Friday, February 20, 2015

Coffee Brake: RIP Radio Shack

Ever since the first time I went into a Radio Shack retail store, I've been mesmerized by the stuff on the shelves.  There are certainly better places to buy your electronics (online, local specialty shops), but the ubiquitous Radio Shack meant there was a soldering iron and 10 ohm resistor within a few miles of any urban location.  This will all change in the coming weeks as the RadioShack Corp closes more stores as it continues into its 12th consecutive quarter of loses and into an unknown future in chapter 11 bankruptcy. 


I realize that logically I should not mourn the loss of some faceless retail giant who cares not for the customer, but simply wants to empty his wallet..but the wide eyed 8-year old inside me wants to roam through the back aisles and try to find something to interesting.  The death of Radio Shack might be a result of changes in buyers habits (Amazon.com?), but is it a bad thing for DIY enthusiasts, future gearheads, and electrical tinkerers all over this country?  Will those young men and women head into an Apple store instead and buy some worthless tablet.  Instead of building their own radar detector system and becoming engineers, these young people will play Angry Birds and become marketing managers. 

The death of big retail chains like Circuit City or K-Mart doesn't hit a soft spot because, for the most part, the shelves were littered with low quality goods imported from the third world. Radio Shack's 3rd world goods were of a lower order that required basic intelligence from the end user.  It is the difference between learning to program in BASIC (as was standard 30 years ago) versus the high level object related visual programming tools taught to elementary school kids today.  Sure, the world is changing, computers are more powerful, high level programming languages are at your fingertips, but the basic building blocks are being ignored.  How do you expect a Mercedes-Benz tech to diagnose a faulty ground wire on a navigation system when he doesn't understand what a resistor is.  The service writer will charge you for replacing the entire instrument console/stack and you'll probably just buy a new car.

What do you think?  Is this a bad omen for mankind, or just another Circuit City style dinosaur that has lived past its expiration date?


Image from RadioShack.

24 comments:

  1. I had one of these when I was a kid:

    [img]https://c2.staticflickr.com/2/1398/773052449_f4378e0250.jpg[/img]

    Probably not the thing today's kids who aspire to become marketing managers would be interested in.

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  2. My first encounters with Radio Shack date back to the 60's when I figured the only way I could ever afford an amp for an electric guitar was to build a Heathkit unit from Radio Shack. I'm less capable with electronics than any of my other DT brethren, which makes me particularly grateful to those unique personalities who found their way into employment at Radio Shack and have helped me find scores of items that I couldn't name, but only knew their function. They will be missed; and will probably turn into hackers because they will no longer find a comfortable place they can call home in the re(t)a(i)l world.

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  3. I loved my TRS-80, frankly. Coolest thing I'd ever seen at the time. But RS was long dead and should have gone out long ago. That's awful to say, but the business model was terrible and just got worse. Management just couldn't position it right and change with the times. I've known several people who worked there and they all hated it.

    "Like" to Hunsbloger's comments!

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    1. Goodgawd, I sounded like mrkwong there. Eek.

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  4. There is hope. My local Radio Shack is independently owned. I spoke with the owner recently about the current state of RS, and he told me that he (and other independent owner/operators) have seen it coming for quite awhile. He said that there are (were) about 4000 corporate stores and about 900 independent stores nationwide. The corporate stores will probably close and/or turn into Sprint stores, but by and large the independent ones will be unaffected and will stay in business. Whether they get to keep the Radio Shack name isn't certain, but these stores will still be out there. And they are the true Radio Shack stores where you can still get good technical advice and help with projects. Maybe it's actually a blessing in disguise, as most of the corporate stores were really just cell phone shops anyway.

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  5. For me, the type of store that took the place of the old-school Radio Shack is the local mom & pop electronic supply store. There are several of them in my area of So-Cal. The one I frequent is called Signal Electronics. Their website is terrible, lighting is dim, aisles are cramped, and employees are socially awkward at best. But hey, they have all the components and wire and connectors and buttons and switches I've ever needed for DIY projects. And the people who work there have a basic grasp on the products they are offering.

    http://signal-electronics.net/

    I have fond memories of scrounging around Radio Shack as a kid but won't mourn their demise as long as we still have good independent shops like Signal.

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    1. Oh, man! I know Signal Electronics! I grew up in HB.

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  6. Radio Shack helped to develop my interest in automobiles with their kid-friendly and reasonably priced RC cars. The Porsche GT1 replica I had around age 10 was very quick and I admired its fidelity to the actual racing car.

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  7. Unless you are CFlo and live in some electronics mecca, the thing about Radio Shack is that for odds and ends you end up needing mid-project, they are never the best option (10 bucks for crimp connectors? c'mon), but they are often the only quick option.

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  8. If I was CEO I would have transitioned Radio Shack slowly into Hobby Shack before it got near the bankruptcy state.
    The stores are about the right size and I know of no other franchised hobby shops.
    So less completion and much of the present inventory could have been used.
    Think drones, Go Pros, gaming, etc. for the active Millennial crowd with even old school stuff like specialized model cars to draw in the graying crowd.

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  9. Had my Battery Club card for years, would usually get the 9-Volt because they were the most expensive (and were needed for Mattel Electronics Football and Baseball).

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    1. Wow, I forgot all about the Battery Club.

      We used to try to make up funny names (Ben Dover, etc.) and then give a friend's address when they'd ask you for your address. Sometimes you'd get a willing participant at the store.

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  10. Man, this was literally the only place around that I could find obscure bulbs and solder-on LEDs for my S70. The fact that the dash, radio and HVAC board have any illumination at all is thanks entirely to Radio Shack. I mean, I've only had to do one entire refresh in 300,000 miles... but what will I do 17 years and 300,000 miles from now?

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  11. Big bummer. I don't look forward to a world where DIY electronics all have to come via the internet. I've almost always been willing to pay a little more to help keep them afloat.

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  12. Thank heavens I've still got these guys local to me -

    Frigid North Company

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  13. As an electronic technician just a few years out of school I can tell you the old stuff is still being taught in order to fully grasp the new. Most people are amazed that we were taught assembly language during intro to programming. Yes, we did have a whole class on Lab view after that, but considerable time was spent understanding the basic languages. Radio Shack has been around at least 5 years longer than expected. There are other companies that have what you need and will sell you just one resistor and it will be at your door tomorrow. I should know I work there....www.digikey.com

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  14. Back in the day if you needed analog parts they were often the most convenient, some of their test/meter/etc stuff was pretty good, some of the kits and kids stuff was pretty good, and they had a somewhat inconsistent line of stereo equipment with some real jewels in it here and there.

    The market kinda got away from them though, they bobbed and weaved around chasing this and that.

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  15. I think that DT should buy out a branch and rebuild the franchise from the ground up with the name "K2 Huns-Gianni-Bloger's Electronics"

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    1. I agree! Good idea, Dominic Mirenda. I want no royalties, just street cred.

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  16. I live in the "Great White North" and the now redundant RS was bought up several years ago and renamed "Source", which is really isn't any more, since it is mostly run by people who should run local "milk" stores. I now use local shops and "tiger direct" and "Princess Auto".

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  17. I guess they are not dead (yet):

    Radio Shack is dead, long live Radio Shack

    In the comments someone posted this link:

    Radio Shack Catalog Archive

    Very cool, i forgot about the W.C. Fields battery tester...

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    1. Interesting! My question is why?

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  18. I'm going to miss them for the very reason you mention at the beginning of the post. Radio Shack was like some kind of magical toy store to me. All of the 'mysterious' components with their bright colors and their thrilling sounding names (one of my questions to my dad (at 8) was - 'But dad, what does a resistor resist?') I used to wander into the store after school just to look around and dream about what I would one day build. I had all of the Forest Mims books with notes that I'd written in the margin in cursive (anyone remember that??). Yeah, it was a special place that holds a small piece of my heart.

    I WILL NOT, however, miss what its become in the last 20 or so years. An employee mill with something like a 64% turnover rate. The people they hire have zero idea what the component area of the store is even for. Unless you walk in there to buy the newest crap iPhone or phone peripheral I wouldn't suggest asking the counter person if they know what the capacitance rating is on the few devices they have left to purchase. I live in a somewhat smaller town in Georgia not to far from Atlanta. When we moved here there were 6 RS's. We now have 1 14 years later and I can't count the number of times I've drifted in there only to see a whole new crew of people that weren't there a month ago.

    I'm glad that I got to experience it during its hey day and I'll feel a little twinge when they finally close the last one near me because if I need a simple part I'll have to order it online or drive over an hour to Fry's or Microcenter. But at the end of the day any company that treats its employees AND its customers as if they don't matter needs to go away sooner rather than later.

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