Hobby electronics is often described as in
decline. Sales of books and electronic parts aimed
at the hobby electronics market have fallen. High
school science fairs once included a fair number of
electronics projects. Now such projects are scarce.
RadioShack once sold hundreds of thousands of
hobby electronics books a year. Now they sell
In view of these developments, is there a future
for hobby electronics? The evidence shows that
there clearly is. Before I explain why, let's turn the
clock back a generation or so and review the evolution of hobby electronics.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, electronics hobbyists built light-controlled relays, solar batteries,
tiny radios, and many kinds of electronic games
long before such gadgets were sold in stores. This
provided a terrific incentive for both teens and
adults to become interested in do-it-yourself electronics.
The arrival of inexpensive TTL and CMOS integrated circuits in the early 1970s greatly expanded
the horizons for electronic hobbyists. Now we could
build counters, clocks, timers, and controllers that
were far more sophisticated than basic transistor
projects. Hobby electronics was at its peak, and the
electrical engineering departments of colleges and
universities could count on having many students
who had learned the basics before they arrived on
The arrival of Intel's 8080 microprocessor had
far more impact on hobby electronics than the
transistor and the integrated circuit. Now hobbyists
could build their own computers, the ultimate do-it-yourself project. They didn't even have to design
the machine, for they could buy a complete kit for
$395.00 from MITS, Inc., a small company in
Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The MITS Altair 8800 was featured on the
cover of the January 1975 issue of Popular
Electronics. The article attracted the attention of
two young computer enthusiasts, Paul Allen and
Bill Gates. Allen and Gates soon moved into the
MITS building in Albuquerque, where they established a software company to develop BASIC for
the Altair. They named their company Microsoft.
From 1975 to the mid-1980s, eager hobbyists
built many kinds of gadgets and circuits for their
computers to control. Hundreds of books
described do-it-yourself computer projects.
Yet the hobby computer era was a bubble, not
a trend. As more and more companies entered the
computer market, there soon came a time when it
was no longer practical to offer kit computers. The
hobby electronics magazines eventually fell victim
to the computer era to which they gave birth.
So where does this leave hobby electronics
today? Our numbers have declined, but the quality
NUTS & VOLTS