Photography, Stories Told

Tubes

We were the last family in the neighborhood without color TV. Dad was resolute: “Our set works. We’ll use it until can’t be fixed anymore.” And so we soldiered on with a black-and-white console set through most of the 1970s.  It broke down occasionally, as tube-type sets did. Mom called the TV repairman, a small, wiry, salt-and-pepper-headed fellow who remembered our set: “Oh! The 1966 RCA black-and-white console! I’ll be over this afternoon.”

RCA-TVDad’s latent impulsive streak emerged one evening in 1977: he brought home a new color set. Surprised us all! It was a table model, metal cabinet, solid state and reliable. We never saw our TV repairman again.

I brought that old RCA to my first apartment in 1989. The picture was out. A buddy of mine with electronics skills came over to have a look. We pulled a bunch of suspect-looking tubes and carried them over to an electronics shop a couple blocks away. Their tube tester — an anachronism even then — told us that a couple tubes were bad, so we asked a crusty old fellow at the counter for replacements. “Tubes!” he said, shaking his head and smiling. “Bill! These kids are here to buy tubes!

Mom and Dad moved out of the family home last summer after 38 years. All manner of stuff emerged as Mom prepared to downsize into a condo — including a bag full of tubes. Were they from our old TV? Mom said she thought so.

Progress Is Our Most Important Product

General Electric is one of the world’s largest manufacturers, but in recent years the company has sold off most of its consumer products lines. For example, Electrolux makes and markets GE washing machines and refrigerators. Walmart slaps GE labels on coffeemakers and toasters that are probably made in China. I guess GE still makes light bulbs.

The Forgotten Network

DuMont manufactured televisions and television components, and even had its own fledgling television network in commercial TV’s early days. Wikipedia has a pretty good article about the network; read it here.

Raytheon, ISC, Tung-Sol

We associate Raytheon with government military contracts today, but apparently they were once in the tube business. I’d never heard of IEC or Tung-Sol before.

Tubes, Naked

I unboxed a few tubes and set them up for this photo. I was shooting my Nikon F2AS and my 55mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens, which focuses very close. I had a roll of expired Fujifilm Neopan 400 inside. I made all of these photos on my family-room coffee table with the blinds wide open on a gray day, with five incandescent lamps turned on around the room. Even with all that light, my shutter speeds were very slow; I put my camera on a tripod. All of these photos looked a little better in the viewfinder than they do here, but I’m not displeased with them.

You Can Be Sure

I lament how the red lettering (“Electronic Tube”) ended up a little washed out in this shot. I wonder what filter I might have attached to the lens to make those letters pop. But otherwise I like how all of these colorful tube boxes turned out in black and white.

Tubes

That old TV is long gone; we never could get it to work. So I’m not sure what I’m going to do with these tubes. But I enjoyed their vintage package designs and had fun photographing them.

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Stories Told

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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