Memories of a Radio Shack addict

Once RadioShack is gone, where will DIY-ers go?

Once RadioShack is gone, where will DIY-ers go?For years I had an old Radio Shack — note the space between the words — “battery of the month club” card in my desk drawer. It is probably still back in Texas somewhere, never making my move to Silicon Valley. I got it when I was a kid and really wish I could find it again. A piece of Radio Shack’s glory days.

If you never had one, this was a card that, presented monthly, earned the bearer a free battery, up to a 9V cell. The card had monthly spaces that were punched when the battery was received. This was before alkaline batteries, back when Radio Shack basically demanded your name and address on every purchase so it could send you catalogs through the mail.

I likewise saved several of Radio Shack’s final printed catalogs and probably my very first cell phone, a Nokia-for-Radio-Shack brick that fit beautifully into the water bottle holder on my old Schwinn hybrid bicycle.

That phone, I forget who the carrier was, allowed me to be riding around the lake in Dallas while editors in Silicon Valley edited my stories. With the phone, they could call for questions while I rode. Without the wireless wonder, I was stuck at my desk until 7 or so because of the two-hour time difference.

My friend, the late Ed Juge, ran Tandy/Radio Shack PR at the time and arranged a discount on the phone I could not afford. $999 was a lot of money 30 years ago. Juge, who at one time ran part of the Tandy computer business, played a bigger role in popularizing personal computing than many realize.

Radio Shack did more than change my life

 

Realistic DX-150A

Realistic DX-150A

The first piece of electronics I remember really wanting badly was a Realistic DX-150A shortwave receiver. It was $109.95. This was more than 40 years ago and I was just a kid interested in radio.

Purchased by my father, that receiver opened the world to me and started me on a career that began at age 15 in at WRR, a Dallas radio station. Next came newspapers, then tech trades and now I am here. Radio Shack did more than change my life, it helped me become me.

Radio Shack did more than change my life, it helped me become me.

In its heyday, Radio Shack was headquartered in Tandy Center, Fort Worth, TX. The high-rise had a shopping gallery that included a Radio Shack store that never seemed to be open.

That’s because it was a full-sized mock-up Radio Shack, used for photography and display planning. But, it did exist as a store in the corporate computer system and my special orders were placed there, at least on paper.

Remember, XENIX? That was the Microsoft-developed UNIX variant that ran Radio Shack’s multiuser computers in its stores during the 1980s.

It later because SCO UNIX, but Radio Shack actually sold it to customers for a while. Yes, there was a time when Radio Shack was a bit of a leader in PC-based business computing.

I never had one of those systems, but at my first newspaper job we wrote stories on Radio Shack TRS-80 computers with big floppy disks and Electric Pencil, the first word processor for home systems.

Radio Shack is dead. Long live Radio Shack!

 

RadioShack logo(1)It was not this week’s bankruptcy that killed Radio Shack, especially since the brand will probably live on in some form. Rather, the company died in bits and pieces as technology and retailing changed over several decades. The filing just made everything official.

Many say Radio Shack died with CB radio, or when most of the DIY components left the stores (the first time) or maybe it was the vacuum tube tester leaving or the inability to make a move into computers or….. You can name dozens of ways in which Radio Shack and customers lost one another over the years.

It is popular to blame Radio Shack management for the company’s failure, but I don’t see any other company that succeeded in its space. And none for nearly a century.

In terms of consumer electronics retailing, Radio Shack was one of the last companies standing. And that is if you can call what Best Buy is doing “standing,” if not, Radio Shack — born in 1921 and bankrupt in 2015 — was among the first and very last of its breed.

I have been missing Radio Shack for much of my life. But I miss it much more today.

photo credit: Radio Shack via photopin (license)