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Is This the End for RadioShack?

RadioShack once encouraged folks to make their own gadgets. When I was a kid, my father often picked up electrical components at RadioShack, although he sometimes lamented the demise of the local hobby shop when the chain moved in. RadioShack introduced a generation to computers with their TRS-80. And we all coveted the latest state-of-the-art TI calculators for math class. At one time, it seemed like the entire store was taken over by remote-controlled cars.

But bigger stores moved in, offering lower prices on electronics. Then the do-it-yourselfers became early adopters in buying the parts they need online. In 2007, the Onion wondered how RadioShack was still in business. The company responded to the changes by embracing cell phone sales, which became the majority of their business. The last time I was in RadioShack, they had little besides cell phones and accessories (although none from my provider).

Thursday, after 94 years in business, RadioShack filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. But it still might not be the end. RadioShack is selling 2,400 locations to Sprint, in a deal where RadioShack branded merchandise will still be sold in those stores. The rest of RadioShack’s 4,000 locations will be closed. Only time will tell if the brand will survive under those conditions.  

(Altered image from reddit)


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I remember leafing through Radio Shack catalogs back in the 1970s. It was the equivalent of logging on to a web site and clicking through links to see what was offered. One of their problems then was that they were an accessory supermarket -- fuses, adapters, cords, you name it - while their own brand (Tandy, e.g.) were never quite known for being high quality items. If you bought a Tandy/Radio Shack stereo, it was usually because you didn't have the money to go to a better store to get a Harmon Kardon. The model they tried to work was people coming in for a battery (remember their Battery of the Month Club?) and then trying to steer the customer towards a stereo. It never worked. I remember buying batteries in a Radio Shack during the 1980s and laughing when a salesman asked if I wanted a VCR. I explained that the leap from batteries to VCR just struck me as funny. I always wondered if they might have succeeded if they'd embraced their role as an accessory supermarket rather than trying to be taken seriously as an outlet for stereos and the like. I'll never forget this moment from "The Simpsons":

Homer: We'll search out every place a sick twisted solitary misfit might run to.

Lisa: I'll start with Radio Shack.
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My first job was at a RS franchise... installing CB radios and 8-tracks, yes I'm that old... and my first soldering experience was with a 2-transistor radio that my dad helped me build... from RatShak. My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1... Dad got it for me, it was expensive... but that became my career and opened doors for me. I'm sad to see it go, but it was run into the ground long ago. Sad.
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In the '80s, I used to go there a lot because they were the only place that sold resistors, capacitors, circuit boards, etc. But then the upper management had the bright idea: "Instead of carrying the things our customers can't find anywhere else, let's just carry batteries and cell phones, both of which are already sold at a million other places." Idiots.
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A lot of news sources are reporting this with a sense of glee, but I can't find it in myself to feel that way. Their demise is their own doing, poor vision and an apparent inability to adapt to changing markets, but that doesn't lessen the impact they had. One of my earliest projects I remember was building a voice synthesizer for my Commodore 64 (or VIC-20) built with parts entirely from Radio Shack.

In the early 90s even I tried to get a job at one, and if I remember correctly, I was told that the commission earned was mostly thru (high pressure) battery sales. Retrospect says my decision to walk away was the correct choice, even before this news. There have been interviews with ex-employees long before this and it painted a pretty grim picture of the environment.
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