Putting together AM radio transmitter kits and selling the end product results in $7,000 payment.

The FCC has always been friendly to electronics hobbyists, in part (we suspect) because many of the FCC’s engineers got their own start that way. A lot of hobbyists get their start, in turn, by assembling commercial kits, before moving on to design and build their own gear from scratch. 

Kits could present a problem under the rules that require FCC certification for most small transmitters. It would be inconvenient, to say the least, for each hobbyist to have to test his or her finished product for compliance and get it certified by the FCC. Anticipating the problem, the FCC has long provided an exception for kits. Consumers are free to buy most kits, assemble them, and use the resulting device without paying any attention to the FCC.

Kits, in other words, are essentially unregulated. One Richard Mann dba The Antique Radio Collector tried to stretch this exception.

His mistake, from the FCC’s standpoint, was to take orders on his website for AM radio transmitters, and fill those orders by (a) purchasing kits from another company, (b) assembling them, and (c) shipping the resulting devices to his customers. The FCC took the view that the assembled radios Mr. Mann sent out were no longer kits, but finished devices that require – and did not have – FCC certification.

The matter was resolved by a consent decree, in which Mr. Mann agreed to pay $7,000 to settle the matter without admitting guilt. The information made public gives only a sketchy outline of the events. We don’t know, for example, whether Mr. Mann tried to argue he was not selling a finished product, but rather providing a service: namely, assembling the kit on the customer’s behalf. We do know that the FCC has rejected this same argument in the past. Once the vendor has sold a completed device, says the FCC, its origins as a kit are irrelevant.

The outcome is hard on people like Mr. Mann, whose actions may well have been an innocently meant mistake. But we can see the FCC’s point. If assembled kits escaped all regulation, it would not take long for unscrupulous manufacturers to use that fact as a way of bypassing the FCC rules entirely.

So if you have the smell of hot solder in your blood, buy lots of kits and enjoy yourself. Just don’t sell the finished products.