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boom-Shack-a-lacka-lacka boom (and bust)
March 4, 2014 7:40 AM   Subscribe

American electronics chain Radio Shack's dismal sales are resulting in a plan to shutter as many as 1100 of its stores. But let's look back to a happier time for the company, starting with their first catalog in 1939 and continuing through the decades: a fascinating stroll down memory lane at the Archive of Radio Shack Catalogs.
posted by flapjax at midnite (131 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 


Bring back the battery cards, revolutionize hands-on science-y kits for kids, sell more computer parts, cater more to power hobbyists (eg solar), and become more of a go-to cell phone store. Jeesh, it's not rocket science.
posted by codswallop at 7:47 AM on March 4 [27 favorites]


I'm currently listening to a ton of early Bowie using a CD player plugged into this Realistic receiver from 1971.
posted by davebush at 7:47 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Oh no! The shitty thing is that there are things at Radio Shack you literally can't get anyplace else - like universal external cellphone battery chargers and stuff.
posted by corb at 7:48 AM on March 4 [6 favorites]


Amazon has always been my go-to for the sort of thing I'd've bought at Radio Shack 5 years ago. They even sell Amazon brand generic batteries.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 7:49 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Pioneers of harassing you for your phone number for every single transaction. I put down my 9V and walked out once, since the guy failed to understand that "NO" is not an offer to have a debate about this.
posted by thelonius at 7:50 AM on March 4 [18 favorites]


Serious question: Am I the only one who finds nearly all Radio Shacks to have some kind of really weird incredibly offputting smell to them?
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:51 AM on March 4 [11 favorites]


A considerable amount of my youth was spent drooling over walkie-talkies in Radio Shack catalogs.
posted by davebush at 7:53 AM on March 4 [9 favorites]


Radio Shack catalogs, previously.

Damn, a double! Bummer...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:54 AM on March 4


I still have my Armatron robotic arm toy thing.

And I used to salivate over the Rat Shack metal detectors!

It's a shadow of its former self, though.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:59 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Radioshack has been basically bereft of visionary leadership for decades. It's pretty much the modern example of a zombie company that makes just enough on average to not collapse under it's own weight.

You'd think that the current trend away from big box electronic retailers would be something that they could capitalize on but they seem like they are generally stocked with overpriced mediocre shit and staffed by arrogant dickheads. Even though the collapse of the company would probably do a lot of damage to the local economy I kinda wonder if it's time for them to go the way of the dinosaur if they can't find a way forward.
posted by vuron at 8:00 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


It's a shame they didn't work the cell phone angle a bit better because I really think there'd be a market niche in being "The place to get and repair a cell phone from an unbiased third party that speaks in plain English".
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:01 AM on March 4 [4 favorites]


My favorite high school job was working at a Radio Shack. It was the best job I ever had as a teen: indoors, tech-based, and it paid 6% commission. I made more there than I did at my first post-college job.

I was pretty sad when they basically became Cell-Phone Shack. I get the kind of fiddly electronics parts I used to go to RS for at Fry's these days.
posted by Mad_Carew at 8:02 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I loved that new ad, but after watching it came back to the problem of, well, there's not really anything left I'd go to Radio Shack for. I wish they'd fixed that bit before the witty marketing.
posted by Sequence at 8:03 AM on March 4


I don't know what puzzles me more, the fact that they've stayed alive this long or the strange sadness I feel for this store.
posted by orme at 8:04 AM on March 4 [8 favorites]


Radio Shack has been replaced by a bunch of great online stores(Newegg, Monoprice etc) and the Amazon seller affiliate kraken. They had a chance to be those guys, maybe, but that's over a decade gone. At this point I would probably close a ton of the stores and completely rename the company with a new and more modest vision (like selling unlocked phones? seems like eventually the US is going to get out of subsidied phone hell).

To be honest I can't imagine why anyone buys fiddly electronics parts at a store anymore. Buy the exact part you need online for a tiny fraction of the price!
posted by selfnoise at 8:05 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


When I travelled around th country, I'd stop in the local Radio Shack to see what kind of job market they have in the area.

If the clerk embodied the saying "you have questions, we have acne," I knew there are jobs to be had.

If he knew his stuff, I knew to run fast from the area. When people with a clue staff the Radio Shack cashier stations, you know the economy's in the toilet.
posted by ocschwar at 8:06 AM on March 4 [52 favorites]


I'll be honest is electronics hobbyist a remotely viable target audience though? It used to be but in general the cost of electronics and the viability of working on them used to be way way higher so that you could generally see repairing simple electronics with parts from radio shack. I think that market has basically disappeared or retreated exclusively to web storefronts.

The size of most RS storefronts limits the viability of big ticket electronics items like TVs so it seems like they've basically been pigeonholed into the cellphone retailer market along with just about everyone else.
posted by vuron at 8:06 AM on March 4


Radio Shack going under will be bad news, because they're the best brick-and-mortar supplier for electronic odds and ends. A/V cables, headphone jack splitters, USB chargers-- sure, Best Buy stocks them, but they're plated in gold and cost $40. They're dirt-cheap on Amazon, but it's just a tiny little thing and I need it right now. This isn't arcane hobbyist stuff; it's perfectly ordinary 21st century nuts and bolts. Where can I get that stuff other than Radio Shack?
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:08 AM on March 4 [21 favorites]


Well on the bright side Best Buy seems to be basically following Radio Shack into oblivion as well so there is probably a niche for a small well run brick and mortar general electronics chain to be developed. Maybe they'll even realize that only selling monster brand components is stupid.
posted by vuron at 8:11 AM on March 4


Where can I get that stuff other than Radio Shack?

Totally agree. It kind of boggles me that the major hardware store chains like Ace haven't picked up on this. Sure, they have a rack of fake-gold-plated A/V cables, but that's not the same.

Kind of wondering if what's left of Radio Shack should strike a deal to set up a mini-store inside these hardware stores.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:11 AM on March 4 [6 favorites]


WIRED had a piece about whether Radio Shack could reconnect with the tinkerer/maker types back in 2010. Seems like it didn't happen?
posted by Wretch729 at 8:12 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Kind of wondering if what's left of Radio Shack should strike a deal to set up a mini-store inside these hardware stores.

Potential upside: Mini-store can be an actual shack!
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:12 AM on March 4 [11 favorites]


No, it didn't happen. Making it happen involves more than just telling the arduinoweenies that you have parts.

Really the people best equipped to make a profit selling hobbyist parts are the hackerspaces.
posted by ocschwar at 8:13 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Where can I get that stuff other than Radio Shack?

If there's a Fry's in your area they have a good selection of that stuff and their prices are pretty good.
posted by Sangermaine at 8:14 AM on March 4


I assume, without firsthand knowledge, that the reason other chains only stock the higher profit margin gold-plated stuff is that there are SO MANY little components that keeping stuff in inventory is a nightmare. Some basic HDMI cables sure, but when you might sell a specific weird little transistor or something only once every few months, why bother to keep the stick? Amazon (or newegg-type places) are just going to undercut you on price anyway.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:14 AM on March 4


Pioneers of harassing you for your phone number for every single transaction. I put down my 9V and walked out once, since the guy failed to understand that "NO" is not an offer to have a debate about this.

Well, sounds like it's too late now, but I always figured you could give them the number of another Radio Shack across town.

That said, I still want that insane three-siren, flashing-light bicycle accessory I coveted in a Radio Shack in the late 70s.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:15 AM on March 4


ocschwar - They are, and do!
posted by Wretch729 at 8:16 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


How do guys and girls really get into electronics these days as a potential profession? Back in the day there used to be all sorts of electronics repair shops and you could actually see doing stuff like building a computer from a electronics kit from Radioshack but where is the equivalent now? Programmable Lego kits? Car Stereo systems? The build your own PC market seems to be firmly in Fry's control and of decreasing viability long-term.

Where is the next generation of kitbashers coming from?
posted by vuron at 8:18 AM on March 4


When the iPhone 5s first came out and they were impossible to get, do you know who had stock? Radio Shack. However, they still managed to shoot themselves in the foot by only ordering the base model.
posted by w0mbat at 8:20 AM on March 4


In Canada Radio Shack is long gone; having rebranded as "The Source" same stuff mostly though; which is nice
posted by NiteMayr at 8:21 AM on March 4


I still have my TRS-80 Color Computer. We had model I, but then did an in place upgrade to... was it 32k RAM? and got the curved keys more like a real keyboard, instead of those damn chiclet things. I really wish I could get ahold of a tape player and cord to properly load tapes. We have Chromasettes and Coco Cassette. Oh man. And some carts too. One of the few possessions I have in the world that I will hold on until I die if I can help it. Nth Man comic series being the other. I'm not surprised to see this coming, but it's still sad.

And man, those kits! Electronics kits!
posted by symbioid at 8:21 AM on March 4 [7 favorites]


My dad helped me build a crystal radio set for a science fair, all done with parts from Radio Shack. This would have been about 1985 or so. I remember looking through little bins full of mysterious components with him.

I haven't been inside one in a while, and the last time I was, it was all phones and remote-control cars.
posted by PussKillian at 8:24 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I went to a Radio Shack and they not only didn't have any soldering flux, but the person working there who was "helping" me tried to convince me that I didn't need any.

Truly, a company that no longer knows why it exists or who its market is.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:32 AM on March 4 [7 favorites]


Where is the next generation of kitbashers coming from?

Out here, Microcenter has really ramped up their stock of raspberry pi's, arduino's, components, etc. They seem more than willing to capitalize on a market that Radio Shack seems to have abandoned.
posted by Poldo at 8:32 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I remember trying to purchase solder at a Radio Shack a few years ago. Had to explain what solder was. They didn't have it anyway.

Now they have some kind of partnership with Make and there's even Arduinos and other DIY things in some of the stores. But it's got a desperate feel to it that makes this news of store closings unsurprising.
posted by tommasz at 8:33 AM on March 4


Funny thing is that I visited Radio Shack this past year more than I have in many years. I've done, maybe a once a year, once every couple year visit for some parts (since our local audiophile store closed down, I can't support them so went to the Shack)... At my folks in small town Wisconsin, that's all that's available locally, so I went there to find some jacks and adapters. I also got my first cell phone this past January and got it at RS.

I like the smallness of the store. I really hate going to big places. I don't want to have to traipse around a big megastore just to buy a headphone jack. Get me in and out. My local Radio Shack fits that bill. That said, aren't some in malls? That doesn't help. If you can get the following, maybe it would help:

1) Own location - not in malls.
2) Small footprint. In and out. Quick an deasy.
3) Bring back electronics kits and parts.
4) Focus on cells and service.
5) Shit - why not MAKE it into a small maker-style space? Have educational sessions? Bring in speakers? Sponsor events, competitions... Make it more than just a shop. This could really be cool for places that don't have a maker-space proper. Having a community space for people... Offer discounts to "Maker" members. Charge fees for events...
posted by symbioid at 8:34 AM on March 4 [6 favorites]


TONS of people are really into electronics as a hobby. It's actually really booming right now, with Arduino and Raspberry Pi and FIRST Robotics and the recent revitalization of EE driven by hardware startups. But everyone orders everything online. Digi-key can get you any part you could possibly need overnight for very cheap. Their warehouse in rural Minnesota has an attached airport, and they fill an entire Fedex cargo plane every single night!
posted by miyabo at 8:35 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Homer: We'll search out every place a sick twisted solitary misfit might run to.
Lisa: I'll start with Radio Shack.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:35 AM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Count me among those feeling a strange sadness at this news; The Radio Shack experience has been generally kind of offputting for as long as I can remember (being harassed for your phone number and mailing address when trying to buy a $2.00 item with cash) but they've always been there as a place to get basic, cheap A/V stuff when you get into a spur of the moment weekend project and need some kind of cable/adapter/splitter RIGHT NOW. But even then, in the last 10-15 years it's seemed like they either don't quite carry what I'm looking for and/or are out of stock. And yeah, their hiring practices do seem to favor arrogant dickheads. My brother (who is not an arrogant dickhead) worked at Radio Shack briefly - he flamed out pretty quickly thanks to managerial and corporate bullshit.
posted by usonian at 8:35 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I think that's why making it a makerspace style thing, maybe if you have a hackerspace already, then team up with them...

You can't compete on price, ever. So do what you can to compete. Service, knowledge, community. That which an online store can't really provide in the same way. But not in a creepy sales person following you around.
posted by symbioid at 8:36 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I'll be honest is electronics hobbyist a remotely viable target audience though?

Well, there's a MakerBot store on Newbury Street in Boston now, so there has to be some kind of market for this hobbyist space if they can afford storefront on the fanciest shopping blocks in Boston. But like other people said, it's more than just a shop - they offer classes and scanning services, as well.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:38 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


If there's a Fry's in your area they have a good selection of that stuff and their prices are pretty good.

I live in Baltimore. I think Fry's is an urban myth.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:38 AM on March 4 [9 favorites]


I can't even count the number of Shack runs we made in college when we needed to pick up a resistor to finish a circuit for EET lab. The kits we bought for the classes were always missing a couple of resistors and diodes and a capacitor or two.

With the growth in the maker culture it seems like there is a niche to exploit there. Turn over part of the store to the local maker group, maybe rent 3-D printer time and sell supplies, etc.
posted by COD at 8:38 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


"Radio Shack going under will be bad news, because they're the best brick-and-mortar supplier for electronic odds and ends. A/V cables, headphone jack splitters, USB chargers-- sure, Best Buy stocks them, but they're plated in gold and cost $40. They're dirt-cheap on Amazon, but it's just a tiny little thing and I need it right now. This isn't arcane hobbyist stuff; it's perfectly ordinary 21st century nuts and bolts. Where can I get that stuff other than Radio Shack?"

See, I thought that, but the last several times I've gone, they haven't had the stuff I needed, which was pretty basic (headphone converter, female/female RCA connector, some random amp fuses). They did have a cellphone case, but it's been a long time since I've felt like they're more than, "You've got questions, we've got batteries."
posted by klangklangston at 8:38 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Where is the next generation of kitbashers coming from?
My four year old daughter and nine year old niece spent a chunk of last Saturday afternoon editing C code to reprogram color-changing Christmas lights. The older kids are now trying to learn Python (not sure whether it will "take" for the nine year old, but her older sister is already making progress) and the younger kids get their Arduino Uno (not for a whole $35 light string yet, but to try programmatic control of a couple RGB LEDs we'd played with on a breadboard previously) tomorrow.

Radio Shack isn't dying because hobbyist electronics is dying, Radio Shack is dying because they can't compete with this and this.

I think the kids are going to be fine.
posted by roystgnr at 8:39 AM on March 4 [5 favorites]


JoeZydeco: "Kind of wondering if what's left of Radio Shack should strike a deal to set up a mini-store inside these hardware stores."

This would really work great, and would help these hardware stores too as they battle the Lowes and Home Depot behemoths. There is one thing Radioshack has over Frys and Ace has over Lowes and HD - size, or lack thereof. I can pull right up to the front door, run in and buy one tiny (albeit overpriced) thing, like a M10 stainless panhead screw or a headphone splitter and be out of there. At the big box places that's like a 30 minute quest.
posted by Big_B at 8:40 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


This surprises me, since not too long ago, my local White Castle was shut down and replaced with, you guessed it, a Radio Shack. Would love to know what happened there.
posted by jonmc at 8:42 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


I worked at Radio Shack in my early 20's, it is an extremely sales oriented job. You have minimums of phone number collects, credit card attachments and overall sales volume.

Things like cell phones and satellite TV plans were the biggest source of income and my manager would harass me if I didn't harass every old lady that came in for a battery about a cell phone plan.

The employees don't want your phone number, they don't want to harass you but they have to, and it sucks when some smug neckbeard gets all pissy about it.

"Thank you kind sir for buying a single 9V battery, truly it is your .50c purchase of some resistors that pays the bills at our retail location. You have every right to get all huffy about a phone number and rant for 10 minutes when a simple 'No, thank you.' would suffice."
posted by kzin602 at 8:44 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


And yet, a Tandy Leather store just opened down the street.
posted by madajb at 8:45 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Look, I probably shouldn't even say anything, but I work there now, and I did a little jig when I saw this.
Like all of you fellow nerds, I have a rather odd attachment to The Radioshack thanks to my dad. All of you guys that are nostalgic for Transistors and Adapters and Radios, I love you all.
But you're why the brand is dead.
Not you, specifically, but all of (us, really) gathered together into the demographic. We're smart enough to hate normal Retail Shopping (can I have your phone number? warranties, etc.) and when options popped up, we took it and haven't really gone back.

A lot of you have pointed out that, yea, they're the only place left that you can get an RCA-3.5mm cable or some equally odd adapter. But think about just how many different types of plugs there are. Now double that number for male/female. There's so many weird things that even with an entire wall dedicated TO adapters, some fools gonna get mad at us for not stocking something that gets his Wii hooked up to an HDMI-only tv, and they'll blame us. Even if we do have it, it's a solid ten bucks more than he thought it would be, and they'll shop at amazon now.

Make no mistake, there are some pretty decent plans you could implement to save that store/brand/whatever, but there is no way in fuck they'd get the leadership to actually do it.

The ship hasn't sunk, it hasn't even hit the iceberg yet. But it's officially too late to turn, all that's left is to Brace For Imapct.
posted by WeX Majors at 8:47 AM on March 4 [5 favorites]


> Buy the exact part you need online for a tiny fraction of the price!

Plus $5 shipping and a week wait!

Seriously, it is true that Rat Shack charges too much for electronics parts (like, $5 for a phono plug that's less than $2 online), but the parts themselves aren't bad and you get to implement them right that same day. So it's a convenience cost that I'm usually willing to pay for, and I don't have to spend hours stocking a cart with a lot of might-use-someday items to justify the minimum shipping threshold.

I wouldn't mourn Radio Shack if there was any competition in this sector, but there isn't. The old fashioned radio and TV supply shops run by grunty old men went the way of the dodo decades ago, and Fry's is only a viable option if you live proximal to one of the rare few that actually exist. The hacker revolution may be a thing, but so far it's apparently too small a thing to foster a new era of storefront electronics retail.
posted by ardgedee at 8:51 AM on March 4 [4 favorites]


Radio Shack was my go to place for all of my patch cables and adapters when I started four tracking back in 1994. For $20 I could get all of the cables I needed for my pedal board and the transistors to repair my pedals and four track without driving another 15 miles to the next nearest electronics store and paying three times as much. Sure, the quality was terrible, but for a broke high schooler in rural Virginia looking to record crappy demos Radio Shack was a godsend.

It must have been 1998 or so when I gave up on them and started buying in bulk from Musicians Friend when they started the "must capture data every transaction" nonsense. The last time I went to a RS (in 2008) to get a RCA splitter I had a young Shelley Levene following me around trying to get me to buy a cell phone.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 8:53 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


We have "The Source" at my local mall. I'm tempted to walk in just to browse, but it seems to be always empty and I'm worried I'll become entertainment for the polo shirts.
posted by davebush at 8:56 AM on March 4


To be honest I can't imagine why anyone buys fiddly electronics parts at a store anymore.

Because sometimes you're soldering up a project and then you turn on the power and damn the magic smoke gets out of your little resistor. It's nice to be able to walk over to Radio Shack and pick up one today and get back to your project.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 8:59 AM on March 4 [7 favorites]


a young Shelley Levene

Awesome.
posted by davebush at 9:00 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


My local RS sells Arduino kits. Seems to me they could be pushing the Maker angle even more.
posted by monospace at 9:11 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I don't get the hatred for RS employees. Whenever I walk in and they ask "can I help you?" I just say "no, thanks!" and get what I need myself. It's much more fun that way.
posted by monospace at 9:13 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


The obligatory Onion Article.
posted by and for no one at 9:15 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry to hear about the "Radio Shack" store closing, but at least I can still get my electronics at the similarly named, but cooler, "The Shack."
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:19 AM on March 4


I was at the mall doing mall stuff with my 8 year old and we popped into Radio Shack so I could pick up a capacitor for a project we were working on. We walked back to the drawers filled with electronic odds and ends and the boy was just floored. "You can buy this at the mall?!" It was like I had shown him a Nether Portal right next to Chick-fil-A.
posted by Otis at 9:20 AM on March 4 [9 favorites]


god i loved those stores. fahnestock clips, coils of hookup wire, pnp and npn transistors, diodes, resistors, capacitors, they had it all and it all fired this old fart's boyhood imagination.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:28 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


If the Rat Shack closes, it officially puts electronics back at a smaller niche than comic book collecting. Frye's and Microcenter aren't anywhere near as widespread as Radio Shack, of which there is one with a fully stocked electronics DIY section near almost every population center in the USA. There will be more comic book shops than DIY electronics retailers - online-only can't make up for the loss, especially in foot traffic and impulse buys. Lots of hobbyists won't bother keeping up if they have to wait a week to get a 25¢ resistor snail-mail, where they'd go to the Radio Shack, and drop $5-$10 on various parts and supplies while they were there.

That said, extremely poor pressure-sales tactics, including the fucking phone number thing and sales staff who were trained not to take no for an answer on anything, did them in.

Have more didn't-know-I-needed-it-until-I-got-home stuff than the Best Buy, for cheaper than the Best Buy, combined with the DIY electronics stuff, and they would have done fine. Where else can you walk in to find a battery for your car's key fob? Did they ever advertise they could do things like sell you a replacement battery for a car's key fob?

It's pretty sad all around.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:38 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Dear Microcenter,

Please fill this niche.

Love,
Guy without Fry's.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:43 AM on March 4 [4 favorites]


[Couple comments deleted. Feel free to criticize Radio Shack, just don't call people actually in this thread names.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:46 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Spent so many hours pouring over these catalogs as a kid and had one of the Electronic Project Kits. Such a great introduction to science!
posted by gallois at 9:47 AM on March 4


> Bring back the battery cards, revolutionize hands-on science-y kits for kids, sell more computer parts, cater more to power hobbyists (eg solar), and become more of a go-to cell phone store. Jeesh, it's not rocket science.

The trouble is that you just can't do this with a lot of small stores. How can they possibly compete with places that have catalogs of millions of computer parts?

And they're already in the cell phone business - as are hundreds of thousands of other stores. There aren't huge dollars to be made there.

Fast, cheap delivery from the internet doomed Radio Shack and there wasn't anything they were going to be able to do about it - even if they hadn't goofed as badly as they did, it would only have been a matter of time...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:48 AM on March 4


For those of you lamenting DIY electronic kits, universal converters and 10-pack LEDs, this niche has been filled by Sayal Electronics among others.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 9:52 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


My dad and I put together my first rudimentary recording studio at our neighborhood Radio Shack in 1990, with this guy and a pair of these and whichever 1970s cassette deck he had lying around (I went through three or four of 'em before finally getting a four-track). Fond memories indeed, but the place has just gotten more and more depressing every time I go in there. That being said, I was able to get some car stereo wiring components there recently after spending hours looking in the bigger box stores.
posted by mykescipark at 9:52 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


5) Shit - why not MAKE it into a small maker-style space? Have educational sessions? Bring in speakers? Sponsor events, competitions... Make it more than just a shop. This could really be cool for places that don't have a maker-space proper. Having a community space for people... Offer discounts to "Maker" members. Charge fees for events...

This is actually a great idea. Places like Joanne's Crafts have already demonstrated that you can build an audience, create community, and sell merch with this sort of in-store class, and I have a feeling that they'd be able to find some decent instructors willing to work peanuts.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 9:57 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Did they ever advertise they could do things like sell you a replacement battery for a car's key fob?

Good grief; I didn't even know Radio Shack does that! I wouldn't have driven all the way to the dealership.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:04 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Kind of wondering if what's left of Radio Shack should strike a deal to set up a mini-store inside these hardware stores.

This is exactly the set-up they have in Alpine, TX. The Radio Shack is inside the True Value. I lived right across the street and used to walk over to pick up nut, bolts, cables, and gadgets.
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 10:10 AM on March 4


These guys are getting priced out because of the value of real estate, just like every other retailer in the US. In any market large enough to provide the adequate amount of customer traffic a store like this needs to stay alive, property values are now so absurdly high that nobody can afford to stay.

In Boston, the only places that seem to be surviving are restaurants, banks, cell phone stores and mega-chains.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 10:14 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


We've got a Radio Shack literally across the street and I never think of stepping in. I'm just too used to the web shopping model now. Where else can I read hundreds of reviews of a 12V LED bulb? Shop around for the perfect HDMI multiplexer? Compare Raspberry PI kits while reading about ARM instruction sets? Compulsively empty and refill my cart as I wonder if I need all this stuff anyway?

Certainly though, I won't be able to pick up a spare SP0256-AL2 speech synthesis chip at Wal Mart.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:18 AM on March 4


Good grief; I didn't even know Radio Shack does that!

They even put it in for me, and let me test it before they rang up the sale.

If they asked "how can we make your neat electronic things more convenient and reliable for you?" instead of "You want a warranty with this cell phone plan?" they'd be in much better shape. Service makes more money than retail alone. "Oh, your camera is slow - let's check the firmware, yup out of date. I can fix that - do you have a spare memory card? No? Well, we have this one on sale, it's all you need for this. I'll ring it up, and we'll download and update your camera."
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:19 AM on March 4 [4 favorites]


It seems that Radio Shack has been on the skids forever. Here is another previously.

The OP of that one was my brother, who is now deceased. He would have been interested in this, thanks for posting.
posted by vortex genie 2 at 10:23 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


The last Radio Shack I was in was a combination Radio Shack, Pharmacy and Christian Bookstore. It was a weird place. Despite that, it was incredibly helpful when teaching the basics of electronics to a high school physics class. I do not, however, think this is a viable model outside of small, dying towns.
posted by Hactar at 10:25 AM on March 4


I can't imagine why anyone buys fiddly electronics parts at a store anymore.

    It's nice to be able to walk over to Radio Shack and pick up one today and get back to your project


Sometimes you don't know you're going to have a project. Sometimes you need a 047pf capacitor and a 1MΩ resistor and some shrink tubing (maybe even a couple of 741s) for an RF or music project that has to be working tonight.

There used to be other places you could go to buy this stuff: TV repair shop, ham radio store, a military surplus store. Not too many of these nowadays.

Radio Shack was the place that:
a) Probably had 'em.
b) You could rely on them to be open when they said they'd be open.
c) You probably would not get a disease or infection from touching anything there.

Dear Microcenter, Please fill this niche.

Well, yeah, I suppose they already are with the cables and some of the hobbyist stuff. I haven't seen them selling discreet analog or digital electronic components, breadboards, project boxes or any of that so far.

But it just might be a nice little expansion for them.
 
posted by Herodios at 10:27 AM on March 4 [3 favorites]


Did they ever advertise they could do things like sell you a replacement battery for a car's key fob?

They even put it in for me, and let me test it before they rang up the sale.

The Autozones by me do this as well. And tool rental. As a matter of fact (and to pile on w/ everyone else) this is EXACTLY the business model Radio Shack should be following. I'd love to fix/hack some of my old mp3 players & stuff but I need all these fiddly little tools AND someone to walk me through it.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:31 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Kind of wondering if what's left of Radio Shack should strike a deal to set up a mini-store inside these hardware stores.

My childhood Radio Shack was in the back of a Friendly Frost appliance store on Long Island. This was back in the 60s so they've done this, at least in the past.
posted by tommasz at 10:32 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Kind of wondering if what's left of Radio Shack should strike a deal to set up a mini-store inside these hardware stores.

This is exactly the set-up they have in Alpine, TX. The Radio Shack is inside the True Value.


Hey, it worked for Subway and Tim Horton!

I look forward to a Radio Shaft mini-mart inside every SuperAmerica, Speedway, In-and-Out, Gas-n-Go . . . in every small town and every expressway interchange across America!

There should be a vacuum tube tester in there as well.
posted by Herodios at 10:35 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


The old Radio Shack is where 10-year-old Spatch would run in ahead of his brothers, hit up the model TRS-80 on display, break whatever demo they had running on it, and do the ol'

10 PRINT "RYAN IS A BONERHEAD!!!"
20 GOTO 10

gag. No more.

The nearest Radio Shack to me recently renovated, rebranded itself, and now looks like a cellphone store. Their signs billed it as not a re-opening but a grand opening. I don't know if that signifies a management/franchisee change or what, but it felt weird. Maybe I better stock up on the one item I go in every three to four months for. They surely won't last this round of closures if they've just made this kind of desperate sea change.
posted by Spatch at 10:38 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


In Boston, the only places that seem to be surviving are restaurants, banks, cell phone stores and mega-chains.

I see precisely 0% chanc of Radio Shack being priced out of their store in Fresh Pond Mall. If they close it, there are other reasons.
posted by ocschwar at 11:00 AM on March 4


"The employees don't want your phone number, they don't want to harass you but they have to, and it sucks when some smug neckbeard gets all pissy about it. "

I know it's corporate policy, and understand that the counter-level folks have no say in it. I still tell them to note that it got a complaint and that hell no, I'm not giving RadioShack my phone number.

"There used to be other places you could go to buy this stuff: TV repair shop, ham radio store, a military surplus store. Not too many of these nowadays."

Yeah, our local TV repair doesn't sell any components, our local surplus doesn't have anything cool (East Germany's collapse was really the zenith for those joints), and the last time I went into a ham radio store, it was powerfully weird and they still didn't have what I needed.

(Though, to be fair to them, I was working on a school project where I needed lampblack, which has now been rebranded as graphene and is expensive as hell since people can't just clean carbon sheets out of their oil lamps. I saw a DIY from Scientific American that starts with telling you to go to your clean lab and process a piece of oxidized silicon with hydrochloric acid and hydrogen peroxide. Our textbook was written in the '90s, but I can't imagine 'lampblack' being a regular consumer item then either. Apparently, if you have some and a couple of electrified nails, you can make a pretty sweet microphone, though.)
posted by klangklangston at 11:00 AM on March 4


The employees don't want your phone number, they don't want to harass you but they have to, and it sucks when some smug neckbeard gets all pissy about it.

I don't know when you worked there, but in the mid-late 90s they were just militant about asking for your number. A polite no thank you was met with three rounds of objections. It was easier just to make up a number than decline.

At some point they wisely dropped this practice, though. One doesn't have to be a "neckbeard" to be put off by it, though.
posted by planetesimal at 11:10 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


At some point they wisely dropped this practice, though. One doesn't have to be a "neckbeard" to be put off by it, though.

No, but one does have to be a neckbeard to hassle the clerk over it when the clerk would rather finish the transaction and get back to his SAT prep book.

Just give (some area code) 867 5309 and be done.
posted by ocschwar at 11:36 AM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Surely I'm not the only one with a Google Voice number used specifically for these types of things?
posted by Dr-Baa at 11:36 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile back at the shack . . .

a fascinating stroll down memory lane at the Archive of Radio Shack Catalogs.
WP: In 1970, Tandy bought Allied Radio and began to merge the brands into Allied Radio Shack. However, after a federal government review, the company sold off the remaining Allied retail stores and resumed using the Radio Shack name.
A related site archives Allied Electronics (for everyone!) catalogs. I still have my copy of this 1967 Allied Catalog, which features such oddities as this build - it - yourself kit open reel tape deck with an overhead tape transport. I think it was intended for use in the Southern Hemisphere only.
WP: At one point [in the early 1970s] CB radios [accounted for] more than 20% of Radio Shack's sales . . . As the popularity of CB declined, the company sought new products. . . . .

In February 1977 they showed [the TRS-80 prototype], running a simple tax-accounting program, to Charles Tandy. The program quickly crashed as the computer could not handle [Tandy's salary -- $150,000] . . . [they] added support for floating-point math to prevent a recurrence.

Radio Shack announced the TRS-80 later in 1977. . . . by 1984 computers accounted for 35% of [RS] sales.

The TRS-80 cost . . . $599 with a 12" monitor and datacassette. Before this, the most expensive product Radio Shack sold was a $500 stereo . . .
And here it is, on the cover of the 1971 RS Catalog. As I pointed out in another thread, in 1971 you could buy a new car for less than $2000. Tuition at Harvard was $4000. Median household income was less than $10,000. That's one expensive stereo.
 
posted by Herodios at 11:46 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Finding staff knowledgeable about the products sold must be a major hassle. Taking somebody through a standard pitch to try to sell them a warranty does not require too much knowledge. But somebody who really understands even something as quotidian as how to interconnect tv components -let alone one who can also explain this knowledge to a non specialist- is probably going to be way under-paid if remunerated from the small margins such gizmos offer. Those commenting on Amazon reviews of HDMI connectors often do understand such complexity -from specialist education and first hand experience. I am unsure how Radio Shack could compete unless they could persuade this kind of guru to volunteer their time.
posted by rongorongo at 11:56 AM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I was working on a school project where I needed lampblack . . . I saw a DIY from Scientific American that starts with telling you to go to your clean lab and process a piece of oxidized silicon with hydrochloric acid and hydrogen peroxide.

Apparently, if you have some and a couple of electrified nails, you can make a pretty sweet microphone . . .
"Herodios, I must have some sponge platinum", said Klangklangston distractedly, "about a kilogram. Or a block of the pure metal, perhaps ten grams, would be even better.”

“This bag, I assure you, Klang, contains no platinum, graphene, nor oxidized silicon; nor is it likely to in the future."

"You’re asking me to work with equipment which is hardly better than stone knives and bearskins.”

"We have no choice! We must . . . "

Just then, the door flies open, and Mom says, "Boys, if you hurry, you can get some lampblack at the art supply st-- . . . what the hell is that?!"

Quickly stuffing his head into a stocking cap, Klang straightens and says, "I am endeavouring, Madam, to construct a microphone out of stone knives and bearskins.”
posted by Herodios at 12:20 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


I have several bins full of cables and adapters, almost all exclusively bought at Radio Shack, usually on the way to a gig, because someone lost/stole/forgot some cable for their gear. Radio Shack was awesome and a life saver more than once due to it being open until 9PM (usually), and their racks of cables, adapters, etc, etc. I even have a cheap-ass 2-channel DJ mixer that we had to pick up to replace one that got whiskey and coke dumped on it. That thing still works, too, and it's now almost 20 years old. Sucks for any real DJ'ing, but if you just need to connect 2 sources and output to a loudspeaker, you can't go wrong with a $45 DJ-mixer and $5 worth of cables saving your bacon.
posted by daq at 12:20 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


Ebay, Amazon, Monoprice, Sayal, Digi-Key, Mouser... Other than the "I need it *right now* contingent, this is a golden age for getting just the parts you want, at high quality, dirt cheap.

Rat Shack rarely offered more than two of those factors at once, and nowadays is basically "the place grandparents go for a novelty universal remote with giant buttons, a crappy cell phone with worse plan, a digital picture frame that will never actually get loaded with pictures, and an RC helicopter for little Timmy that may or may not ever actually fly."
posted by stenseng at 12:33 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


The last time I was at a Radio Shack was because the capacitors in my plasma TV were dying. Was it my last stop? No. That was Fry's.

I've always checked Radio Shack first for these things and ten years ago I could pretty much get in and out with what I needed. While I was looking for those caps I noticed that pretty much 90% of what I was able to get a decade ago was no longer there, and this was the same exact Radio Shack only now half the space was mobile phones and other portable devices.

I'd order online if I had foresight, but as mentioned by many others: sometimes you are okay with the premium when you need to get one single thing to finish a project now.

The reminds me of the other thing about Ace: I stripped a bolt and hit up the B&B Hardware (Ace) five minutes from me. Couldn't find it and ended up at Home Depot.

I'm lucky Fry's and Home Depot are within twenty minutes of me, but Radio Shack and Ace are five minutes away and both take a tenth of the time in-store to get what you need. But neither had nor will, it appears, they ever have again what I need. And that's kinda sad.
posted by linux at 12:34 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


No, but one does have to be a neckbeard to hassle the clerk over it when the clerk would rather finish the transaction and get back to his SAT prep .

Good for you, but if somebody was going nuts on you, it was probably because you were the only one to accept no for an answer. I stopped shopping there in the nineties because I was tired of the BS. The fact that a 50¢ purchase could require that much hassle is exactly the sort of ridiculous indignity that would make a sane man snap.

And no, I can't be arsed to remember a bogus phone number just to lie to you.
posted by wotsac at 1:11 PM on March 4


And no, I can't be arsed to remember a bogus phone number just to lie to you.


How hard is area code plus 867-5309 to remember? :) Odds are these days, the cashier probably won't even get the reference...
posted by stenseng at 1:43 PM on March 4


The last time I was in the local RS, I was looking for a particular USB cord. The sales clerk told me that I could probably get the same cord at the Big Lots a few stores down for about $20 less, which turned out to be correct. Which would be why I stopped shopping at RS.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:52 PM on March 4


I actually bought some resistors at Radio Shack a week or two ago, and this was after stopping by Fry's first. I'm not sure the last time the local Fry's has restocked their electronic components section, and they recently rearranged the store layout and when they moved the resistors they decided that there was no reason to actually order things by resistance, so while they may have actually had the value I was looking for, I was unwilling to read every single tag to be certain. At Radio Shack I just walked in, found the cabinet, opened the drawer and there was a bin right there with what I wanted.
posted by ckape at 2:07 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


I really felt optimistic last time I was in a Radio Shack. They had Arduinos and even Arduino shields. I bought one, mainly to encourage them to sell more of that stuff. I think there is surely a market for stuff like that, but probably only in bigger cities and with slicker branding. Maybe SparkFun will open up stores.
posted by scose at 2:13 PM on March 4


And no, I can't be arsed to remember a bogus phone number just to lie to you.

I usually ended up with "Keep pressing numbers until you can take my money."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:13 PM on March 4


Also I just bought some emergency 9v battery terminals at radio shack a couple of weeks ago!
posted by scose at 2:14 PM on March 4


I'm a proud owner of a 1960 Sherwood tube stereo system that I restored with a friend. Here they are in the catalog for about $375. These 50 year old relics absolutely smoke my huge Yamaha home theater receiver in sound quality. Radioshack hasn't sold anything of this kind of quality for a very long time. Thanks for the link!
posted by TrialByMedia at 3:00 PM on March 4 [4 favorites]


LOL @ stenseng's "RC helicopter for little Timmy that may or may not ever actually fly."
posted by symbioid at 3:02 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but can you use MONSTER cables with that stereo, TrialByMedia? Huh? HUH?
posted by symbioid at 3:03 PM on March 4


Fortunately, no, the input connectors on tube equipment tend to be very close together when compared to modern units. Snake oil cables are a no go on these classics.
posted by TrialByMedia at 3:06 PM on March 4 [1 favorite]


How hard is area code plus 867-5309 to remember?

No harder than

1060 West Addison
Chicago IL 60613

(also a big help at Radio Shack)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:54 PM on March 4 [6 favorites]


If he knew his stuff, I knew to run fast from the area. When people with a clue staff the Radio Shack cashier stations, you know the economy's in the toilet.

I used to go to a Radio Shack on Long Island where every time I came in, the clerk would defensively explain that he used to work at Grumman Aircraft. The economy was in the toilet.

I remember when I was a kid my father would take me to Radio shack, and it was a tiny store with just enough room to walk up to the counter and ask the nice man to get you the resisters and vacuum tubes you needed for the radio you were building.
posted by acrasis at 5:36 PM on March 4 [2 favorites]


Mr. Roquette and I get things at Radio Shack now and then, he is very into rebuilding old computers, and the occasional radio. There is one at the nearest mall. I guess it's going away. The Hallmark store went Bye-bye.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:46 PM on March 4


"To be honest I can't imagine why anyone buys fiddly electronics parts at a store anymore. Buy the exact part you need online for a tiny fraction of the price!

Because fiddly electronics parts are a lot like plumbing components, and you need them RIGHT THEN (and occasionally have to take another trip to the store because you didm;t buy quite the right thing).
posted by jonathanhughes at 7:40 PM on March 4 [6 favorites]


To be honest I can't imagine why anyone buys fiddly electronics parts at a store anymore. Buy the exact part you need online for a tiny fraction of the price!

Immediate Gratification Lad does not wait for delivery. He drives to the store for a resistor now!
posted by Mad_Carew at 8:13 AM on March 5 [2 favorites]


Not only have they almost eliminated their inventory of electronic parts there was a time where you could ask the guy up from for a 100 volt mosfet and he would take you to it. Now you'd just get a blank look even if they carried it.

Question for audiophiles: How were the 70s era Radio Shack (Realistic) stereo components? If one found one of their receivers at a garage sale is it worth buying?
posted by DieHipsterDie at 2:09 PM on March 5


Simple question, complicated answer:

Radio Shack didn't make any stereo equipment. All their Realistic-branded audio gear came from a broad variety of manufacturers. Some of them are very good (headphones from AKG, Koss, and so on, receivers from Panasonic, Sherwood, and so on... Speakers from all over the place, sometimes cobbled together from multiple high-quality vendors), and some of them are not.

If you can establish that a given piece was Radio Shack's TOTL in a particular year, odds are good it was probably one or two steps away from that manufacturer's own TOTL. In other words, pretty good, and likely to be a better deal than the non-rebadged version would be going for. There are exceptions to this rule of thumb too, so don't cling too closely to it.

Anything lower-tier is probably better-than-nothing, at best, unless a given item appeals to you in some idiosyncratic way. And, sometimes, a midline item proves itself more worthy (at least in cost-for-performance) than its betters. In which cases, love trumps logic. Go for it.

This is true of other seemingly off-branded stuff, by the way: JC Penney's MCS line of audio equipment from the late-70s is Technics. You can be surprised by what's out there.
posted by ardgedee at 2:33 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


@TheHipsterThe

Depends on the era. Early through mid seventies Realistic receivers were actually quite good - in fact Roland, Technics, and Pioneer were the OEMs for many of these units. Late 70s - early 80s, still not garbage, but declining in quality. Anything after is landfill material.
posted by stenseng at 2:34 PM on March 5 [2 favorites]


I still think that, crappy as Radio Shack is/was, the USA doesn't know how lucky it is to have a high street electronics component outlet. In the UK, unless you were near a few-and-far-between Maplins, there was nothing with a storefront, and many of the mail order places were heavily trade-only. So even if your electronics were limited to a 555 and a few blinkenlights, you could get that at Radio Shack, unlike most of the world.
posted by scruss at 3:52 PM on March 5


Question for audiophiles: How were the 70s era Radio Shack (Realistic) stereo components? If one found one of their receivers at a garage sale is it worth buying?

As far as contemporaneous audiophiles went, RS had zero reputation. As others have indicated, OEMs varied -- sometimes there were clues as to which MFR actually MFR'd the MFG thing, other times not. (For example, the distinctive Panasonic speaker connectors.)

But it seemed that in every catalog there was something that stood out as pretty good quality and a bargain at house-brand prices. For a while it was a 7-in reel tape deck with sound-on-sound. Another time it was a pretty decent multi-band shortwave receiver. Sometimes speakers. Once or twice, a hi-fi receiver.

One recurring frustration with bargain hi-fi receivers of the early 1970s was weak front-ends in the tuner section [receiver = tuner + amplifier]. FM stations were few and far between: the coolest progressive stations even moreso. Inevitably, the station I wanted would be 50 miles away, and the cheap receivers I could afford couldn't quite bring 'em in, in stereo, while also fully rejecting adjacent signals. Everything was analog, remember, and the tuning was mechanical and imprecise. Eventually, I was reduced to constructing a 14-element yagi antenna out of coat-hangers, aimed directly at one particularly desirable station.

Fast forward to today's far more crowded FM band, that weak adjacent-signal rejection may bite you if you aren't interested in listening to the closest, most powerful signal in town.

On the other hand, for listening to phonograph records, nothing beats 1960s tube amps with 1970s speakers. I keep a pair of late 70s Advents around for just this purpose.

Oh, one more thing: if you do buy a cheap old stereo and you want to listen to elpees, make sure it has a built in phono pre-amp. Some didn't, and won't be able to hear your Bang & Olufsen turntable without an outboard phono pre-amp -- which you can still buy from . . . Radio.Shack.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:40 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Well, hell, Herodios, you just saved me a lot of angst about getting a new receiver. All of the ones in my price range haven't had pre-amps and I've got an old Technics turntable that plays great but needs a pre-amp. I've been wanting to replace the one I've got forever, but kept holding back, looking for deals on receivers with the pre-amps in 'em.
posted by klangklangston at 9:57 PM on March 5


There are also non-shack alternatives, like this one from BBE.

Whichever, just remember to attach the ground wire, hmmmmmmm?
 
posted by Herodios at 10:04 PM on March 5


Not 100% sure about this, but when I replaced my receiver 5-10 years ago, I think I read that "modern" receivers with a labeled "Phono" input meant that that input effectively had a pre-amp. Plausible?
posted by benito.strauss at 10:20 PM on March 5


Yeah, but finding one with a dedicated phono input on a "modern" receiver ups the cost by like $100 bucks.
posted by klangklangston at 11:29 PM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Is this one of those deals where the preamp is mostly needed for impedance matching?
posted by thelonius at 11:33 PM on March 5


Nah, the output on record players is way lower than the line output on the rest of components, so it'll sound faint without a pre-amp, and you can pick up a lot of noise if you kick the gain to compensate.

Honestly, though, in looking at the prices again, I'm noticing that a lot of mixers are cheaper than the integrated amps or receivers, and since I don't care much about FM, I'm wondering if I shouldn't just look to get a decent 4/8 channel mixer instead. There's probably good reasons not to do this, but I'd imagine that since the mixers can increase the gain per channel, and lots of them have built-in pre-amps, I'm not sure why it wouldn't work OK.
posted by klangklangston at 12:05 AM on March 6


Make sure the inputs on whatever device is specifically designed to lift phono level signals to line level AND applies the RIAA eq curve.

Keep in mind what you're amplifying -- the tiny changes in joltage provided by the needle riding the physical curves in the record groove. That's like millivolts. In order to make this work, they've standardized a radical equalization curve on the recording, which must be reversed in playback.

So just boosting that tiny signal will not do the job. Look for "RIAA phono inputs" or similar. Likewise, don't plug something at line level into the inputs of one these, either.
 
posted by Herodios at 4:09 AM on March 6


Partly the impedance match, partly the gain -- which, if you don't have anything measuring what's going on, is going to sound like the same thing anyway. That wouldn't be an issue, though: any decent receiver can put up with thousands of Ohm output impedance through any of its inputs. If that was really the only issue, all you'd have to do is turn the volume knob a little higher when you listen to vinyl.

No, the real reason why you need a phono preamp is to compensate for the RIAA curve, which is designed to compensate for technical limitations of vinyl and record transcription. Without that compensation your records will sound trebly and thin. The detail in that Wikipedia link about competing standards is worth noting. I have a couple late-50s integrated amps (yes, they have tubes; yes, they run hot; yes, they are retro-smexy and sound like champagne) with dial switches from which you can select from a half-dozen or more different recording EQs, as well as fiddle with stereo balance and separation to compensate for some of the really terrible mastering that record companies were releasing.

If your receiver was made before the mid-90s and it had a labeled phono input channel, that channel is preamped. EVERYBODY had record players before cassettes and CDs finally took over the recorded-music sector, so EVERY receiver and similar device had a built-in phono preamp. Some have better phono preamps than others, but that comes with the territory; some receivers are bigger than others, too. The exceptions that don't have preamps are far rarer than the ones with them, and tended to be at the higher end of the audio world where customers were expected to buy separates of everything anyway -- that trend didn't kick off in earnest until the late 70s.

If you want to insert your own, better, phono preamp into the system, then do that -- although if a $30 Radio Shack preamp box sounds better, odds are that what your receiver really needs is a tuneup, because even solid state components have limited lifespans, especially when they've been run hot for years on end -- but then you have to eschew the phono input and use either one of the non-preamped auxiliary inputs (sometimes labeled "tuner" or "tape in" or sometimes even "phono 2" is non-preamped) or a tape loop.
posted by ardgedee at 4:31 AM on March 6


My 1968 Lafayette receiver did not have an RIAA phono pre-amp. Many older receivers didn't, especially low-end house brand units from the likes of RS; which is a) why I brought it up and b) why RS and others made and sold stand-alone phono pre-amp in the day.
 
posted by Herodios at 4:48 AM on March 6


That's interesting... I haven't happened across one without a preamp yet. Learn something new every day.
posted by ardgedee at 4:57 AM on March 6


OK, you guys are making me reach far far back into my memory banks backup data center, and the answer -- with the raising of much dust and the creation of that ozone-y smell you get when you fire up such ancient equipment as mine -- the answer is --

is --

is -- "ceramic cartridges".

Low-end hi-fi phonographs like the kind that were in my price range in the late 1960s and early 1970s were often fitted with ceramic phono cartridges*, which can provide acceptable performance without RIAA equalization. Knowing this, the makers of similarly low-end receivers sometimes provided inputs designated "phono", but not backed up by a RIAA pre-amp circuit.

Cheap console stereos, kid's record players, and inexpensive component stereos employed this technology. Radio Shack, Lafayette, Allied, Sears (in fact, most department stores) were all re-badgers of low-end OEM hi-fi equipment, and that's where you're likely to encounter receivers with non-RIAA "phono" inputs and record turntables that have the look of hi-fi components, but which are equipped with ceramic cartridges.

For a number of years, my "hi-fi" consisted of a Lafayette LR-75 25 watt receiver with no phono pre-amp; a "Soundesign" turntable with a ceramic cartridge; an early 1960s Wollensak 1200 series tape deck (with tube-type PAs!); and a pair of ported bass-reflex speaker cabs I'd built myself, filled with 12-in three-ways I'd bought at -- Radio Shack.

---------------------------------------
* The cartridge holds the needle / stylus.
posted by Herodios at 7:33 AM on March 6


"So just boosting that tiny signal will not do the job. Look for "RIAA phono inputs" or similar. Likewise, don't plug something at line level into the inputs of one these, either."

Yeah, but since that phono pre-amp is like $20, I figured I could get one of those and run it into the mixer, then just run the rest of the stuff as line.
posted by klangklangston at 8:08 AM on March 6


While cleaning the basement yesterday I found this Radio Shack brand computerized chess game. Unfortunately it's not even worth Ebaying, so I guess it's going to Goodwill.
posted by COD at 11:20 AM on March 6


First they came for Lafayette Electronics, but I said nuthin'
Then they took away the Heathkit, with barely a whisper.
Then they cancellled the battery card program and still no one cared.

(But seriously, how did the company ahead of the pack on Home Computing watch the entire Maker and 3d printing thing whiz by them without even a notice?!?)
posted by Fupped Duck at 6:23 PM on March 6 [1 favorite]


At a guess, they decided to give up on bigger-ticket items that draw a better-off customer base in favor of lowest-common-denominator customers, whose biggest purchases are going to be cellphones and fancy headphones, and not be aware of what an Arduino kit is.

Take that as a sweeping statement about a trend rather than an absolute truth. Looking around my general area: There are three major universities within striking distance, as well as ghettos notorious enough to make the national news. There are a couple Radio Shacks that seem situated specifically to cater to one university's students, but otherwise the Radio Shacks are easier to find in low-rent areas, closer to dollar stores and discount grocers than to department stores and Whole Foods. They just aren't putting themselves where people with disposable income and an inclination towards moderately expensive hobbies are going to be.
posted by ardgedee at 4:26 AM on March 7


Herodios -- yeah, I've been coming at the question from the higher end; for a long while through the 90s and early 00s, tubed equipment and classic receivers could be had for the price of hauling them away, and I've got a couple nice pieces for prices ranging from free (Heathkit AR-1500 rescued from a recycle bin) to $12 (a Harmon-Kardon Citation IV preamp whose seller was repeatedly cutting the price without my asking because she really, really wanted to be rid of it, and eventually it was getting kind of embarassing).

The vinyl revival and general hipsterish fascination with old electronics has made the likelihood of that happening again pretty slim, although there are still a lot of obscure gems if you know what to look for. See previous comment about JC Penney's MCS line. I grew up being able to listen to lower-end equipment and higher-end equipment and don't have a whole lot of nostalgia for the cheaper stuff; my ten-year-old self couldn't wait until he was old enough to afford Real Gear.

There's a particular character to some equipment that's appealing, and some of the best audio gear from the 70s is still on par with many-kilobuck audio systems today -- thanks to audio meets I've been able to compare them side by side. At the same time, I think modern equipment's usually going to be more reliable and sound better for the price, outside of lucky vintage finds like mine. You can plug that Radio Shack preamp into any damn thing, and so if you only listen on headphones, plug it into a CMoy headphone amp that you can build for $8-15 in parts (or buy one on Ebay for $30, or have an electronics-savvy buddy build you one for the price of parts and a sixpack of good beer). If you like speakers, get a T-amp for $30. Either option will sound measurably better than a lot of 1970s and 80s audio gear.
posted by ardgedee at 5:02 AM on March 7


Man, for a while, I had a Sony amp that looked like the TA-1120, except it was black. I think that was the best sounding amp I've ever had, though it was an absolute monster in terms of weight (and it used to do the thing where sound would keep coming out for a couple seconds after you turned it off if the source was still going), so when I moved cross-country, I left it behind. I've still got the speakers I used with it, the APM-615.
posted by klangklangston at 8:27 AM on March 7


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