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This is not your father's shack.
May 10, 2010 9:50 AM   Subscribe

"We’re living in a disposable world. It’s just not worth it to repair things; it’s not worth it to build things from scratch. The magic of that seems to have passed.” The death of Radio Shack.

Does our world really need another cell phone
vendor?
posted by woodjockey (123 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
We'll always have Fry's.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:51 AM on May 10, 2010 [9 favorites]


RadioShack is where I went as a kid to ooh and aah over electronics. It's sad to see it turn into yet another smartphone strorefront.
posted by blucevalo at 9:53 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I feel like Radio Shack has systematically failed to adequately re-invent itself over the 4 decades I've been going there. Like after the tube went nearly extinct, they kinda went into a funk and have been faking it for 30 years.
posted by spicynuts at 9:54 AM on May 10, 2010 [14 favorites]


Heh - to hear some of the real grognards talk, Fry's killed all the really good electronics stores in the valley and is slowly turning into Radio Shack. It is, however, the Radio Shack where you can pick up optical cable for your fiberchannel gear and blank copper boards to hand-etch so I guess it's still cool enough. Also: shaped like a Pyramid.
posted by GuyZero at 9:56 AM on May 10, 2010


I'll never forget what my dad said about his changed opinion on Radio Shack because it's seemed to apply to so many other things in my life:

"I stopped going there when I started knowing more than the guys who were trying to sell me stuff."

(This was probably 20+ years ago.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:57 AM on May 10, 2010 [43 favorites]


.
posted by Splunge at 9:59 AM on May 10, 2010


Obligatory.
posted by brozek at 10:00 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


In lieu of a dot, I will post a zip code:

89109



Now where's my freakin' battery?
posted by mazola at 10:03 AM on May 10, 2010 [23 favorites]


As a teen, I worked at my local Radio Shack. At the time, there was something like 5000 McDonald's in the world and about 7800 Radio Shacks so when customers would ask me what to do if something broke I'd tell them that if they could find a McDonald's in the area, look around and they'd probably find two Radio Shacks.

No, I don't have a point.
posted by JaredSeth at 10:03 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, my very uninformed but, I feel, valid opinion is that anything new is harder to fix because all of the circuit boards that are in EVERYTHING. It would be difficult for Radio Shack, or anyone else, to stock thousand of different boards. The nature of the stuff we have has just changed. Who can really tinker on their car anymore other than changing oil?
posted by Danf at 10:05 AM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


When my little box that I used to test fencing equipment died, I opened it up, looked at the part that fizzled, then went to Radio Shack and searched and searched on their wall until I found it. Something like this. I took it home, soldered it back in, and it worked! I remember looking at all the stuff hanging on the wall in Radio Shack and wondering just exactly what it did, and why there needed to be so many different kinds of things that all looked basically the same. It was fascinating.

Years later, my lab partner and I would make trip after trip to Radio Shack after letting the "magic smoke" out of various electronic components. It was a cool store just a few years ago. Now, they ask for my telephone number just to sell me a pack of screws. At least they're supporting professional cycling.

pours some out for Radio Shack
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:06 AM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I believe it's simply called "the Shack" now.
posted by 26.2 at 10:06 AM on May 10, 2010


MCMikeNamara: "I stopped going there when I started knowing more than the guys who were trying to sell me stuff."

How much would RS have to pay their point-of-sale employees to get people who were willing to do the job *and* knew more than the sharpest of their original customer base? I'm thinking a lot. Expertise is expensive.
posted by doteatop at 10:08 AM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


But his shop is a lone outpost; in a single generation, the American who built, repaired, and tinkered with technology has evolved into an entirely new species: the American who prefers to slip that technology out of his pocket and show off its killer apps. Once, we were makers. Now most of us are users.
I think this has just as much to do with the technology that gets made than with some slope of "Americans getting lazier".
posted by amethysts at 10:09 AM on May 10, 2010 [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 10:10 AM on May 10, 2010 [17 favorites]


I hardly ever go to Radio Shack. But they've saved my butt at least a couple of times when I've been tinkering with computer or sound things at night, and need to run somewhere quick to get a part. They carry things that other local stores don't (like thermal paste for a CPU).
posted by SpacemanStix at 10:10 AM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


> I feel like Radio Shack has systematically failed to adequately re-invent itself over the 4 decades I've been
> going there. Like after the tube went nearly extinct, they kinda went into a funk and have been faking it for 30 years.

Too dam' bad they tried to reinvent themselves in the first place. I have a tube guitar amp, if the Shack had a decent stock of good Soviet-era tubes recycled out of old MIG-25s I would buy them.
posted by jfuller at 10:12 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


From the article:
...he kept a plastic breast on his desk that made a gong sound when he pressed the nipple. It was how he called for more coffee.

Nice!

In Toronto all the Radio Shacks have become The Source. And they suck. I hadn't been to one in ages and went in on Friday to see if they had this crazy old battery I need and there's just the tiniest section of electronic parts now. Luckily, we have Above All Electronics close to me on Bloor (went there last week to get supplies for my daughter to make the rite-of-passage potato-powered clock for science class) or Active Surplus on Queen. But where do you go in the 'burbs or small towns when you need a strange adapter or a circuit or something? Canadian Tire is turning into Wallmart.
So ya, I miss the Radio Shack of yore. That said, when I was a kid it was really disappointing when you asked for a radio or tape recorder or something and you got the inevitable Realistic brand instead of a Sony or whatever.
posted by chococat at 10:12 AM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


like thermal paste for a cpu
This
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:13 AM on May 10, 2010


> How much would RS have to pay their point-of-sale employees to get people who were willing to do the job *and* knew more than the sharpest of their original customer base?

I don't think he was expecting that. I think he was hoping the staff would at least be able to help him pick the right solder for a task.

When I visit my local (Radio)? Shack, if I can make it from the front door to the parts section before the staff ask me if I want help, I know they're going to leave me alone because none of them know what that stuff's for.
posted by ardgedee at 10:14 AM on May 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


I blame Lance Armstrong.
posted by afx237vi at 10:15 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


And, doteatop, you have the unfortunate side-effect of customer stupid on top of it. When I worked at CompUSA many many moons ago, I got hired in as an Apple expert.

Because I knew more than your average bear about both Apple AND PC systems, and because I was the ONLY person on staff with the level of Mac knowledge I had then, I got paid twice as much as the other employees. I want to say $12 an hour off the top of my head, which was a goodly sum for a college kid ca. 1995.

One crazy Christmas season, a guy comes in and wants to buy a Mac. I sidle over and ask if he needs help. He says "that's ok, dear, I'll wait for one of the guys."

He waits about 30 minutes.

Chosen penis-haver tells him "I'm sorry, you'll have to speak with her about your questions, she's the only one here who knows Macs."

Customer's head asplodes.

So yeah -- it's not just the sales staff, it's the customers, too. The sort of people who ARE qualified and know more, in general, than the customer base don't necessarily want to deal with the public no matter how much they're going to get paid. Chances are if you know that much, you can make a lot more money working somewhere else AND you don't have to do face to face customer nonsense, too.

But to throw a number out there, you'd have to pay me about $40 an hour to put up with working at a Radio Shack or any store that sells electronics these days. Well, except an Apple store -- I'd do it for $20 and the sunshiny love of Steve Jobs.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:16 AM on May 10, 2010 [23 favorites]


Great article.
But his shop is a lone outpost; in a single generation, the American who built, repaired, and tinkered with technology has evolved into an entirely new species: the American who prefers to slip that technology out of his pocket and show off its killer apps. Once, we were makers. Now most of us are users.
The majority of Americans have always been users, not makers. In the 80's, only a small, die-hard portion of the population could ever have dismantled and diagnosed a TV, turntable, radio or tape recorder, or assembled their own computers.

We didn't change. The retail market expanded to give every user, at all levels of expertise more options, while Radio Shack continued to cater to the die-hard user -- who suddenly didn't have to solely rely on them anymore. Also, technology has gotten a lot more complex from the time of transistor radios. And some companies (Apple) have even deliberately tried to make their hardware user-proof and non-upgradeable. These are just some of the reasons why Radio Shack has been struggling for years.
posted by zarq at 10:17 AM on May 10, 2010 [11 favorites]


The slide has been long and slow and we have seen it coming with every seal and "no user-serviceable parts inside" sticker. Shiny, flimsy widgets mass-produced in some locale most Americans can no longer readily locate on a map are easier to give to the toddlers, that they might enjoy the three remaining blinkenlights, and have trounced the cared for and the reliable. Out like vacuum tubes, disco, and TV repair.

Goodbye, endlessly overlapping works of Forrest M. Mims III. So long, slide pots. Adios, neat little racks of components to which I felt a primal preparedness urge, like a survivalist viewing a particularly sturdy can of tinned meat. Aloha, charming kits, mostly wasted on children whom I misjudged, either through character or wishful thinking, to have a potential affinity for electronics.

Hello, racks of adapters and proprietary, incompatible batteries. Howdy, faux chrome. Greetings, extended service warranty. Felicitations, pre-pay cards of all stripes. The Shack, like a book about faith idiotically persevering in the worst possible conditions, will stagger forward as long as shareholders believe that a 7-11 version of the portable electronics section of Best Buy is a Good Idea.
posted by adipocere at 10:17 AM on May 10, 2010 [18 favorites]


We'll always have Fry's.

FSVO "we".
posted by DU at 10:18 AM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Wow, the really cool find in the Wired article: a link to page scans of Radio Shack catalogs spanning 1939-2005.
posted by jamaro at 10:19 AM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


I still build stuff (mainly guitar pedals) with electronics components. While I'm wistful for the days when I could get parts at Radio Shack (I had a gold card there when I was 18), the story seems odd coming from the pages of Wired. There are still plenty of places to buy electronic components from, except they don't have many brick and mortar locations.

For pretty much anything, there's Jameco, Digikey, Mouser, Allelectronics, etc. For special audio applications there's Small Bear, Pedal Parts Plus, etc. If you want to get cheap, there are even Asian vendors selling at low low prices, with occassional quality issues.

Part of the problem with Radio Shack trying to sell parts is that most anyone who can repair things can also find the parts cheaper. It's really only worth a trip when you absolutely need one part right now, but now, most Shacks wouldn't have it anyways.
posted by drezdn at 10:19 AM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


"I stopped going there when I started knowing more than the guys who were trying to sell me stuff."

Hell yes. This is also why I've largely stopped going to Home Depot and Lowe's. I'm far from the world's best handyman, but those guys are idiots. I know more about where to find stuff in their store than they do, let alone how to use any of it. And don't even get me started on their excuses for websites.
posted by DU at 10:20 AM on May 10, 2010 [7 favorites]


There are still plenty of places to buy electronic components from, except they don't have many brick and mortar locations.

Shipping. Both time and money. When I need/want a relay, I can pay $15 immediately at RS or $1 online, with $9 shipping and wait a week. It's completely ridiculous.
posted by DU at 10:23 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


One crazy Christmas season, a guy comes in and wants to buy a Mac. I sidle over and ask if he needs help. He says "that's ok, dear, I'll wait for one of the guys."

He waits about 30 minutes.

Chosen penis-haver tells him "I'm sorry, you'll have to speak with her about your questions, she's the only one here who knows Macs."


I watched something similar happen at TekServ in NYC once. They're our local Apple repair shop. While I was waiting for a tech repair consult, the person on line in front of me asked a female technician if there was a man around he could talk to. "No offense sweetheart, but this computer is my life and I'd feel better if I could speak to a guy about it. You know, someone with a lot of experience."

She didn't blink. Just told him to stand in a corner and wait, then took care of me. When I asked, she said it only happened infrequently, but just enough to "make you want to slap some people."

I was there for over an hour and a half. When I left Mr. Fuckwit was still waiting.
posted by zarq at 10:28 AM on May 10, 2010 [15 favorites]


I kind of mourn for the RS of old, a little. Nowadays I might stop there if I'm desperate for something and can't find it anywhere else in town and need it today. Otherwise, it's the internet for LEDs and suchlike. Even with shipping it's cheaper the descriptions are better, etc.

last time I went into RS I actually engaged a staff person to try and cut down the time...

"Hey, do you guys have 30 gauge wire?"
"umm, I don't know, let me look."

3 minutes later, looking at the shelves.

"Nope, sorry."
"Alright thanks"

then I find it shortly after a few shelves down...

I mean this isn't even technical assistance, just knowing what you carry. I'm sure the fellow could have talked my ear off about any of the given cell phones or RC cars at the front...
posted by edgeways at 10:28 AM on May 10, 2010


In Canada they've all become "The Source." Some stores still have signs that show"by Circuit City" at the end, although Circuit City went bankrupt in '09. They are now backed by Bell Canada (a major Canadian telco) but operate as an independent division.

It's been a long time since any of my friends who are into electronics have considered it their main "source" for parts; their selection was whittled away decades ago to be nothing of consequence. If you needed a parts box and the mall was closer than Active Electronics, sure you'd go; otherwise, what were the odds of them having what you needed?

They've got a good position up here; over 500 locations to hawk cell phones, chargers and accessories - they'll survive. But the 'Shack I grew up with where you could buy all the parts for a Circuit Cellar magazine project (the 'Make' mag of the day) is long gone. These days I look on it as a good place to check for the kids' xmas gifts (RC cars, copters and such). And wait for the few remaining electronics parts to go on clearance twice a year. Picking at the bones.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:28 AM on May 10, 2010


The Shack: Selling shit to idiots.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:32 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


We need a database that connects all the little electronics fixup shops the same way Abebooks connects all the little independent bookstores --- share inventory, share ordering --- and then tie in the places that teach kids how to fix stuff.

Or surrender and just have everything on an implantable chip stuck up underneath your thumbnail, I suppose.
posted by hank at 10:33 AM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


Maybe it's all massive confirmation bias from the corners of the net I hang out in, but in a world that can support Make magazine, Make television, and the Maker faire, it seems like someone should be able to succeed at retail aimed at kit builders, Arduino hobbyists, and DIYers. (But my business acumen probably has a lot to do with why I'm a salaryman and not an entrepreneur.)

I hope I'll always have Al Lasher's, 'cause I can't walk to Fry's and back for parts for a same-day project.
posted by Zed at 10:34 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was thinking of the brick-and-mortar versus online outlets for electrical parts while reading the comments. I realized that Fort Worth is home to two pretty nifty electronics places- Radio Shack, and Allied Electronics.

I thought Allied was just a local electronics supply house until I found out that some of the companies I work with out of state routinely order from them. I really like them because I can place an order online or over the phone, drive out there and bingo, the parts are waiting for me at the customer pickup window. What I didn't realize was that for most of their business the end of the order cycle is the shipping dock; they usually have the stuff to the shipper within a couple hours of the order being placed and you can track it to your door.

And they have all the geeky stuff Radio Shack used to have.
posted by Doohickie at 10:35 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


"No offense sweetheart, but this computer is my life and I'd feel better if I could speak to a guy about it. You know, someone with a lot of experience."

You mean me, sir? I started learning how to program on Apple IIes when I was in 2nd grade...you know, when you were probably smoking weed in college and listening to Creedence. Oh, and by the way, you don't pick the mouse up off the table and point it at the screen like a remote...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:40 AM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


RadioShack Corp. has been remaking itself as a seller of smartphones, trying to shake off its uncool image as the place to find connectors, electronic cables and batteries.

It's kind of an uncool place where you are less and less likely to find connectors, electronic cables and batteries really. Getting less cool and less likely to sell those things over time. Less of a RIP and more a fucking-die-already-zombie-shop.
posted by Artw at 10:40 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can pay $15 immediately at RS or $1 online, with $9 shipping and wait a week.

In my experience, it would be a trip to Radio Shack, to find that they maybe have two relays at most, and definitely not the one I needed, so I would end up having to order it later anyways. We actually have some OK Radio Shacks around here, but even they don't carry most of the parts that I use (metal film resistors, 16mm or smaller pots, IC chips other than 555s and 556s, etc.)

Most places that I order from actually charge really reasonable shipping and handling (Say $4 for priority mail) and the other ones I put off ordering from until I have a large enough order to justify the shipping charges. Heck, I just got a few SPST momentary stomp switches from someone in Hong Kong (my normal sources were out of stock), with shipping the whole thing cost me less than it would take to drive to Radio Shack.
posted by drezdn at 10:40 AM on May 10, 2010


RobotVoodooPower: "We'll always have Fry's."

If by "we" you mean "californians".
posted by octothorpe at 10:43 AM on May 10, 2010


It would be nice to have a shop to pick up things that I realize I'm missing right then*, and for the community, but I'm just not sure how many electronics hobbyists there are. There don't seem to be enough for hardware stores to at least carry solder and tips that would be useful for building electronics. Even the local hobby superstar doesn't go much beyond a single soldering iron in their inventory.

There's the chance that it's because people used to just go to Radio Shack for those things and now there's a gap in the market. With things like Make magazine, I have no idea how many Makers there are, but I wonder if they probably just order stuff online.
posted by drezdn at 10:48 AM on May 10, 2010


The problem I have with Radio Shack is that anything they sell there that's more complicated than a switch isn't made for shit. It's been that way for a good 20 years. Be it a piece of audio or video equipment, a little clock radio, or even batteries - they seemed to fish up the off-brand junk of the universe and sell it at a premium price. What an odd mix - little component parts for geeks that know enough to turn a lawn mower into a jet pack sitting a few feet away from a television only Stevie Wonder could love.

Considering 2/3 of the floor space seems devoted to the poorest quality electronics known to man, I really don't have a problem with them dumping the GPX stereos in favor of the iPhone.

What I do mind is when they start invading the component part section with another dozen unnecessary blue-tooth accessories. Radio Shack is the one place I know I can run for random bits - a little on/off switch for $2 last week that saved me a $40 replacement of an entire thing-a-ma-jig, an RCA to headset plug adapter needed at 8:30 at night last fall, cabling at a fraction of the cost of Monster cable...
posted by Muddler at 10:49 AM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


*We do have an American Science and Surplus here, but that's more for happy finds than specific parts. There's also a giant Ham Radio store, but it's a bit of a long trip from where I live.
posted by drezdn at 10:50 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was with my roommate at a Radio Shack a couple of years ago looking for some random adapter (HDMI>RCA maybe?) because we didn't want to wait for shipping. We ask the guy at the counter and his response is "Uh, but, but, that's a downgrade!" No shit Sherlock, but it was a downgrade we needed to make for something we had cobbled together to get a dedicated porn TV powered by a weedwacker or some such stupid thing. My roommate responded "That's not what I asked you" and we walked out.
posted by nestor_makhno at 10:53 AM on May 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


I've never been much of a hardware geek, software was more my thing, but I can sympathize.

On the other hand, I don't think its that America has become a "nation of users", as others have observed we've always been like that.

Technology advances, changes, and becomes a lot cheaper by the economy of scale. There's always going to be a market for components, but that market is shrinking as it becomes cheaper (per unit anyway) to simply fabricate a chip that does X and knock out a few million units than to assemble from components. Result: almost no user serviceable components.

I say I "build my own" computer, but that's really BS. I assemble some mind bogglingly complex commodity hardware that's designed to be both inexpensive (relatively), general purpose, and cross compatible. The opportunity to tinker, etc happens at the software level.
posted by sotonohito at 10:54 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


A few years ago I needed a little electronic widget. I hadn't been to Radio Shack in ages, and my experiences there had always been pretty bad. But I live out in the boonies, and Radio Shack is one of very few likely candidates. So, what the heck, I figured I'd give them a try.

Not wanting to drive half an hour just to find they didn't have the widget, I decided to phone ahead. A clerk answered on the third ring - a promising sign.

"Hi," I said, "I'm looking for [little electronic widget], do you happen to carry them?"

"Um.... I don't know," he said.

I wait for him to say "But I'll check" or "Let me transfer you to someone who can find out."

A long, awkward pause.

"Alright then," I said. We said our good byes, and I hung up. Baffled, annoyed, and immensely amused.
posted by ErikaB at 10:56 AM on May 10, 2010 [21 favorites]


Can we talk about the old days, when Radio Shack's space was halfway taken up by leathercraft supplies? 'Cause I'm too young to remember that, but it's always remained a fascinating tale in my family, where my dad had us both programming in BASIC by age five.

My dad also had a TRS-80, and I played with it when I was tiny. The big problem with that was that it had a big red-orange reset button. It drew me in. And no matter how many times my dad tried to tell me it was naughty, I couldn't resist pushing it... in my three-year-old hopes that this time, I could push the naughty button and not get in trouble. He finally had to open it up and re-do the connections so that the reset button didn't do much except offer a really satisfying click. I pushed that thing to my heart's content after that.

I then didn't really hear about the TRS-80 for a couple of decades, until I was working on a summer job at a dial-up ISP in 1999, and a customer called in to say he'd had something put into his computer that dialed phones.

"A modem?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"Okay, great! What kind of computer do you have? We'll figure out how to get you hooked up."
"Uhh... I don't know."
"Are there any letters or numbers on the case anywhere?"
"Um, yeah. It says 'TRS.... 80.'"

I put him on hold. His computer was older than me. I laughed a horrible cruel laugh.

We didn't get him hooked up. Sorry, man.
posted by Blau at 11:04 AM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


jamaro - previously
posted by davebush at 11:06 AM on May 10, 2010


Blau - here's how you should have done it: "You need to look on eBay. Search for acoustic coupler."
posted by Artw at 11:07 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


doteatop: MCMikeNamara: "I stopped going there when I started knowing more than the guys who were trying to sell me stuff."

How much would RS have to pay their point-of-sale employees to get people who were willing to do the job *and* knew more than the sharpest of their original customer base? I'm thinking a lot. Expertise is expensive.


That's totally true and I completely agree, and since you don't know my dad, you'd have no reason to know otherwise based on my comment.

Though I love him a lot and he's very smart if you're talking history or any social studies or football or golf or current events or many, many other things I'm probably forgetting, my father would most certainly admit that he wasn't the sharpest of Radio Shack's customer base then... and due to him letting technology pass him by over the last decade or so, probably even now.

(Seriously, this weekend, to see the man who taught my BASIC barely able to use his cell phone, it'd make me cry if it wasn't so much fun giving him shit.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:12 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


having worked at one when in college back in the 70s, I have a soft spot for them, but have about quit going there myself, especially since they quit selling cheap, good replacement car audio speakers.
posted by Pressed Rat at 11:14 AM on May 10, 2010


If you live in eastern Massachusetts, miss the "old" Radio Shack, and don't know about You-Do-It Electronics... well, you should know about them because that store is fantastic.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:15 AM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've started indoctrinating my four-year-olds, to tell 'em that we are "a family of makers and fixers", to get them used to the idea of fixing broken things (or making what they need) instead of running out and buying it. My daughter always tacks on "and builders!", and given the state of consumer goods and the complexities of ground-up disciplines these days, she's correct -- "making" and "fixing" entails buying the individual parts and building (or rebuilding) the things we need or want.

In that light, Radio Shack blew the opportunities of the Internet (much like Sears did) and missed their chance to become a one-stop shop for easily-shipped building blocks. Go in there now (and I occasionally do when I need an odd-size battery in a hurry) and you'll find HDMI cables for $50, the same cables BestBuy sells for $50, and that Fry's sells for $14.

mind you, I'd never recommend Fry's to anyone, for so many reasons. buy online from vendors who specialize in the particular type of building block you need.
posted by davejay at 11:20 AM on May 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


chococat: So ya, I miss the Radio Shack of yore. That said, when I was a kid it was really disappointing when you asked for a radio or tape recorder or something and you got the inevitable Realistic brand instead of a Sony or whatever.

BLASPHEMY. You can have my pistachio Flavoradio when you PRY IT FROM MY COLD DEAD ah screwit, thing broke after three months anyway
posted by hangashore at 11:21 AM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd like to know who sold them this idea and for how much. "smartphones" are transitional devices, they were better off when had the Trash 80 etc
posted by infini at 11:21 AM on May 10, 2010


"Hi," I said, "I'm looking for [little electronic widget], do you happen to carry them?"

Radio Shack's website can usually tell you if an item is in stock at any given store.
posted by neuron at 11:22 AM on May 10, 2010


A few months ago I went to my local RS store to get some sort of RF adapter. You know, a radio part. Needless to say, they didn't have it. I immediately tweeted that they needed to change their name to "Shack". It was about 2 days later that they announced they are doing exactly that.
posted by neuron at 11:24 AM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


All the people I knew who used Rat Shack to get stuff to tinker/build with are still tinkerers/engineers. I think it's just that back in The Day, most computer/gadget users were also tinkerers. Now, everyone uses that stuff, but still only a small percentage of people mess around with it. No real change.

If by "we" you mean "californians".

Fry's is in CA, TX, GA, AZ, IL, IN, OH, NV, OR and WA. Not quite everywhere, but not just for Californians anymore.
posted by wildcrdj at 11:25 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Luckily, we have Above All Electronics close to me on Bloor (went there last week to get supplies for my daughter to make the rite-of-passage potato-powered clock for science class) or Active Surplus on Queen.

Active Surplus is brilliant, although if they have moved the gorilla I dunno if I can find it now. Not only did they have all the gizmos and gimcracks I needed last time I was in but they also had a rack of cartridge (!) games for the Atari 400 (!) (still in the package) for five bucks each when I last visited a couple of years ago. If I could get a message to myself at 13 about how the computer would change the world, I think the think that would most impress RB Jr. is the notion that someday Star Raiders would cost about as much as a comic book.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:30 AM on May 10, 2010


Part of the reason for the end of the homebrew/homefix is just the sheer density of electronics today. Here's an amp kit that starts to illustrate the problem. It's a small stack of very small resistors, a small stack of small diodes, a couple of large capacitors, and a magic chip.

At least this is through-hole. Radio circuits, other than transmitters, don't need power, so they're surface mount -- and well over 99% of the circuitry is in one ASIC - Application Specific Integrated Circuit.

Most of this stuff can't be built at home, and if the fault is in the ASIC, it's almost certainly unrepairable. You can't really design around them, because most of them are proprietary. Anything you can homebrew will almost certainly be larger, heavier, draw more power, and not work as well. There are exceptions, typically in power applications where ICs and surface mount is less common, but you don't build an FM receiver -- you install a 4x4mm chip [pdf] that does everything but make it louder -- so you install an amplifier chip next to it.

The one place that hacking has advanced, though, is in microcontrollers. Here, you're not fighting the ASIC problem -- you have a controller you can program, and you build some simple interfaces to them. Often, however, those interfaces are magic bricks themselves. Want position information? Add an all-in-one GPS chip. Motion sense? An all-in-one MEMS three axis accelerometer. Indeed, there's a company -- Spark Fun Electronics that takes these very clever ICs and mounts them on breakout boards so that mere humans can actually integrate with these incredibly clever and incredibly tiny components. The one currently on the front page is a breakout for a three axis gyroscope, which is 4x4x1mm, with 24 pins, on .5mm pitch, each .25mm wide.

The breakout board? 18x14mm -- almost 16x the surface area, just so you can acutally use the chip with a soldering iron.
posted by eriko at 11:33 AM on May 10, 2010 [5 favorites]


We’re living in a disposable world. It’s just not worth it to repair things;

I don't know that it isn't worth it, just a whole lot more difficult.
I mean, I can solder a broken wire or rig up a a piece of metal to hold something together, but fixing a surface-mount component is a bit out of my league.
posted by madajb at 11:35 AM on May 10, 2010


I've been a tinker all my life, played with electronics, designed some guitar pedals, and have seen RS go from mediocre to worse. And I don't really care.

I simply don't buy the notion that things have made a turn for the worse. From a music hacker's point of view, I bemoan the demise of top octave generators, the bucket brigade chips, balanced modualtors/VCA/transconductance amps, etc. But as a consumer, I don't see any real suffering. On the contrary, all those things I used to make because there was almost no alternative, are easily available ready made these days. And how many people can honestly build a computer these days? Or a cell phone. Or TV. Repairability of these electronic gadgets has gone by the wayside for good reason. And the world is made so much better for it.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:35 AM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


drezdn : We do have an American Science and Surplus here, but that's more for happy finds than specific parts.

A film-maker friend of mine occasionally comes up to visit from Texas, and we keep meaning to take a couple of weeks one summer and do a sci-fi short based around props that are built exclusively from stuff we bought at Science and Surplus.

It really is the kind of place you have conversations like;

"What is that?"

"Dunno. Maybe something civil defense related from the cold war, not really sure."

"So why are you standing in line to buy it?"

"Look at it! It's got... it's... LOOK AT IT!"

"Good point."
posted by quin at 11:46 AM on May 10, 2010 [8 favorites]


I wait for him to say "But I'll check" or "Let me transfer you to someone who can find out."
A long, awkward pause.


and

the same cables BestBuy sells for $50, and that Fry's sells for $14

summarize why I am sad but unsurprised about any death of "The Shack," although I was thinking about spending a lot more there so they'd think the name change won me over. I tried to buy an HDMI cable; they had only 500-ft. lengths, or some such, and it was $80 or $90. The hell? I have been trying to quit it with the online purchases to support brick-and-mortar local businesses, but it's pretty hard when I could get an HDMI cable for under $10 in the length I wanted. It happened with other items, too. "Do you have a FireWire cable?" "Nope." pause. So true.
posted by theredpen at 12:02 PM on May 10, 2010


Fry's is in CA, TX, GA, AZ, IL, IN, OH, NV, OR and WA. Not quite everywhere, but not just for Californians anymore.

Well, 1/5 of the country is better than 1/50.

When I built my desktop computer, I went through MicroCenter for many of the parts. They have a brick and mortar store about 20-30 minutes away from me by car, and 22 locations nationwide (in CA, CO, GA, IL, KS, MA, MD, MI, MN, MO, NJ, NY, OH, PA, TX and VA)

Back in 2008 they had decent prices on motherboards, video cards, hard drives and processors.
posted by zarq at 12:10 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a hobbyist, I mourn the decline of Radio Shack. It used to be a convenient place to pick up some components or a grab-bag of resistors (though, admittedly, not necessarily cheaply) or even a project board and enclosure. Now it's just cell phones, RC cars, and hearing aid batteries. Once, when a customer's small network went down thanks to a dead switch, I popped in at Radio Shack, hoping to avoid a 40-minute drive.

"Do you have any network switches?"
"Sure!" (leads me over to the rows of toggle switches, rockers and knobs)
"Um, no... Network switches. For computer networks?"
"Oh. Well, what's it do? And don't say 'Switches networks', har har."

And this is if you're lucky enough to get one of the bright employees. But I think Radio Shack has only de-evolved (devolved?) along with the slow extinction of the American hobbyist. No one wants to repair their own electronics anymore, we're in a disposable culture. It's far better to just throw it out and buy a new one, which is probably better anyway, right? So Radio Shack has adapted to what people apparently want: Cheap crap for Christmas and birthday presents, cell phones, and hearing aid batteries. And if it's anything like the one in my town, aisles and aisles of dusty, blister-packed capacitors, resistors, and such in 1980s packaging.
posted by xedrik at 12:12 PM on May 10, 2010


I'm sad to see Radio Shack pass because the local Fry's and its employees are somehow even more worthless than the local RS. Seriously, how pathetic do you have to be to make RS employees seem competent?
posted by lekvar at 12:18 PM on May 10, 2010


My local Radio Shack is awesome. Their drawers of transistors, capacitors, and diodes are always well-stocked, the manager dude knows what the fuck I mean when I ask for a 0.2-microFarad capacitor. Even more awesomely, if he doesn't happen to have something special, he will recommend another store where I can buy it – not another Radio Shack location, but some obscure electronics store that might be a bit out of the way for me but that always has that particular thing.

I know this is rare, and I know that Radio Shacks are nowadays usually devoid of this sort of thing, but I think it's fucking fantastic, and I will stop going to that Radio Shack the day I die.
posted by koeselitz at 12:23 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


but not just for Californians anymore.
posted by wildcrdj


Anymore? I still remember when the Tandycraft store at the Harlem-Cermak Shopping Center* became a RadioShak. That had to be circa 1965. Overnight, my objets-d'obsession went from tooling leather & casting polymers to making Rube-Goldberg like stereo-system controls using servo motors, switches, & potentiometers from RadioShak. I no longer had to walk the six feet across my bedroom to turn up the volume on my amplifier, and I could tune the tuner, too.

I stopped going there during their obsession for asking every customer for a phone number. I couldn't understand how they could possibly need my phone number when I was buying some wire, terminal ends, or miscellaneous parts. I assume now they were just building a database of potential terrorists.
posted by beelzbubba at 12:26 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man, someone got us a wired subscription for a wedding gift, so every time someone posts an article from there, I've already read it in the shitter. Can I just saw how awesome this is?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:26 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Say, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:27 PM on May 10, 2010


It's not your father's shack, and it's not the B-52's Love Shack either.
That is all.
posted by willmize at 12:27 PM on May 10, 2010


My fathers Radio Shack was actually Maplin.

Awe man, those old spaceship covers... why aren't they online somewhere?
posted by Artw at 12:28 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Harlem-Cermak Shopping Center* as immortalized in Wayne's World.
posted by beelzbubba at 12:28 PM on May 10, 2010


When I was a kid, the Canadian Radio Shacks had a battery club card.

We'd get to go every once and a while, and I'd get my card clipped for a free green-colored 9V battery that I usually had no use for, except to lick the terminals, or maybe plug into an old cheap AM radio.

If my parents were doing shopping, I'd get to hang out and play with the store's robot arm.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:30 PM on May 10, 2010


Fry's Electronics, that is.

Some years ago, hopped up on tales from Microserfs of Roswell-decorated one-stop geek shopping, I ventured into a different Fry's. I expected a geek nirvana, and got produce.
posted by zamboni at 12:32 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Radio Shack used to sell a phone dialer that saved 30 numbers into memory. The dialer was very popular in the 80s because you could replace part of it with a different frequency crystal and you had a pocket-sized red box. It was wonderful: you could get both the dialer and the parts to convert it all under the same roof. Now please vacate my lawn.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:40 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


God forbid you might want to buy radio equipment from the ostensible *Radio*Shack. I'm with neuron on this one. It's extra aggravating because the various ham retail sites are monstrosities of "designed by my nephew" proportions and are my only other option in this part of the country.
posted by Fezboy! at 12:44 PM on May 10, 2010


I haunted the local strip-mall Radio Shack when I was a kid: Forrest Mims books, 50-in-1 kit, Armatron, the works. I'd happily spend half an hour just poking through the drawers looking at all the little parts, imagining things I could make with them.

These days I'm more of an electronics hobbyist than ever, but I do all my shopping online. Digikey, SparkFun, Mouser, etc. This works fine for me, since I have a credit card and a grown-up job, and I already know how to find out what parts I need and where to get them, but I wonder how, and whether, the next generation will find its way into this kind of creative outlet. My kid brother, for example, twenty-one years younger, has as much interest in robots and lasers as I ever did, but it's hard to imagine there would be much to inspire him at a modern Radio Shack store.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:56 PM on May 10, 2010


Not to rub salt into the wounds, but may I introduce you all to Beijing's Radio Shack district?
posted by Pollomacho at 1:01 PM on May 10, 2010


Seems like most big cities have some sort of independent electronics store that caters that you folks that are smart enough to build stuff. Me, I haven't dropped a bead of solder on a transistor since the Sixties when doing that and burning chemicals in a spoon over an alcohol lamp was what boys did back then.

Every so often I buy something at Radio Shack because I really need it and it's right across the street. Invariably, it's an expensive piece of shit.
posted by kozad at 1:25 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


>>like thermal paste for a cpu
This


EXTRA this. My old laptop started shutting down randomly three years. A temperature reading utility informed me the processor was running very hot. Opening it up, there are a big black scorch across the pink heat transfer sticker. A thin layer of transfer compound later and it never overheated again.

Considering finding a Radio Shack just to get some more of this stuff, just in case. Really, there has to be some kind of business model that keeps this store around and selling parts without them turning into teh suck.
posted by JHarris at 1:31 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Radio Shack made me.

When I was in 7th grade, I wandered into one and found the TRS-80 on exhibit. I sat down and played with it. Over the next several weeks I went in more and more to play with it more and more. We couldn't afford one, but we could at least spring for the Level I BASIC book (which, with the Fortran Coloring Book, are the gold standard in programming educational literature). I read the book in the evening, and went to Radio Shack after school every day. I'd sit there for a couple of hours and write BASIC programs, just goofing around. The guys at the store got to know me, I got to know them. I became part of the exhibit. I was there on weekends sometimes, too. I helped them sell quite a few systems, because parents would come in and see a dorky kid tapping away on it and think, wow, this kind looks smart. I should get one of these systems and my kid will be smart, too.

I met a lot of people, and got a few short jobs writing silly, simple software for people's brand new TRS-80 computers. A couple folks would loan me their machine for a few weeks so I could write their programs, so I did get to have a computer at home occasionally. One of the guys I met bestowed me my first true nickname: Peripheral. Because I was always attached to the computer, see? I became good friends with him, and with a few other guys, and hung out with them their homes occasionally, playing with their computers and having fun. I met an Apple II owner, and got enchanted by colour graphics and the elementary sprites available.

I joined a user's group from a sign hung at the Radio Shack, and hung out with these folks a lot too, and eventually the TRS-80 waned and systems like the Atari and Vic20 and C64 so-on made their appearance in the user groups. The TRS-80 model III was too business-like to hold our interest and we'd all moved on to colour and sound. But still I'd go back to the Radio Shack occasionally and say hi to the owner, Fritz, an ex-army radio guy who married a woman from Vietnam and brought her home and opened the store and raised a family.

Here it is over 30 years later and I can honestly say that if I had not been exposed to the TRS-80, and more importantly if I had not been indulged by Fritz and the store staff to sit there for hours day after day learning about it and using it, I would not have taken up programming as a profession, which would not have led my life in the direction it has, including my jobs, my relocations, my marriages, and my children.

The revolution that Radio Shack began: the buy-it-at-retail, plug-it-in and turn-it-on Personal Computer, is one of the most important revolutions in the past century, and while it's easy to mock now, the tottering old Tandy Leather corporation's electronics retail outlet -- now simply senile, flaccid and drooling in its dementia -- made me, and I will forever hold it in highest esteem.

I remember Radio Shack... A place where someone could take $RANDOM_BROKEN_DEVICE and Fritz would look at it, smell it, unscrew the back, pull out a meter, "oh, it's just a $PART. We have those. We can get this working, hang on." And he'd pull out a goddamn soldering iron right there on the glass counter, and the store would fill up with the smell of rosin-core solder. And he would fix it. And he'd smile deprecatingly and say, "no charge for the fix, just pay for the part, and send your friends in."

That's Radio Shack.

.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:33 PM on May 10, 2010 [202 favorites]


When I was a kid, Radio Shack would occasionally have 'Surprise Packages'. Small cardboard boxes full of random electronic parts. Motors, switches, weird connectors, etc.

I had a standing request with the manager to call my parents whenever they got some in.

And they had the battery club, and the free flashlights...sigh.

Now I have to order everything online. Mouser is great, but not if I need it now. I'm in NC and I haven't found a decent local parts source yet. RTP, tech capital of the South, grumble, grumble...
posted by bitmage at 1:37 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


One of my favorite toys as a kid was one of their electronics construction kits with components mounted on cardboard that let you make useless things like a radio doorbell, or a remote water sensor, or a one-note theramin.

And yes, the battery club.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:44 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh man, the kits!

Digital Computer

I had the 200-in-1 from page 153 of this catalog.

They let you start tinkering when you were still too young for that scary soldering stuff.
posted by bitmage at 1:52 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


But I think Radio Shack has only de-evolved (devolved?) along with the slow extinction of the American hobbyist. No one wants to repair their own electronics anymore, we're in a disposable culture. It's far better to just throw it out and buy a new one, which is probably better anyway, right?

Part of the problem with electronics today is the difficulty in working on modern stuff. I've been fooling around with electronics for a while but I'm unlikey to ever try to do anything with surface mount components. The other part is that the devolution of RadioShack and it's ilk are not doing things like turning Mars Saxman's brother onto electronics as anything vaguely hobby like. Buy this, use it, throw it away.

What I find interesting about this, is that there are a scad of people out there who, right now, seem to be getting into electronics and the like. I mean the Arduino microcontroller gets 2.2 million hits on Google - and the first few pages of links are full of people either showing off their cool project or encouraging you to play with the thing, rather than an endless stream of people selling them. Sites like Instructables, Hack-A-Day and Make Magazine's Blog seem to have grown healthy readerships/user bases. And Hackerspaces.org lists groups several states that do not exactly scream high-tech urban geek Mecca: Alabama, for example, has four of them.

Radioshack has, for pretty much my entire life, been cutting back on everything that might get people interested or sustain their interest in the stuff Radio Shack was selling. At some point they could no longer staff the store with electronc hobbyists because those were too rare a breed so they started looking for any warm body they could find. Then they started winnowing out their parts. Then some more. Now their winnowing out even more stuff so they can turn into a cell phone store and be cool.

Have they ever been in a store that sells cell phones? They sound like a guy who is still trying to be the coolest guy at the university despite the fact that he graduated 15 years ago.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:00 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd put up with the idiots working there if they could just keep the big file cases full of components well stocked, and maybe have a few of Mims' books around. I use Mouser and Seeed and the like now, and once in a while I wander over to the NYU computer shop for Arduino junk like sensors and servos, but it's not the same as rifling through all the ICs and pots and stuff that Radio Shack used to have.
I'm actually looking for one in NYC that still just has some LEDs, resistors, pots, and quad comparators for a little project I want to build, but I doubt I'll have much luck.
posted by bashos_frog at 2:04 PM on May 10, 2010


My best friend in 2nd grade had the kit bitmage referred to up thread, and I spent many afternoons with him building cool stuff.
I tried to buy the equivalent for my son, but all they had was something with breadboards and a lot of loose components, or at the other extreme, something that was way too simple to be interesting. I bought the more complex one, but I wonder if by the time he's ready to understand it, he'll be more interested in other things.

Does anyone have any leads on fun electronics kits? Would I get anyone to buy them if I made them myself and put them on Etsy?
posted by bashos_frog at 2:13 PM on May 10, 2010


bashos_frog, I found this while looking for pictures of the old RS kits. I don't know anything about them, but they look right.

They appear to be made by Elenco.
posted by bitmage at 2:21 PM on May 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


THANKS! Great find. I guess I just assumed if RS didn't have them anymore, they were out of print.
posted by bashos_frog at 2:28 PM on May 10, 2010


We'll always have Fry's.

In very few places compared to Radio Shack. There's a Radio Shack in the small town where I live, but no Fry's in the whole state.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:29 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you want to play around with digital electronics today, you're probably better off getting an FPGA board, this site seems to have some info and projects you can do.

An FPGA is basically an array of transistors with some logic that lets you dynamically reconnect them, so you can build simple hardware directly. Usually they'll come on boards that have a bunch of inputs.

--
Anyway, Radio Shack sucked.
posted by delmoi at 2:39 PM on May 10, 2010


We have a Radio Shack embedded as a department inside of the local Ben Franklin. It's not actually useful for much, but in this small town of 9000 people, it's sometimes the only place you can go to purchase the little electronic whatziz that you need. If they don't carry it, you have to drive the 30 minutes into Spokane, which isn't really far, but it's sometimes nice to pick up something quickly without an hour round-trip drive and the associated fuel costs.

It's not really a Radio Shack, though. Not the kind I grew up with, anyway... But then, what Radio Shack today IS the kind of Radio Shack I would have walked into 30 years ago?
posted by hippybear at 3:17 PM on May 10, 2010


FPGAs are good for logic-oriented stuff, but I really enjoy fooling around with more analog stuff. Right now I'm building a dark-sensitive LED lamp in a Voss bottle - no Arduino, no digital ICs, just a couple of 339s, a photoresistor, some resistors, LEDs and a bunch of wire. Nothing fancy, but it looks nice and it's simple enough that my 9-year-old can understand it, and it's built fast enough that he doesn't need a lot of patience.

The Radio Shack in the Port Authority bus station would've had everything I needed, up until about two months ago - when they removed most (all?) of the component cases.
posted by bashos_frog at 4:00 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I used to go to Radio Shack with my father when I was a little girl. It was a tiny store with all manner of tiny parts everywhere, and to buy anything, you had to go to a counter and tell a clerk what you wanted. He would go in the back and get you what you wanted, which, in my father's case, was vacuum tubes and resistors.

I thought of that yesterday when my oven stopped working and I needed to replace the heating unit. A friend told me where to find an appliance supply store, and there it was! A shop with a clerk behind a counter, able to get me the part I needed!
posted by acrasis at 4:22 PM on May 10, 2010


"In Toronto all the Radio Shacks have become The Source. And they suck."

Understatement alert! I went to one in Calgary a couple of weeks ago to buy a video multi-source selector thingy, and the suckage was immense.

First they wanted to sell me a $5 extended warranty on a $20 low-tech item which, while it's not too likely to fail in spite of being cheap junk, wasn't something that you'd be likely to return in the first place. But the invoice makes it clear that I can't return it because I refused the warranty. So far, that unspent $5 has generated an substantial amount of hate.

The guy was nice and tried hard, so when he said "Try this special deal on two packs of ADVANCED Lithium Energizers," I said what the hell. Surprise! These batteries have NO ELECTRICITY in them! First I thought I'd bought rechargeables, but no. I've never bought new batteries that didn't work at all before.

The whole exchange left me wondering what kind of a business model we're seeing here: "Oh, we don't have anything to offer to consumers, but we're going to make up for it with this extended warranty scam. No one will ever notice!"

Presumably Bell isn't planning on staying around for the long haul.
posted by sneebler at 6:17 PM on May 10, 2010


Rat Shack still sells parts - just not as many of them. But you can still pick up a soldering iron, some solder and even a solder puller, plus a bunch of other fairly useful stuff. Their parts list has been whittled down to appropriate sizes, too, considering most of the hacking these days is all TTL or digital-light.

I actually kind of like the parts drawer. Less waste from a hang card containing a tiny little 555 chip.

Radio Shack used to sell a phone dialer that saved 30 numbers into memory. The dialer was very popular in the 80s because you could replace part of it with a different frequency crystal and you had a pocket-sized red box. It was wonderful: you could get both the dialer and the parts to convert it all under the same roof. Now please vacate my lawn.

Yeah, they stopped selling that model or letting you buy it with the crystal right quick. It was like trying to buy pseudoephedrine by the case at a Wal-Mart at 3am, you got funny looks and then tried to get you to produce ID and shit. What was it, a 6.555 mhz crystal? If I recall correctly they discontinued that crystal and replaced it with a 6.553 mhz crystal or something, which was just enough out of tune to make the 30 number dialer stop working with that mod, but still worked for most hobbyists.

Wow, the really cool find in the Wired article: a link to page scans of Radio Shack catalogs spanning 1939-2005.

I... I'm not even going to make it to my room. Sorry. I can't help myself. *masturbates furiously*
posted by loquacious at 6:47 PM on May 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a really stupid time for Rat Shack to get out of parts sales. Don't they realize that MAKE-ing is taking off everywhere? That people are forming org's and renting store-fronts all over the country?

Of course when you hire yuppy idiots for CEOs and expect them to be in touch, you get what you deserve.

Radio Shack was started in Boston in 1921; when Chuck Tandy bought it in 1963, it was nearly bankrupt. Time
for that to happen all over again.
posted by Twang at 7:00 PM on May 10, 2010


My boyfriend's been getting into tinkering with electronics.

The other day we were out getting some stuff and he wanted to stop at Radio Shack for a few things. "Sure," I said. So we went in and made a beeline to the back, too quick to get any offers of help from the people who can sell us phones or TVs or whatever. The big blue case of drawers full of little electronic parts had a sign on it: "25% off two or more". It was nearly empty. There was one lone shelf unit full of electronics kits nearby it; all the other shelves were filled with universal remotes, cables, and whatnot.

I don't think he's gonna be able to get parts at Radio Shack much longer.
posted by egypturnash at 7:25 PM on May 10, 2010


Yeah, they stopped selling that model or letting you buy it with the crystal right quick. It was like trying to buy pseudoephedrine by the case at a Wal-Mart at 3am, you got funny looks and then tried to get you to produce ID and shit.

Ha! Yep, that's exactly right!

What was it, a 6.555 mhz crystal?

Yeah, the replacement was ~6.55 Mhz; the original was ~3.58 Mhz. Usually you'd have a toggle so you could store "quarters" in one memory location and then fill up the others with extenders. 'Course, this was back in the days when you could get free soda with salt water. These days you need a Ph.D to do anything fun.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:33 PM on May 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


zarq wrote: "Back in 2008 they had decent prices on motherboards, video cards, hard drives and processors."

And decent prices on unlocked Nokia devices (including the N800 and N810). I only wish I had access to either Fry's or MicroCenter. The sad part is that if I want something like a FireWire cable, I'm better off going to Best Buy than any of the local computer stores.

Now, a reasonably priced HDMI cable? Not around here.
posted by wierdo at 8:11 PM on May 10, 2010


The problem isn't surface mount components: solder paste and a toaster oven make short work of them. The problem isn't disposable culture: plenty of us are hackers of various stripes.

The problem is the internet. And it isn't just a problem for Radio Shack.

You fuckers will trawl through Google's shopping requests and pay some yokel in Birmingham $98 plus $9 shipping instead of paying the yokel in your own town $102 plus $6 in tax. Because it's the better deal. And then, if one of us does decide that paying $108 is worth not having to wait around for UPS to show up, you call us suckers for not getting the best price.

This has affected everything of a specialized nature, not just electronics. The hobby stores, art supply, consumer electronics, pc games (I bought one of the two remaining joysticks in Kitsap last week), skateboarding, paintball. Fuck, even work clothing! Shoes! How the fuck do you buy shoes on the internet!?

Even if Radio Shack still had its awesome parts selection, you fuckers would buy from Arrow or Allied instead of in the store just to save two cents on a sixty-cent part. And pay $4 in shipping, of course.
posted by Netzapper at 12:14 AM on May 11, 2010 [10 favorites]


The Digikey sales person who helped me select a part over the phone had an advanced EE degree. Digikey is the best vendor I've ever dealt with.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:36 AM on May 11, 2010


Fry's?
posted by Eideteker at 6:24 AM on May 11, 2010


"Once, we were makers. Now most of us are users."

Right, and the culture that allowed Steve Jobs to revolutionize the world of computing has now given way so he can sell us things like the iPad, which are totally user-friendly and maker-hostile.

Sleeeeep. SLEEEEEP. Consume.

Disclaimer: I was raised as a user. Afraid of voiding warranties. I'm still afraid of doing basic maintenance on my own vehicles, and I hate that. But no, despite my only-somewhat-joking hyperbolic tone, I'm not about to yell, "Wake up, Sheeple!" But yes, I am pissed at our disposable culture.
posted by Eideteker at 6:44 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Right, and the culture that allowed Steve Jobs to revolutionize the world of computing from his garage has now given way so he can sell us things like the iPad, which are totally user-friendly and maker-hostile.

I'm still waking up. =P
posted by Eideteker at 6:45 AM on May 11, 2010


totally user-friendly and maker-hostile.

Depends what kind of maker you are, my friend. As someone with a small publishing company, I hope and pray my customer base buys the shit out of iPads or any other color-screen device like it, because I want to sell them full color books for less than the cost of print on demand color books (which are ungodly expensive)!
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:26 AM on May 11, 2010


It's clear that RadioShack would not exist if they were just for electronics hobbyists. All this lamenting for a new strategy that is doing well could have been replaced by a requiem for a chain that vanished and now only exists in online scans of old catalogs.

At least I still have a place in a strip mall right by my house that sells speaker wire.
posted by ALongDecember at 9:17 AM on May 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The broiler igniter on our $450.00 5 year old stove went out.

Cost from manufacturer for replacement igniter? $115.00. WTF
posted by pianomover at 9:28 AM on May 11, 2010


yeah, we have a missing knob on our range... I've looked for a replacement knob, and they're priced at nearly $100. Much more function-critical components which have to cost much more to manufacture are priced more in line with expectations. These companies know which parts will break or be lost within the expected lifetime of the device, and price those components appropriately.
posted by hippybear at 12:01 PM on May 11, 2010


Gone are the days when when you can buy Radioshack parts to cut costs on your MX missile.

I believe there is a list of electronics and other maker stores somewhere in the make magazine site.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:00 PM on May 11, 2010


I once bought a crystal from a very old-school electronic hobbist shop in San Rafael called Electronics Plus. Without evening looking at the package the clerk at the counter said incredulously, "Lemme guess. 6.5536 mHz crystal?".

Scared the shit out of me. From that point on, I bought my parts at Radio Shack where the sales folks no fucking clue what they're selling and have never heard of a red box.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 2:18 PM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


yay, electronics plus in san rafael!

between them and Fry's, who needs radio shack?

Anyone in the entire rest of the country, i guess..
posted by Miles Long at 3:46 PM on May 11, 2010


So true!
posted by databuff at 5:16 PM on May 11, 2010


Shoes! How the fuck do you buy shoes on the internet!?

Shoes, I kinda understand. I mean, once you have a pair of work boots in the right size, ordering another pair is easy.

The one that gets me is glasses. I know they have those fancy upload-a-photo-and-we'll-superimpose-the-frames deal, but seriously, how well can that that work? How do you know if they're too heavy, have funky earpieces, etc? Crazy.
posted by madajb at 6:00 PM on May 11, 2010


madajb: “The one that gets me is glasses. I know they have those fancy upload-a-photo-and-we'll-superimpose-the-frames deal, but seriously, how well can that that work? How do you know if they're too heavy, have funky earpieces, etc? Crazy.”

It's actually a very, very good idea – the online selection is better, and physical locations have a sort of monopoly thing going on that ensures that you'll pay hundreds of dollars more than you really have to. You should read this handy guide: Adventures in $40 eyeglasses, by Matthew Haughey.
posted by koeselitz at 6:20 PM on May 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, I know people do it successfully.
I can only assume they are not at all as .... choosy as I am when it comes to eyeglasses.
posted by madajb at 7:31 PM on May 11, 2010


I've bought glasses online - I found frames i liked at the store, went home, found the same frame online, and ordered the glasses. It's not that we're less choosy, it's that $50 for what's usually $350 or more means you don't mind heating up your own temples and bending them slightly.

The last couple of times I was in Radio Shack were disheartening and amusing at the same time. One I was working in Manhattan, with 3 RS within about 2 blocks walking from my office. I went to the largest of them to buy some crimp connectors for a car stereo i was putting in. The guy led me to the back room, with the big cabinet with all the parts drawers sitting on what was obviously the break table. Someone's lunch had ot slide down so I could buy a $2 bag of connectors.

The second, I was putting a video card in a machine and needed a molex splitter to wire up the fan. RS a couple miles down the road here in the burbs. I asked for the part - 'what's that?' I explained, and the response was 'well what does it look like?'. I asked where the computer parts were, found what i needed. The kid says 'well the package says 'hard drive power cable'. I asked him if he'd have known where it was if that was what I had asked for - 'well, honestly, no...'.
posted by pupdog at 9:48 PM on May 11, 2010


Even if Radio Shack still had its awesome parts selection, you fuckers would buy from Arrow or Allied instead of in the store just to save two cents on a sixty-cent part. And pay $4 in shipping, of course.

I can't speak for the whole world, but I *hate* buying parts on the internet, because I can't do test-fits or bring it back easily and quickly if I bought the wrong thing -- and who wants to wait for delivery, anyway? Thing is, if I go into Radio Shack, I have to pay Best Buy prices (seriously -- $40 for an HDMI cable that's 3' long?), or I discover they don't carry anything close to what I want, and if I go into Fry's I have to give my money to Fry's, so now I'm stuck with no decent choices.

So I've started scavenging parts from spares. Boy, admitting that made me feel a lot geekier than I did five minutes ago.
posted by davejay at 10:08 AM on May 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


I confess to being a rat shack rat. The recent dumping of the parts business is a pain, but the internets blunt that. Now is time to make a pitch for a place which is truly very, very cool, Small Bear Electronics. If you play guitar you should check this place out. They will help you customize your pedals. We built a Fuzz Face and I must say it is freaking awesome. There are similar places for guitar amps (not as cheap as pedals) and restoring tube radios etc.
posted by caddis at 6:20 PM on May 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Radio Shack 1986
posted by homunculus at 10:12 AM on May 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Great comment seanmpuckett. I too was a shack rat, although for me it was a passion for amplifiers and very early digital audio stuff (I was a guitarist). The RS catalog was pornography for a lot of us.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:42 AM on May 16, 2010


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