Technology

Is This the End of RadioShack?

Once-dominant consumer tech company's best days behind it.

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I once got a toy helicopter from there. Today it would be classified as a drone.
Credit: Curtis Gregory Perry / photo on flickr

Decades before the Apple Store, there was RadioShack. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was where many Americans rushed to purchase their very first home computers, the TRS-80. My family was part of that group, and I distinctly remember being adrift in huge crowds at a store in New Hampshire when my dad got one for us at home. As I was about 8 years old, I recall being more excited about all the remote-control cars they sold there and the Simon-esque handheld games. Once I discovered the TRS-80 could also entertain, it helped launch a lifelong love affair with all things video games. I may frequently forget the names of co-workers and which day of the week it is, but I can recite from memory the final riddle in an extremely early text adventure simply called Haunted House. It is embedded now within my DNA.

That was then; this is now. The home electronic scene has changed dramatically since then, and RadioShack has been rendered redundant. You can still buy all sorts of personal technology devices there, but we live in an age of Wal-Marts and Best Buys (and even Best Buy struggles). It's look as though RadioShack is about to say good-bye for good. From BloombergBusiness:

RadioShack Corp. is preparing to shut down the almost-century-old retail chain in a bankruptcy deal that would sell about half its store leases to Sprint Corp. and close the rest, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

The locations sold to Sprint would operate under the wireless carrier's name, meaning RadioShack would cease to exist as a stand-alone retailer, said the people, who declined to be identified because the talks aren't public.

The negotiations could still break down without a deal being reached, or the terms could change. Sprint and RadioShack also have discussed co-branding the stores, two of the people said. It's also possible that another bidder could emerge that would buy RadioShack and keep it operating, the people said.

Given that the company has lost 90 percent of its value over the past year, it's hard to imagine that happening. And if "Weird Al" Yankovic couldn't staunch the bleeding, then who could?

It will be somewhat sad to see RadioShack go, in terms of the childhood nostalgia of Gen-Xers and some Baby Boomers (which explains the Weird Al hail mary), but its loss is also a big reminder of how much more accessible personal electronics have become for all Americans. The TRS-80 launched with a home price of $600, the equivalent of $2,300 in 2014 U.S. dollars. An American family today could buy a modestly decent home computer, high-definition television, current generation game console, and a tablet, and still have money left over to pay for an Internet service provider and a Netflix subscription.

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  1. THERE ARE THREE EXITS FROM THIS ROOM.
    ONLY ONE IS TRUE.
    YOU MUST KNOW.
    BUT DO NOT BE BURDENED BY THIS CLUE.

    Before anybody asks.

    1. I was eaten by a gnu.

      Again.

      1. + 69,105.

    2. Trying to take the sign with you was a dick move anyway. What about the next guy?

      1. That was my older brother. Fuck him.

  2. Aw, man, that sucks. I like watching them managing to survive all of these years, overcoming seemingly impossible odds.

    I learned BASIC at Radio Shack on a TRS-80 with a cassette that served as some sort of memory device.

  3. I’m mostly familiar with RadioShack because it is where my dad buys his police scanners.

    My dad is not a computer-savvy guy, but I hope he can still find a good police scanner.

    1. The last thing I remember buying there, except maybe a battery or something prosaic like that, is a part for installing a new antenna for my old Accord. They had it right there in the store.

      1. Just got a pair of headphones from the one down the street from me. Guess I shouldn’t have sprung for the warranty.

      2. When Virgin Mobile launched a series of Android smartphones that didn’t totally suck for the time (about 5 years ago), RadioShack was the one place you could get them at launch. You could also pay cash for phone cards there, get data + txting + for $25, and not have to do cellphone taxes ‘n such.

        Better deals came online for phone cards, and then I had to get an iPhone for business anyway, but I liked that about them. Haven’t been in one since, ‘cuz the regular mall vendors and/or Five Below have better deals on iPhone cases.

  4. I woke up on Christmas morning to a pixelated Christmas tree on the TV that my dad had programmed into the brand new TRS-80 he bought me. Then he threw a BASIC manual at my feet and said “learn, or don’t, I don’t care”. Good times.

    I did learn. And then after I saw Wargames I programmed Global Thermonuclear War too.

    1. WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY A GAME?

      I must be 15 or so years younger than you. What did the TRS-80 cost and how did your dad afford it?

      1. i’m sure it was drugs.

      2. Are you kidding? My dad had every computer known to man at the time (he’s been a programmer since punch cards). He had a DEC, several IBMs, he bought a Fat Mac as soon as they came out, we had 3600 baud modems and 8 inch floppy drives, the whole works.

        1. my dad programmed as 400’s since they were new. He hated, with every cell in his body, PCs. He said they were barely computers and their only use was for an interface to program real computers.

          The only thing he hated more were apple products.

          1. AS 400s are ultra reliable and sturdy but they’re kind of retarded. And expensive as shit.

            My dad bought the Fat Mac to see what the whole GUI/Apple thing was about (he never bought an Apple II, but I had friends who had them). He goofed around with it and then decided it was for amateurs and I got to play Dark Castle on it and write my school papers on it, which was awesome because no one else had a GUI word processor at that point.

        2. Must have been cool to get into programming during those early days.

          1. We had all the bitches creaming in their jeans when we brought in our daisy-wheel printouts to class.

            /player

            1. I was in high school just as computers and word processing programs were coming out. For some reason the school teachers thought that using a word processor and printing it on a dot matrix printer was cheating (I don’t know why).

              The rule was that you had to type your formal papers out and they wouldn’t accept any computer print outs.

              My mom had a home tax preparation business so she was always way ahead of the game when it came to computers. She also had a daisy wheel printer for the tax forms. That meant that I could turn in my papers without fear of them being rejected.

              I wrote a paper on Civil War correspondents that I turned in for at least 5 different classes without the teachers figuring out it was the same paper. I was hooked on computers ever since.

              1. When did handheld calculators start being okay to use in the math classrooms?

                1. Mid to late 80’s.

                  I remember math profs sternly assuring us that calculators would never be accepted in classrooms in the 70’s / early 80’s.

                  1. Mid to late 80’s.

                    I think that depends on where you went to school. Calculators were generally not allowed in math classes in the early to mid 90s where I was. Chemistry or physics, OK.

                    1. My rule was, pass an arithmetic test using pen and paper, then you can use a calculator. If you can’t, drop my class.

              2. “I wrote a paper on Civil War correspondents that I turned in for at least 5 different classes without the teachers figuring out it was the same paper. I was hooked on computers ever since.”

                I knew a kid in college who was kicked out as a freshman… i couldn’t believe it, since you really had to *try* to get booted that fast… i was in his dorm room helping him pack, and on the floor was a paper with an “F” marked on it. he wasn’t around, so i looked at it, and the prof had written in the margin, “THIS ISNT WHAT THIS CLASS IS ABOUT”

                He’d basically printed up *someone’s paper about something* and just handed it in everywhere. I don’t actually think he even wrote it. That

                1. I think it was for

                  1) The English class where we learned how to write serious papers
                  2) History
                  3) Journalism
                  4) US Civics

                  There was one more, but I can’t remember it. I do remember, though, putting a lot of thought into the topic with the express idea that I could turn it in multiple times.

                2. At least they did him a favor by kicking him out. If they had waited until his sophomore or junior years, he would have been stuck with a hefty bill.

      3. There were a number of tax shelters in the early 80s built around how quickly computers depreciate as a capital assets, so it’s possible it was “paid for” via creative accounting.

        1. Of particular note is:

          ESTATE OF THOMAS v. COMMISSIONER

          One of the only times the IRS lost at the tax court involved a computer leasing shelter from 1985.

        2. Unless they were laundering money, I don’t think you need to put “paid for” in scare quotes, since capital depreciation is a deduction, not a credit (refundable or otherwise).

  5. Crap…my son still buys supplies there for his circuit mad scientisting. I hope the Sprint Store keeps some of that.

    1. Radio Shack has gone way downhill for that sort of thing anyway.

  6. The main Radioshack Campus in Ft. Worth has been used as a community college campus for a few years now. It’s a really nice building.

    It’s sad to see them go- but every time I’ve looked for something at one of there stores in the last few years they don’t carry it.

    No one really knows what they sell anymore- beyond rc toys.

  7. I went to Radio Shack to buy radios that actually had good AM reception. Cause I’m THAT GUY who still listens to AM radio. Still have the one – some German brand. Not cheap, but nice.

    Plus, it was the go-to for when I needed electrical/electronics “stuff” others didn’t necessarily carry – piezo speakers and stuff like that.

    RIP, Shack.

    1. “. Cause I’m THAT GUY who still listens to AM radio”

      You’re just Nerd-bragging now.

      I bet you have a metal detector too.

      1. No – but I’ve been thinking about getting one…

    2. I think the last thing I bought there was my shortwave radio, back in 1999. Most of the broadcasters are now internet-only, but a few are still on shortwave, and the thing has the FM and AM bands too.

      1. My alternate! Yes, I know of them – thanks! 🙂

  8. I have had a business concept since around 2007 that radio shack should be bought by Google and integrated into their own “Android Stores” for gizmo geeks.

    The sideline operation of providing doodads and widgets and flux-capacitor-converter-boxes would probably have to be phased out/ modified to some degree. there’s just too little margin on slow-volume items. But there’s still plenty of retail-worthy mark-up on cell phone batteries, adapters/plugs, computer-peripherals, etc, and some value added in having support staff who *aren’t fucking idiots* like the kind of people they have at cheaper big-box stores.

    I never really looked at the operations, but my impression was that they’d probably still have to close a large amount of their retail footprint either way… but anyway. God bless you, Radio Shack. When I was doing computer pro-audio stuff, you were always there for me. But those were days when you needed SCSI cables and MIDI-Serial converters and RCA-to-1/4″ jacks to make things go beep-boop-burp correctly.

    1. You’d have thought they’d have totally jumped into the “maker” fad and gone back to selling parts for everything.

      1. Yeah, that too.

        If i’ve learned anything from working inside/consulting w/ big corporations over the years, is that legacy corporate culture is like a freaking sea-anchor

        it literally takes a decade to turn the ship 30-degrees in any direction. by the time everyone realizes its getting ‘too late’, terror sets in and everyone just curls into a ball and pretends that everything will turn out just fine.

        1. YES. it’s the sunken cost fallacy at it’s finest.

      2. Or even did in-house contract 3d printing of whatever you needed, no questions asked about copyright on the design.

        1. “mauricegirodias|2.2.15 @ 3:56PM|#

          Or even did in-house contract 3d printing of whatever you needed,”

          it would be cheaper just to sell the dildoes.

          1. Not if you need a very specific angle.

  9. The first feminine hygiene product commercial during a Superbowl aired last night. Radio Shack is doomed, like all areas of the patriarchy. Boop-beep.

    1. People were bitching about that, but there were two male-positive ads celebrating dad-hood countering that one and the bit with the has-been/never-was comediennes. Best Super Bowl for men in decades.

      (Only commercial I can recall with a “stupid guy” was the dude who, feigning illness, blocked an airline middle seat until the pretty gal came along, only to discover she was a single mom. But even then, outside Jezzie-land nobody really hates a would-be pick-up artist for trying. It’s funny.)

    2. People were bitching about that, but there were two male-positive ads celebrating dad-hood countering that one and the bit with the has-been/never-was comediennes. Best Super Bowl for men in decades.

      (Only commercial I can recall with a “stupid guy” was the dude who, feigning illness, blocked an airline middle seat until the pretty gal came along, only to discover she was a single mom. But even then, outside Jezzie-land nobody really hates a would-be pick-up artist for trying. It’s funny.)

    3. Oh, that’s right. A men-focusing store in a mall? We can’t have that. Burn it.

  10. Fry’s is what RS should have been. RS, go die quietly, you’re not needed.

    1. Where am I supposed to go to get a new crystal for my ham radio, smartass?

        1. Jeez…..stop whining! Just set your “WayBack?” machine for 1956 like the rest of us do!

        2. Triode Electronics in Chicago. Or my cellar, which is stuffed with them.

      1. i hear the internet has some resources.

      2. If you have a ham radio, then you’re rich from never having to spend any money chasing women.

        Jesus, does RS even HAVE crystals any more? Does anyone still use them? Can’t you grow up and build a VFO?

        You’re dead to me.

    1. Why start now? Why start HERE, of all places?

      UNREALISTIC, IDEA, FIST.

      OMG! That’s so….meta!

    2. Realistic…on Hit & Run?!

      Who are you, and what have done with Fist?????

      1. OMG, you idiots. THERE ARE ALWAYS LAYERS TO MY WORDS. Layers upon layers.

        Follow the money. Or the product brands.

        1. you killed it with hinting

          1. Well, what could I do? Leave them to wallow in ignorance?

        2. I DON’T GET LAYERS UPON LAYERS, I ONLY GET WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS!!!!!

          1. WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS!!!!!

            ..in a spiral array…a pattern so grand and complex!

            1. TIme after time welose sight of the way our causes can’t see their effects…

    3. That is…

      .. OMG I CANT EVEN

    4. What difference, at this point, does it make?

  11. Go quietly, with dignity, grace and horn-rimmed glasses clutched firmly to your pocket protector fair Radio Shack. You will be missed.

  12. Once upon a time in an America long long ago…
    Radio Shack was the place you went to buy electronic components. Resistors, capacitors, vacuum tubes, breadboards, audio jacks, cabling, etc etc etc. And the people that worked there could help you find what you were looking for.

    It was an America where a young boy could buy a heathkit transceiver and get his ham radio license.

    Then Nixon went to China and the profit margin on Chinese consumer electronics reinvented the Radio Shack business model. They still had electronic components, but they were all shoved into one corner in the back of the store, and the staff knew fuck all about them.

    What retarded the growth of western civilization for the final quarter of the twentieth century was that no other store took up the slack. Now days the home hobbyist can get everything from A/D converters to Zener diodes from the internet. But the 80’s and 90’s were dark days indeed.

    Radio Shack may only know be going out of business but it’s soul died many years ago.

    1. Read Genius, James Gleick’s biography of Richard Feynman.

      Richard Feynman had a mere 120 IQ. But he developed a strong curiosity about physics just by being the neighborhood radio repairman during his teenage years.

      Kids need that kind of freedom to tinker. That’s why I hate Apple products.

      1. One caveat though: The Apple ][ series of computers were like the VW bug in that you could hack the shit out of them.

        I remember labeling the cam on a Disk ][ drive for each track on a floppy disk to determine what track was being accesses during boot up to see where the copy protection was located.

        Apple lost its soul when Jobs’ vision of Apple overtook Woz’s vision, IMHO.

        1. Oh come on, Apple has not “lost its soul.” Nobody can make a MacBook Air or iPhone in such a way as to make it (hardware) “hackable.” They’re just too small, integrated, and advanced. What do you want to do, solder in a different processor? You probably can’t set the spark advance on your new BMW, either, like you could on a Model T, but why would you need to?

          OS X is very hackable, being a certified Unix. True, iOS is not, but that’s a design/user interface tradeoff that they made, and it certainly has worked well for them. But with a few notable exceptions, you can still write iOS apps to do most anything.

      2. Richard Feynman had a mere 120 IQ.

        Feynman, on short notice, had the highest Putnam score in the country. There’s not a chance in hell he had a 120 IQ.

        1. Well, that’s what several biographers have written. However, they all use Feynman as a source, so he could have been lying.

          1. It was some childhood test. Either Feynman didn’t know much about IQ or he was just fucking with people.

            Think about it. We know he’s well north of 160 in Math, so in a simple M+V model he’d have to be functionally illiterate to average out to 120.

            1. How are IQ tests different today than they were in the 1920s?

              I had a test done relatively recently, and when I got my scores back, there were measurements in at least 5 different areas.

              Feynman could have scored a genius in Math, average on the Verbal, and perhaps an even lower score in some other area.

              1. I don’t know. I took an IQ test at school in the 2nd grade and it was mostly just arranging shapes and stuff. This type of test has an extremely low ceiling — not at all like an adult IQ test, especially one for an eminent scientist.

                “Feynman could have scored a genius in Math, average on the Verbal, and perhaps an even lower score in some other area.”

                What other areas? He was surely exceptional in all the spatial stuff. It’s doubtful his vocabulary was below average. And then you’re into stuff without the g-loading to drive down the score that much.

                1. It might be an apocryphal story, but if I recall, Feynman did have a below average vocabulary.

                  Not only did he mention his own insecurity about the way he spoke, but his colleagues also took notice of his lower-class speech.

                  1. His verbal skills really were remarkably poor compared to … Princeton grad students and Cal Tech professors.

              2. A full-scale IQ test is a measurement of an individual’s general intelligence. Whereas the childhood tests are a quick and dirty way to tell who’s bright and who’s dull.

    2. ” And the people that worked there could help you find what you were looking for.”

      It was like a half-way house for terminal*-dorks

      (*see what i did there? Terminal? because the workstation requires a adapter to ensure the reception of your antennae is converted to the correct bandwith frequency to the HOYVENGLAVIN)

    3. RS always sucked for components. Always. They drove all the chain and independent electronics hobby parts places out of business (Lafayette, anyone?), then descended into total suckdom from merely mostly suckdom.

  13. Radio Shack was the go-to place for parts while we were in college. Where else were you going to get resistors, wire, and 555 timers for a project you put off till the last minute?

    1. My school had a little parts store in the engineering building that sold all that sort of stuff at cost.

    2. “Where else were you going to get resistors, wire, and 555 timers for a project”

      You know you’ve got trouble when this is your “core consumer demographic”

      1. Lando Calrissian?

  14. The last time I went to Radio Shack (to buy wire wrap, iirc) there was a girl working in there. I shouldn’t have to deal with that shit, man. I just wanted some wire wrap.

  15. Some humor via Ace of Spades. There’s even clowns.

    Kaboom was made with a special secret ingredient: Contempt.

    Did I eat Kaboom as a kid? You bet I did. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have such a strong memory about it. If I never ate Kaboom, I would have just said, “Oh, that’s the cereal that other children whose parents don’t love them eat.”

    But no. I ate Kaboom. Quite a few times. Mor

      1. For a time I loved that game only slightly less than Berzerk.

    1. To live the Kaboom experience, you have to pour the powdered milk, that was thinned out to save more money, on it. I have no really good memories of the 70’s.

  16. does anyone know if there are online stores that sell individual electrical components like Radio Shack?

    1. Most of them are in China, but just check ebay/Amazon for a shit-ton of large vendors who have stores. Shipping generally takes more than a week.

      /Can also buy direct from Alibaba.

    2. Digikey, Mouser, Newark, and Allied Electronics are my go-to places.

      1. I use Mouser a lot…very quick shipping.

      2. +4. I depend on them.

    3. Fasttech.com is my go-to place for cheap Chinese shit.

    4. Sparkfun and Adafruit have been my go-to places for stuff recently. Went to RS also but they were really expensive and didn’t have a huge range of stuff. I did buy a large assortment of resistors from them, though, that’s served me well.

  17. Shit. I actually really liked that store. First Firewire tech is dumped by the industry, now Radioshack dies. If I weren’t hopped up on Haribo gummi bears right now, I’d probably be pretty depressed.

  18. Even in the 80s Radio Shack was a pretty sad place. About the only time I ever go there is to get a weird fuse size, solder, a few spools of wire, or some random bit that I need to finish a project. Other than that – Digikey, Mouser, or Allied Electronics.

    For audio junk – Antique Electronics, Triode Electronics, and Ebay.

    1. Note for Ebay (and even some mainstream sellers) Chinese counterfeits have become a real issue – op-amps, capacitors, you name it.

  19. Never been inside a RS.

    Now, let’s reminisce about a true gem of the ’80’s: Bartles and Jaymes wine coolers!

    If RS had had Blue Hawaiian flavor and cute boys inside, I’d have totally been there. But, nope, so nope.

    1. Did you get the 2l bottle version? The one with a plastic handle on the side?

      I remember drinking the shit out of those in high school. We’d always buy them thinking we could entice girls to our parties. Then when no girls showed, we’d chug them ourselves and get smashed.

      1. You needed the Seagram’s to get the chicks, man.

        1. I’m going to go with your theory that it was product selection that screwed us and not the fact that we were a bunch of obnoxious assholes.

          If only we had gone with Seagrams instead of Sun Country we would have been rolling in it.

      2. I would’ve come running for the plastic handled one. But I was sophisticated so Blue Hawaiian was my flavor. Basically Kool-aid with alcohol. Good times, good times.

    2. I liked the two old goofballs who played the “founders” in the ads.

    3. Back when wine coolers were made with wine, not beer?

  20. this is sorta Radioshacky…

    http://www.raspberrypi.org/for…..46&t=14476

    the raspberry pi 2 is now out.

    1. Neato. I still haven’t had the chance to muck around with my Beagleboard…it’ll be obsolete before I do, I bet.

  21. I worked at the Radio Shack in the downtown mall in Minneapolis in the late 80’s. We sold the shit out of those old Motorola brick phones. Our customers were all young drug dealers. Often they were confiscated by the cops so the dude would buy multiple times.

    My problem was that I was the only one in the store who could tell a resistor from his ass so I got stuck with all those customers for a really shitty commission.

    1. “I said Female-to-Female *stereo* 1/8″ Y-plug. this is a mono-splitter. GROAN”

  22. Sprint is dying too. Why would they think some old RS stores could help them?

    It would be like a bookstore chain tying in with Blockbuster in 2008.

  23. thanks i just bookmarked them all

  24. *Everyone talking about their TRS-80 experiences*

    Holy shit, I forgot how old some of you people are. Is this what I’m going to be like in ten years when I’m explaining the thrill of 90s DOS games?

    1. If you really want to hear some old time war stories, why don’t you ask us old timers about the first internet pr0n.

      For me it was in the 8th grade and there were three files (purge8, purge9 and purge10) that were ascii art of naked girls. Of course being 8th grade boys we spent hours planning a way to get access to the printer in the computer room so we could print them out.

      Later I remember having to download multiple files from usenet, concatenate them with one program and then having a special gif viewing program to look at them. You whippersnappers don’t realize how easy you have it.

      1. Dark days for the human libido.

        1. I do remember downloading a GIF of a naked woman, in the days of modems and before there were JPGs. Ooooh, 256 colors!

  25. You would think Radio Shack would be able to benefit from the whole “Maker” movement.

    They should be selling Arduino boards and Raspberry Pis and accessories.
    They should be selling electornics gear, motors, robot parts, quadcopter kits and so forth.

    There’s a huge market for a retail store that caters to “makers”, and Radio Shack is obviously positioned to get that market.
    Most electronics geeks know of it, although they also know that it doesn’t stock too much actual electronics anymore, sadly. Although I still wander in there once in a while if I’m really desperate for a part and there is nothing else around.

    1. I really doubt retail stores are a draw to maker types.

      The range of components available at a retail outlet can’t compare to the internet.

      1. Well my experience is anecdotal, but I worship Fry’s, and despise RadioShack. Sometimes waiting two days for shipping to get your electronics project up and firing is too long

        1. Not to mention when you screw up on a value or hook up power the wrong way without a diode…sometimes it’s just nice to drive down to the store and grab a replacement.

  26. I remember getting my free battery every month back in the late 70’s. Good times.

  27. I’m surprised you fail to mention how Radio Shack has completely changed its character.

    When I started shopping there in the 70s, Radio Shack was primarily an electronic parts store, where teenagers could get what they needed to build radios and other gadgets from plans in a book, or from kits. They also served people who repaired their own TVs. And while they did sell some complete appliances, they tended to be the kind of things you couldn’t get at Sears or K-Mart – shortwave radios, or CB walkie-talkies, or voice stress analyzers. Gadgets you could have fun with.

    But sometime around 1990, RS stopped carrying any of those things, and became a place to buy cheap, lousy computers and answering machines, and not much more.

    I miss the old Radio Shack enormously. I won’t miss the new one at all. They did it to themselves.

  28. RadioShack misread the market so badly, its comical. They should have embraced the maker faire crowd, sponsoring clubs and all else.

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