HAM RADIO remains a vibrant hobby, as is evident at flea markets such as this "Hamfest" in Clinton, N.J. But after a growth spurt in the 1990s, the number of amateur radio enthusiasts is starting to drop. Image: PETER MURPHY
Several years ago I walked into Fry's Electronics in Palo Alto, Calif., and asked for an inductor. It is hardly an unusual electronic component; every radio project needs one. Yet the store clerks looked at me blankly. Fry's once had a reputation as the first stop for young engineers stocking a garage workshop. But in its components aisle, I found just a few bags of parts.
"The art of home-brewing one's own electronic equipment is pretty much a lost one," says Chuck Penson, a radio ham in Tucson, Ariz. The D.I.Y. movement that spawned the computer revolution--and inspired untold numbers of tinkerers to pursue careers in science--has stopped moving. Heathkit ceased making its electronic kits 10 years ago. Popular Electronics and Byte magazines have hung up their soldering irons. Meccano, the maker of Erector sets, went bankrupt in 2000. Last year Scientific American dropped the Amateur Scientist column, citing a long decline in readership, and Edmund Scientific sold off its consumer catalogue and shut its famous retail store in Barrington, N.J.
This article was originally published with the title R.I.P. for D.I.Y..