MFJ Enterprises to Quit Manufacturing

Apologies to those of you not involved in the allied field of ham radio, but this news is huge to those who are. The founder of MFJ Enterprises, Martin F. Jue, announced yesterday that the company would cease manufacturing on May 17, 2024, after 52 years of operations. The company, based in Starkville, Mississippi near Mississippi State University, represents a kind of throwback operation. Local Americans manufactured and sold relatively inexpensive accessories, antennas, and amplifiers for the ham radio hobby. Given the labor costs relative to imported goods from China, businesses like this are nearly impossible to keep afloat. Mr. Jue is 80 years old and said he has been looking for a buyer without success and is ready to retire. 

The closure date coincides with the upcoming Hamvention in Ohio. Hams speculate that Mr. Jue may unload much of his inventory at the event. He says MFJ will continue to support existing products and sell its existing stock. 

While the styling of MFJ gear was usually primitive and the quality inconsistent, it filled a need for a hobby that required simple interfaces, antenna kits, power amplifiers, and all sorts of accessories. When HyGain and Cushcraft looked to close their antenna manufacturing operations, MFJ bought them and expanded the line. MFJ has mostly avoided the more complex designs of receivers and transmitters, but they make and sell a solid line of linear amplifiers with the Ameritron nameplate. 

Its ubiquitous advertisements filled QST magazine, and their absence may create a side effect beyond the unemployment in a Mississippi college town. 

Most active hams, myself included, have at least a few items from MFJ. My first was a packet radio interface purchased in the early 1990s. It just worked, even though its physical design was cringeworthy. I bought a crude noise bridge to help determine antenna impedance, then moved on to their popular impedance meter. MFJ took designs from ARRL technical articles and made products from them, sometimes improving those designs over time. 

Will another company come out of the shadows to purchase MFJ? Doubtful—the business model isn’t there. Many of their products can be purchased cheaply through Amazon from Chinese copycat companies. The average ham is about 60 years old, and over time, their old gear will likely find its way to the recycle bin. It’s a no-growth prospect. Might another company pick up some of their better-selling lines? We’ll see. 

It’s easy to look back and pine for the days when hams often made simple gear by hand from kits or from scratch. The proliferation of large-scale integration, tiny surface-mount components, and alternate technologies have all worked against that aspect of the hobby over time. But there are still interesting things to do—explore the digital modes that make weak signal reception (even moonbounce!) possible, refurbish old gear, and make gear using the new Arduino processors and 3D plastic printers. 

Ham radio will live on, and Martin Jue will get his due retirement.