Monday, 2 February 2015

The Inevitable Slow Death of RadioShack

quote [ Another former employee, Joe Bois, remembers being required report for work at a mall outpost at 4:30 am on Black Friday in 2004, only to sit idle for hours waiting for customers who never arrived. Bois, now a writer for the sports website SB Nation, wrote a piece in November arguing that searching for coherence in RadioShack?s strategic decisions was futile. ?It?s like retracing the steps and doings of a drunk person,? he wrote. ?Okay, here?s where he keyed the cop car. Wait, why?d he do that? I don?t know, but his pants are lying here, so this is before he stripped naked and tried to rob the library.? ]

When I was in the 7th grade, I spent four hours at a RadioShack for career day. It felt very much like Purgatory.
[SFW] [science & technology] [+9 Interesting]
[by mego@11:28pmGMT]


ralfmaximus said @ 4:47pm GMT on 5th Feb [Score:5 Good]
I credit Radio Shack for my career & success.

In 1976 my friends and I spent hours at the neighborhood Radio Shack, spending our allowances on kits, toggle switches, 555 timers, wire, red LEDs...

I remember once the guy behind the counter asked us if we needed any solder for the project we'd just spent ALL our money on and when he realized we were broke he tossed in the solder for free. He WANTED us to learn, build things, get excited. Obviously so we'd grow up to be good little consumers but also because he seriously loved working there. All the employees' enthusiasm was infectious that way.

Anyway, in 1977 the store got its first TRS-80 computer.

And it was right there, out in the open, where anyone could play.


We spent hours there teaching ourselves BASIC and writing simple games. And because we were denied use of the tape recorder we had to type the code in every single time, copied laboriously from notebook paper. One guy would read the code and the other would type it in. If there was a third friend, they would proofread over the shoulder.

We got really good at this process, since anytime the store needed to demo the machine for a legit customer, us kids would get shooed away... our program lost when the machine was reset for the demo.

THAT taught us patience, the methodical approach necessary for coding.

There was an official Radio Shack program the store was supposed to run on the TRS-80 in attract mode. It was a shitty little thing somebody at corporate wrote, and it was riddled with bugs and misspellings.

The idea was that a customer would walk up to the computer and it would display "HELLO! I am a TRS-80! What is your name?"

And the customer would type in D-A-V-E or whatever.

"Hello, DAVE! Where do you live?"

And it would 'interact' with the user by parroting back what they typed, over and over. PEOPLE WERE BLOWN AWAY BY THIS. Like, cross-themselves-save-me-jesus levels of awe at the POWER of MODERN COMPUTERS.

Well, my friend broke into the code and changed the responses to stuff we thought were hysterically funny:

"HELLO! I am a TRS-80! What is your name?" D-A-V-E


...yeah. But we thought it was a scream and would eagerly wait for customers to get punked.

When the manager discovered this tampering, he was understandably pissed. But instead of banning us from the store, he realized something else: if we had the power to dork with his program, we could also FIX it. Fix the typos. Maybe even... expand it? Turn it into something useful?

So he challenged us: make the stupid demo program actually do some work. Make it collect names & addresses of customers and write that shit down someplace. Print it out, or store it on cassette tape.

That's when we learned about serial i/o, random access storage, string manipulation, records, indexes, searching an array... all the basic concepts of comp-sci circa 1977.

We learned all that stuff in a strip mall Radio Shack, with our bikes parked outside. Our parents probably thought we'd joined a cult or something.

But that's when the spark ignited.

And because of that, I went on to program computers for a living, start my own biz, and do what I love to do full-time.

I last visited Radio Shack in 2012, when I needed some RCA jacks for a project... and they didn't have them. The clerk didn't even know what I was asking for.

I'm not even sad, because the place *I* remember hasn't existed for 30+ years.
HoZay said @ 5:43pm GMT on 5th Feb
Best RS story/manager ever.
Ankylosaur said @ 12:58am GMT on 3rd Feb [Score:4 Underrated]
I stopped going there back when they started demanding your name and address whenever you wanted to simply use cash to buy a $1 plug adapter or whatever.
steele said @ 12:17am GMT on 3rd Feb [Score:1 Insightful]
“I needed a Y cable to turn an RF into a mini, and I thought they would at least know that,” says Macri, who now works at a video production and equipment rental company. “I went in and asked for the cable, and the woman looked at me like I spoke a different language. She basically walked me over to the rack with all these adapters and cables and stuff and said, ‘This is what we have.’”

That's an eerily similar summary of my last visit to radio shack as well. As a little kid when all my friends were pouring through the ToysRUs circulars for christmas I had a dogeared copy of that year's radioshack catalog I kept in my back pocket. Year after year the shelves of components that fueled my imagination dwindled and disappeared. Watching that place turn into an over-glorified cell phone store was a nightmare :(
mego said @ 12:32am GMT on 3rd Feb [Score:1 Sad]
That's the only RadioShack I ever knew. Quiet little cellphone store with shelves full of outdated equipment and dust covered packages.
ENZ said @ 12:32am GMT on 3rd Feb [Score:1 Underrated]
Yeah, I used to love loitering at Radioshack as a kid. The place seemed like a hardware store for mad scientists. Now whatever components they sell are their own brand of overpriced garbage way in the back.
Headlessfriar said @ 3:26am GMT on 3rd Feb
Overpriced is putting it mildly. I had to run and grab a bunch of RJ-45 connectors for my boss a while ago, and I went into a Radio Shack first. Comparing those to the ones across the street at a Lowe's home improvement store, the ones from Radio Shack were triple the price.
Bleb said[2] @ 5:27pm GMT on 9th Feb [Score:1 Funny]
vintuk said @ 12:29am GMT on 3rd Feb
I once went to a Radio Shack in the late 90's and asked for a Rheostat and the guy had no idea what i was talking about.
Bleb said @ 12:32am GMT on 3rd Feb
The go-to place in Toronto for zener diodes and military grade switches is Active Surplus. They also stock some harder to find items...

steele said @ 2:16am GMT on 3rd Feb [Score:2]
gasp! They carry nightmare fuel! :D
arrowhen said @ 5:15am GMT on 3rd Feb
I'm picturing someone dressed as Edward Scissorhands in a diaper wearing one of those on each finger.
yunnaf said @ 5:47pm GMT on 3rd Feb
Got to say about ten years ago, they were a two storey store a few blocks over. It was really cool then with a lot more odd ball stuff, pinball guts, credit card readers, specialty av equipment, analog tv decoders and odd ball computer stuff like, the many kinds of scii cable plugs and non standard ribbon cables etc. Rents have soared in that area cutting back space for the "good stuff".
Bleb said @ 6:39pm GMT on 3rd Feb
Yeah, Queen West was a different animal in the 90's. Black Market was another place that was (literally) forced underground when gentrification hit.
HoZay said @ 7:31pm GMT on 3rd Feb
For that eight-legged robot you're building.
Ankylosaur said @ 9:00pm GMT on 3rd Feb [Score:2 WTF]
mechanical contrivance said @ 9:13pm GMT on 3rd Feb
That is really, terribly horrifying.
Abdul Alhazred said @ 12:34am GMT on 4th Feb
Sorry, I couldn't figure out how to properly link the video at 4:30 am...
HoZay said @ 3:26am GMT on 4th Feb [Score:1 Funny]
Thanks so much.
nitromaniac said @ 12:50am GMT on 3rd Feb
I worked at Radio Shack up here in Canada back in 1999. It was the first grown up job I had as a teenager (you had to be 18 because of their healthcare policy). At the time, it was the most money I had ever earned at a job $5.40/hour.

I quickly learned that it was a factory to turn young, aloof single white men into old, aloof single white men. I lasted about 8 months.
arrowhen said @ 1:17am GMT on 3rd Feb
When I was in high school I used to go to Radio Shack to buy 1/4" phone plugs and instrument cable by the foot; 30 seconds of soldering and you could make perfectly good guitar cords for half of what you'd pay for them at a music store.
HoZay said @ 1:57am GMT on 3rd Feb
Well written article, completely describes my experience with RS. The cel phone marketing really tore it, but they had already stopped hiring people who knew what a capacitor was, or cared. I did like the Tandy computer line, though, in the olden days.
midden said @ 2:20am GMT on 3rd Feb
My first computer was a TRS-80 CoCo II. I spent many an hour in RS pouring over resistors and capacitors and ICs. It's so sad.

My best friend taught me how to upgrade the RAM on my TRS-80 by piggy-back soldering chips onto my old ones, and running a new ground from one of the pins. I think I went from 4k, to 16 or 32 that way. It was awesome. I felt like a fucking techno-god!
satanspenis666 said @ 2:49am GMT on 3rd Feb
They should have gone the Best Buy route and sold Monster Cables and warranties. Shitty store, but at least it's more profitable than crappy phones and phone chargers.
lalanda said @ 8:03am GMT on 3rd Feb
Anyone in our community good at building PCs?
cb361 said @ 6:32pm GMT on 3rd Feb [Score:2 Informative]
Have done, but I found that there's world of difference between a generic industry-standard case with a motherboard, PSU and other off-the-shelf components fitted, and a reliable computer.

While I love monkeying around with this stuff. I came to the conclusion that it's better to buy a ready built computer that would have been top-of-the-line a year or two earlier, but has now been heavily discounted. Then you get something in which the motherboard is professionally fixed to the base, cables are the right length and experts have done proper air flow analysis.

Those computers always seemed to last longer and give me less grief than my home-brew constructions.
Onix said @ 11:25pm GMT on 3rd Feb
I love old computers, both laptops and desk units. And also installing weird stuff like Linuxes and Windows 98SE with all the patches to control big external hard drives. But my ex wife would sell them to make room for new PCs for her bussiness. I even had an old laptop running Kolibri OS for a while but it "disappeared" (my wife sold it). I wish I had a chance to get many reliable old laptops here in Mexico and then install all sorts of vodoo in them, just for the sake of it.
cb361 said @ 11:52pm GMT on 3rd Feb [Score:1 Good]
I used to buy broken laptops on eBay, repair them and sell them via classified ads. I figured out what all the individual components were worth, and assigned broken laptops on eBay a value, But overall the money I lost on equipment that was unrepairable outweighed the occasional laptop I sold at a premium.
Onix said @ 3:34am GMT on 4th Feb
Well, I could actually end up with lots of PC's and laptopts if I had the chance, or the money. I would much rather give them to people in need or schools. Anyway, to be honest, much of the stuff I can proudly do on an old PC is doable in an Android tablet. Save for the media server aplications of course. I have more than a 100GB in music, and it's increasing.
cb361 said @ 7:09pm GMT on 4th Feb [Score:1 Informative]
Perhaps that attitude is why you don't have enough money. And why people who have more money than they can ever use still keep accumulating more in any way they can.
Onix said @ 4:25pm GMT on 6th Feb
Maybe. I see it more like giving away my toys when I am done with them, but perhaps you are right. Gotta think about it. Same thing with my audio stuff.
lalanda said @ 1:41am GMT on 4th Feb
arrowhen said @ 7:47am GMT on 4th Feb
What's a good place to shop for 1-2 year old top-of-the-line computers and how does the price compare to building your own?

I started building my own because it was so much cheaper (I put together a moderate "enthusiast" level gaming rig a couple years ago for less than what Dell would charge for grandma's piece of shit Facebook box), but I find the process annoying and stressful. If I could get a similar price to performance ratio out of something pre-built, that would be swell.
cb361 said[1] @ 9:15am GMT on 4th Feb [Score:1 Informative]
I don't know what suppliers there are who buy up old stock and re-sell it in the US, but even in Britain I usually just find a supplier on eBay nowadays. The competition between eBay sellers ensures that most prices are very competitive, and likewise most sellers jealously guard their positive feedback.

I must have sourced (several) hundred computers from different places over the past fifteen years, and probably the best advice I can think of you want something reliable is to buy a PC designed for business/office use. In the past we've tried to use PCs aimed at home users because they were a bit cheaper, but they really don't last as long. We once bought a load of Fujitsu computers, and every single one was dead within 18 months. Whereas we still have ten-year old Dells working.

In fact I'd say go with a business-oriented Dell for boring but reliable Windows computing. Reconditioned equipment in particular can be a real bargain, and computing power and memory are so overpowered and cheap nowadays that there's little advantage in a buying a state-of-the-art computer unless you're a power gamer or want to compute prime numbers.

My work computer is a Dell Optiplex 745, which has survived me treating it like shit for about four years. I'm currently putting the Small Form Factor version into our stores, to replace rock-solid but ancient Compaqs, and modern-but-unreliable Thinkcentres. The Thinkcentres should have been pretty good, but they seem to run too hot and components keep failing.

I don't know how the prices stacks up nowadays. I'd guess that a reconditioned business PC is still slightly more expensive than a home brew PC, but you're paying for something professionally designed. I've come to associate the big empty spaces inside generic cases with constant problems and the cost of replacing failed components.
HoZay said @ 1:41pm GMT on 4th Feb
I've seen quite a few failed power supplies in small Dells, and they're not replaceable off-the-shelf. I like a bigger case just for being able to easily upgrade/replace the power supply.

Incidentally, I recently saw a new Compaq full-size desktop with an external power supply. I opened the case and it was practically empty inside, a tiny motherboard and lots of empty space.
cb361 said @ 2:13pm GMT on 4th Feb
Were they one of Dell's home lines? We've got a lot of Dell Optiplex, and the reliable ten-year old computers were Dell Dimensions. I don't know if I've seen a single Dell PSU fail. I think it's probably more the difference between a manufacturer's home and business lines, rather than between manufacturers. Although Thinkcentres are a business line and they give me more grief than they should.

HoZay said @ 3:58pm GMT on 4th Feb
Optiplex GX something, Windows XP machines. I had one that was a castoff, I fixed the PS and used it for a media center for three or four years. Maybe Dell had a bad run, and the ones I saw were all from the same lot, but they were a pain.
HoZay said @ 10:02am GMT on 3rd Feb [Score:1 Underrated]
Depends on what your next question is.
lalanda said @ 1:39am GMT on 4th Feb
Hold me?
HoZay said @ 3:43am GMT on 4th Feb
C'mere, you.
I've built quite a few computers, but not lately. I stopped building them when they became so cheap off-the-shelf. If you want to save money over the already cheap retail price, you can buy refurbished at or or
If you want to build a super gaming machine, you can be talking significant cash - the video card may cost more than the computer.
So - what do you want to use the computer for, and why do you want to build instead of buy?
robotroadkill said @ 1:12pm GMT on 3rd Feb [Score:1 Informative]
I just built one for my wife.
lalanda said @ 1:40am GMT on 4th Feb
In my mind I keep hearing, "Filet of fish...for my wife".

Where did you start?
arrowhen said @ 8:03am GMT on 4th Feb [Score:2]
Start with a budget. Not a "price range" but a an actual number of dollars that you refuse to spend more than. Otherwise it's way too easy to fall into the trap of thinking "Wait, I could get an extra 1.76 gigawhoozits for just $60 more? That's not too bad..." for every single component until your $800 budget build has morphed into a $1900 e-peen stroking monstrosity. Then when you come to your senses and go back to your original plan it feels like you're settling for something cheap instead of making a sensible purchase that suits your particular needs.
robotroadkill said @ 4:23am GMT on 4th Feb
I tried to upgrade an old machine (also home built) but eventually replaced everything piece by piece except hdd. I guess I'd start, though, by considering what kind of processor you'll want and what you'll use the comp for, (what kind of components (&how many) you'll be adding,) and get a motherboard that can support those needs. Back in the day i had a video card,
a sound card, an ethernet card, a tv tuner card, extra usb slots card etc. Now i just have a video card.
b said @ 2:40pm GMT on 3rd Feb
I only build Lego.
mechanical contrivance said @ 3:46pm GMT on 3rd Feb [Score:1 Funny]
I only build tension.
b said @ 9:52pm GMT on 3rd Feb
ENZ said @ 4:30pm GMT on 3rd Feb
I was able to upgrade my video card, power supply, and RAM on this clunky mess I'm using. Which I guess is the computer equivalent of changing your own oil on your car. Couldn't tell you any more about a motherboard than a carburetor.
lalanda said @ 1:39am GMT on 4th Feb
Stupid community! Bet none of you would help me move either.
mechanical contrivance said @ 2:45am GMT on 4th Feb [Score:1 Insightful]
ComposerNate would.
arrowhen said @ 2:52am GMT on 4th Feb
A friend is someone who will help you move. A good friend is someone who will help you move a body.
mechanical contrivance said @ 3:20am GMT on 4th Feb
A very good friend is someone who will help you dig up a body.
lalanda said @ 4:26am GMT on 4th Feb
I think we've found A_Friend...
arrowhen said @ 8:05am GMT on 4th Feb
Shh! Not so loud! I've got this end, grab his ankles, would you?
Mythtyn said @ 2:16am GMT on 4th Feb
I built most of my computers. I'll assist if i'm able. What questions did you have?
stacyswirl said @ 11:24am GMT on 3rd Feb
I used to go to Radioshack primarily for audio/video cables and adapters and such. But the last couple times I went all that stuff is ridiculously more expensive than it used to be. Now the only reason I ever set foot in one is to buy blank DVD-Rs, they always have them on sale for a much better price than anywhere else. I hope they never completely die for this reason only.
Kama-Kiri said @ 12:05pm GMT on 3rd Feb
Back in the day, before the internet, it was either go find it at Radioshack or brave mail order. The store therefore had a solid core traffic, people looking for DIY electronics parts, or more "consumer grade" electronics accessories like wire and cable, AC adapters, obscure batteries, or things like cheap speakers or radios.

People today will laugh, but it really was the best place to get that kind of stuff. The only other option was the electronics section of department stores, which was comparatively dismal. Internet shopping was still in the distant future.
ComposerNate said[1] @ 12:38pm GMT on 3rd Feb
I worked mall RS Christmas 1993, four months on commission learning adapters, radio crystals, batteries and basic retail sales while wearing shirt and tie. My biggest sale was a guy just walking in, grabbing a video camera off shelf and handing it to me for purchase, no questions. He returned it within the month for full refund, I assume purpose served, my commission revoked just before being laid off at season's end. So weird working there: vacuuming nights after mall's closing, the little cluttered manager's desk hole in back amongst the inventory, the filthy employee toilet, the jacked up salesmen looking to close sale after sale, the stupid ancient front computer registering customers for mailing lists.
electric guppy said @ 5:01pm GMT on 3rd Feb
I was one of those kids they wrote about: went to my local RS in the 1970's to buy components and build my own mad-scientist stuff (for small values of "mad scientist"). I first began to understand marketing when I was constructing a digital clock kit (circuit board + list of more parts to buy at RS) and noticed that the LED driver circuits seemed to be artificially complicated so as to increase the number of components.

Mail order had barriers in the form of minumum order sizes and the need to ask Dad to write a check (at 14 I had no checking account). On the other hand, I could get to RS on my bike.

They also sold various build-it-yourself project books by Forrest Mims. Many fond memories connected to the smell of burning rosin.

Oh, and the CB craze. You kids these days, with your 4G phones (porn in yer pocket!) and your snapchats, you probably have no idea how absolutely amazing it was to be able to sit in the car and talk over a staticy channel with someone across town.

HoZay said @ 7:27pm GMT on 3rd Feb
Those Forrest Mims books were the best thing about RS, after Tandy computers.
Abdul Alhazred said @ 12:43am GMT on 4th Feb
I think the last time I went into a RadioShack was about 2002 when I was working on a project in engineering school and wanted a fairly substantial resistor. No one there knew anything about them and could only wave me toward an area in the back that had obviously not been entered in a very long time. I poked through the godawful disorganization for about ten minutes before muttering a few words of disgust and going across town to a small shop I knew of (which sadly has since folded). Five minutes of discussion with the guy there resulted in me using a low watt light bulb for my resistor, saving me a lot of time, annoyance and a couple of bucks.
HoZay said @ 4:03am GMT on 4th Feb
Integrated circuits have done away with most of those shops - tv repair, etc. Mouser used to send out giant catalogs listing apparently every electronic component ever. Now that's all online. Even with shipping, parts are way cheaper than Radio Shack ever was.
Adam said @ 8:00am GMT on 4th Feb
Right, but when you needed something on short notice RS was a decent place to get it, until they stopped carrying anything you could ever possibly need. Fortunately, I have a weird electronics store near me that still carries real components and tools for projects, but I have no idea what I'd do if I lived anywhere else and needed something on short notice. Not get it, I guess.

The last time I went into a Radio Shack I needed a flux pen. No one in the store knew what flux was.

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