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Requiem for Radio Shack

RadioShack

We’d been all over town trying to find a new gaming headset for my son and his unusually large head. It’s harder than you might think: most headsets grip his big head like a vise. We’d bought and returned four uncomfortable headsets already. On the way back from yet another failed mission, we passed by a RadioShack. “What the heck,” I said as I turned in. “We’ve tried everywhere else.”

It had become a sadly typical scene: RadioShack, the electronics store of last resort. It’s not a sustainable business model. The retailer has faltered for a long time, and looks like it will finally throw in the towel after 94 years.

Getting its start in amateur radio, and having not yet lost the space between Radio and Shack, the chain always had a defining, high-volume and high-margin product line. For years it was hi-fi, and then it was computers, and finally it was cell phones. But now phones are a commodity product, and nothing replaced them at the center of RadioShack’s business model.

RadioShackLogoI’ve bought a few things at Radio Shack over the years. I suspect you have too; the stores used to be everywhere. Their battery club first brought me in the door when I was about 12. A free, fresh 9-volt battery every month to power my handheld electronic head-to-head football game? Yes please. That’s how I became acquainted with all the gear Radio Shack carried, from diodes to audio cables to calculators to computers. Radio Shack’s TRS-80 computer was respectable for its day.

When I needed a 1/4″-to-1/8″ adapter for some headphones? Radio Shack. A universal remote control when such things were new? Radio Shack. Patch cables to connect my cassette deck to my computer so I could digitize my old radio airchecks? Radio Shack.

My wife and I bought our first cell phones at RadioShack. And remember how every Christmas the front of their stores were crammed with radio-controlled cars? One of the last gifts from my wife before my marriage ended was a big radio-controlled 1967 Chevy Impala. That was fun. The car, not the marriage ending.

But that was more than 10 years ago, and until my son’s headset adventure I’d had no reason to step inside RadioShack. Most of us didn’t, apparently, because now here the chain is, at its end.

The clerk at RadioShack listened to my son tell his tale of headset woe, and guided us to a short aisle with a small selection of headsets. He opened a couple boxes and let my son try them on right in the store — which was just enough for us to learn that this stop, too, would be a bust. At least we wouldn’t have to bring a product home just to return it later. And so with that, I walked out of RadioShack for the last time.

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27 thoughts on “Requiem for Radio Shack

  1. Christopher Smith says:

    I have bought stuff at Radio Shack but they were known as Tandy Stores here in the UK. I have a Tandy catalogue from the 80’s with all the range of computers they sold including the TRS-80.

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  2. There is still a great need for many of the products radio shack carries…sadly, they refused to put Christ back into their Holiday ads, and Christmas-even after being boycotted by the American Family Association. Many electronic technicians sought their parts and supplies elsewhere. They underestimated the power of God and His people…but, I guess they at least went out standing on what “They” believe-or, don’t believe as it were.

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  3. I’ve shopped there all my life as well. During the CB craze that hit when I was a young buck, I purchased my radio there. As the years went on, the quality of their products went down, the clerks became less knowledgable, and at this point RS had run out of company feet to shoot. ~T~

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    • Radio Shack was certainly highly skilled at shooting itself in the foot. Good thing it kept regrowing feet through most of its lifetime. Apparently that ability ran out in the early 2000s sometime.

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  4. I also was one of those people that used Radio Shack as my store of last resort. Many times I found something there that wasn’t in the other stores. Still that wasn’t often enough to keep a business going. I think you are right in that once the phones were no longer bringing in much that they didn’t find a substitute. I know that the last few times that I was in there I was the only person in the store. Too bad to see them go. It seems like they have been around most of my adult life.

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    • There were things you simply couldn’t get anywhere but Radio Shack, at least until the Internet made everything known to mankind available. When my son and I went in on our headset mission, we were the only customers as well.

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  5. Michael says:

    Used to visit a fair bit during my Rose years. Then I discovered the specialty electronics shop along Lafayette. They moved (or closed and someone reopened) to Wabash after a while but then closed for good maybe 5-7 years ago. Thankfully I don’t have much need for electronic parts anymore, but if I do there will be no instant gratification.

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    • Oh yeah, that electronics shop on Lafayette. It was within walking distance of my apartment. Had an old tube TV when I moved in that Robert Slover tried to fix. We went over to that shop and bought a bunch of tubes to replace the ones burnt out. The crusty old guys in there were highly amused by these two 21-year-old kids buying tubes. Never could get the TV to work – some power inverter thingy ended up being bad and Robert declared that there would be no replacing it.

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  6. None of the requiems for Radio Shack I have come across lately have mentioned the connection with the Tandy Corporation which took over Radio Shack in 1963. Tandy was a leather supply business and for quite a time the leather, leather tools and electronics items were all together in many of the outlets. When we lived in San Francisco in the 1970’s, The Tandy/Radio Shack store was were we went to buy leather and tools to make our sandals. I later acquired a CB radio and a Model 100 computer there, as well as a lot of little electronic parts. Still wearing sandals and playing with computers, but none of that has Radio Shack parts.

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    • It cracks me up that you could buy leather goods and tools, along with electronics, in the same store! And homemade sandals! I think I’d rather just buy some Birks and be done with it.

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  7. I found them to be the best place if I needed small parts like bulbs, fuses, and whatever else I’d need to fix old stereo gear. They certainly saved me a couple times, but then some of their products were crap, like their male-to-male 1/8″ cords, I didn’t have a good experience with them. Weren’t they also one of the first companies to start outsourcing their electronics manufacture to Asia?

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    • I have dim memories of some of their audio cables being crap. Man it’s been a long time since I bought any of that from them. I still have a lot of it, in a box in my garage, along with two tape decks I have no further use for. I ought to sell the tape decks on eBay.

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  8. bodegabayf2 says:

    Radio Shack survived longer than CompUSA, Circuit City and a few other electronic retailers, so I suppose we should at least applaud their tenacity.

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  9. Wes C says:

    The Radio Shack that I remember fondly has already been gone for many years. From around 1979 through the mid 1980’s was their heyday as far as I’m concerned. It was a great place to go to find stereo gear (some of their offerings were actually pretty good), CB and shortwave radios, TV antennas, TRS-80 home computers, and a huge selection of electronic components and kits. I used to love pouring over the Radio Shack catalog that came out once a year, and even the sales flyers that were included with our Sunday paper. That said, the company had its quirks even back then… such as their refusal to carry any audio gear that was not their own brand – Realistic.. or the fact that every transaction required me to give my name and address for the sales receipt. But, I really liked the company back then. They even opened a Radio Shack Computer Center in my area to keep up with the demands of the growing personal computer market. I remember taking a BASIC programming class at one of these stores. The people working in these stores were all nice and knowledgeable back then.

    Later when the cell phone boom happened, I really started to dislike Radio Shack. I’m not one to like going into a store to look for an audio cable, and then be subjected to a “How would you like a free cell phone today?” sales pitch. And it was a very pushy sales pitch! Not cool… Another one of the products that they would push heavily was their product protection plan. How many times did you have to say “no?” I think it was three times before they would give up.

    Now the Radio Shack stores are hardly recognizable. Nothing like I remember from my teenage years. I suppose that I’ll be sad to seem them go, even if they are the last resort attempt to find something.

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    • When my son and I visited that Radio Shack, I saw nary a diode or audio cable. It looked like a miniature Best Buy, kind of.

      I remember the constant phone sales pitches and also the persistence on the extended warranties. Those were real turnoffs that I think had to push people away.

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  10. Great post – sad to see them go too, but as everyone said, they have actually been gone a long time, from the store of the past.

    I bought a lot of cable tv splitters, A/B switches, cables to set up various cable/stereo configurations. And how about this item…replacement turntable needles? Later it was the only place to get a turntable. Now you can get a turntable with built in digital converter, anywhere.

    Between big box stores and the Internet, I can see how the store’s days are over. After a long time, when I went in there I was surprised that I knew more than the clerks about what I was searching for. That’s not how it was…Radio Shack was where I learned so much!

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    • There used to be all sorts of little things where the only place you could get them was Radio Shack!

      The big difference between Radio Shack of old and Internet shopping today is that you could go into RS, say “I need a thingamabob that lets me connect x to y” and they’d lead you right there. Harder to do that with an Internet search.

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    • Not surprised at all to learn you were an RS shopper given your love of gadgets! The clerks there really were once highly knowledgeable. It was a throwback even in the 80s.

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  11. George Denzinger says:

    There were a lot of great comments about RS, I shared many of those experiences. Like you, I started out with the battery club and worked my way into buying a CB, several R/C cars, dozens of cables, switches, oddball electronic parts and for a while, Realistic speakers. Also, I knew a number of people during the early 80’s who had Trash-80’s (TRS-80) as their first (non-homemade) personal computer.

    I think some of what helped to kill the chain was the heavy reliance on the marketing (taking of the names and addresses at the checkout) and in some cases the whole shopping experience. While some stores were great, by the 1990’s some of the stores were already stale with less than enthusiastic and knowledgeable employees that were the trademark in earlier years. That and the fact that you were increasingly able to find everything on the internet made them less and less valuable to the hobbyist electronics fan.

    My last interaction with RS was to look at replacing my cell phone, as they featured a number of no-contract carriers. But at that time, I was still debating the best replacement for my ancient LG Optimus V. As these things seem to happen, I finally dropped the Optimus one too many times and shattered the screen. I needed another phone quickly, and RS didn’t stock (at least the one closest to me) the one I wanted. At that point, it was just faster to get it at my local Meijer. Another nail in the RS coffin… (Amusingly, it just occurred to me that the speakers I used to buy from RS were called Optimus… I should have registered that copyright instead of “Cockroach of the Road… Ah well…)

    With the rise of the internet, you could get the RS components cheaper than going to the store. Of course, if you have the time to wait. I rarely have the foresight to break something with the convenient amount of waiting time for overnight shipping to work, so I would need things like Radio Shack or Ace Hardware, where you walk in and tell someone what you need. Instant gratification. You get it right then and there, but you pay a premium for that convenience. This is the price I pay for my clumsiness. I can live with that. But I see that (many) others cannot.

    Requiescant in Pacem, Radio Shack. It was great while it lasted.

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    • There’s a whole lot to reply to here but I’m going to key in on the shopping experience. It was mildly oppressive with the info they wanted from you and the constant selling of warranties. I won’t miss that.

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