs it has, no, by telling you to compare it to your grandfather’s Am radio, what?
      This is no way equal to a radio of yesterday.
      If this was the real thing, meaning a re-launch of a household name, Heathkit, don’t you think the national media would be all over this….

      Again, buyer be ware.

      If someone actually gets one of these things please share the details everywhere you can to help educate those that have not been given any information about this state of art product, other than a photo, and the promise that someone will test it and give some specs.

      Reply
      1. Mike

        Just to let you skeptics know. I received both of my Heathkit radios. Problem is my wife won’t let me open them till Christmas.
        I did see a video on Youtube about a couple of people building it and it looks nice. I love the manual, has the old flavor to it. I think there off to a start. I think they are taking things very slowly to see how it goes. 73, Mike.

        Reply
  9. Mario

    This is great news, finally an old-time company has come back. With the demise of Lafayette Radio and almost losing Radio Shack, there is a glimmer of hope for the radio community.

    Reply
    1. Paul

      “Almost losing Radio Shack”? What RS has to offer in the Sprint stores is even worse than the 2014 version of RS. The only Radio Shacks that had ever been worth going to were the “dealers” that had flexibility to sell good stuff along side RS junk! I stopped in a RS years ago back in IL where they had coax off he spool antennas, power supplies, MILSPEC connectors, MFJ products and a few used radios on consignment.

      Reality…. the best source for ham radio supplies is online or hamfests. RS pretty much became a cell phone, camera and earbud store 10 years ago.

      Reply
  10. buzzz

    Disappointed in the Heathkit website. Heath is such a well-known and revered name and deserves an awesome and *usable* website. Short list of WTFs:

    * Their logo is a blurry graphic scan, jeez!
    * No “About the Team” identification of management, ownership, directors. Well at least we learn that they moved from Michigan to the Left Coast
    * Weird home page not even linked to their new product page!
    * Emphasizing eBay. This is not promising. Click over to eBay for extremely obscure replacement parts, a newly engineered (!) dial for a 40+ year-old VFO, a weather station propeller and refurbished CB handhelds?
    * First new product – AM receiver kit – States that specs are still being measured in the lab. Here’s an idea: Why not wait till you know the specs, then sell the product?

    Heathkit, our respected friend, get your act together. And if you are near Silicon Valley, you are surrounded by web developers and content managers who could create the website you deserve.

    Reply
    1. Steve

      Spot on.
      What a plan — a AM radio?
      There appears to be no speaker…the text indicates a optional “powered” speaker will be available…what?.
      It goes on to say use earbuds?

      There also appears to be no Volume control on the cabinet, hence the earbuds and need for a “powered” speaker. It probably uses a op amp.
      It runs on batteries….what?
      If it’s portable, where’s the handle?
      If it’s portable, where is the proper case for it?

      And the big one, wtf $150 for the fun of building this state of the art Am radio.
      Boy did this person trying to revive this shoot himself in the foot.

      Reply
      1. Tomas

        Indeed, also it seems that the only part made of wood is the front, the sides look like painted particle board. Also there is no scale etc.

        This “radio” has absolutely nothing on my hardwood radios from the 60s or earlier.

        Reply
        1. Steve

          If you want a AM radio, buy a classic 30’s radio in need of restoration. You will preserve our American radio heritage and you will have something to be proud of any probably save money.
          The bonus- you’ll have something of value.
          This (Heath radio) appears to be an attempt to capitalize on the huge base of previous Heathkit builders which I belong to.
          This Product, released to the public, with basically no technical information , to a group that is all about technical information….does this make sense?
          Buyers be ware!
          On another site, one of the first purchasers of this kit reported no confirmation of the sale and emails bouncing from the official site.

          Reply
      2. Jon

        F.Y.I. I was one of those “insiders” that got the e-mail for early pickings of the kit, here is what I have stumbled across….

        1. Cannot complete the order, process fails…… repeatedly!
        2. No one has answered the phone…. 23 times and counting!
        3. Tried e-mailing them for the off chance no one likes to answer the phone……. no response there either!
        4. Tried to look up the company via white pages, yellow pages, etc…. and cannot locate them anywhere!

        It seems to me that someone jumped the gun and a skeleton crew is scrambling!

        Reply
  11. Chuck Lovett (W7ACI )

    I am cautiously excited about this! I have had a lot of fun in the past building kits, my latest having been a Wilderness Radio NorCal 40A QRP Transceiver. But I have been disappointed in the last couple of years with the lack of new kits. There are and have been many noble efforts by small companies and ham radio clubs to provide kits, but it seems like many of those groups have faded in the last few years, although there have been exceptions like the Four State QRP group. Even TenTec has eliminated its lower priced kits. So I am very hopeful that this will be a new turning point in kit offerings and a marker for a new era!

    Reply
  12. Joe

    Great looking radio, and I’m sure it would be fun to build. I only wish there were some content worth listening to on AM, to justify the price.

    Reply
  13. Michael Black

    A single gang variable capacitor means only one tuned circuit. That’s not much of a TRF receiver, in the old days it would mean a bunch of stages, initially you’d have to tune each separately, then the sections were ganged up so only a single knob was needed.

    At $149, you’re not getting much circuitry. A regen might give better performance, or that really expensive superhet in the Spam can.

    Decades ago, Sinclair had a simple. AM radio kit, using the Feranti ZN414, which was a three pin IC intended for TRF receivers. A descendant is still being made, the MK484, and I can’t help but wonder if this radio uses that.

    I thought when I saw “TRF”, it would be a superhet, with an extra stage of tuning ahead of the mixer. At one point, Radio Shack had some “superradios’ that they referred to as “TRF”, but that’s not the case here.

    There aren’t really any specs, but it does have a wooden cabinet. They spend a lot of time telling us how ready they are, but then that’s what they did before. Maybe they are ready to do well, but maybe it’s still talk.

    Someone’s going to have to make tat first order, time will tell. This doesn’t seem like a good start, it’s like the last gasp of the old Heathkit, when they announced they were getting back into the kit business, but offered a few kits, that weren’t appealing and were expensive.

    Michael

    Reply
  14. Ken

    Excellent news!! In was in my teens in the 1960’s and a radio nut. I can’t even remember which or how many kits I bought. The one I got the most use out of was their Q Multiplier. I can still remember seeing the boxes on the kitchen table when I walked in the door from school. Chores weren’t done, homework suffered and meals missed until that kit was built. Welcome back Heathkit!!!

    Ken

    Reply

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