My homage to RadioShack

vintage-compWell, there have been a lot of posts here about the fate of the big-box stores, and what it means to us in the audiovisual industry. I have watched the impending demise of places like Best Buy and Circuit City with a fair degree of indifference. I don’t shop there a lot, because of course as a dealer I have access to manufacturers and distributors directly and that keeps me from having to talk to dopey “experts” at the stores, having to fight off their misinformation and explain for the hundredth time why I don’t want to buy their stupid “extended warranty”.

But there’s one I have to speak up about. because if current rumors are true, RadioShack will be a real loss.

I don’t know a single North American A/V technician who doesn’t have a RadioShack story. My favorite is about the time we deliberately set off the burglar alarm at a RadioShack in Edmonton, Alberta, because we desperately needed some parts to repair equipment that had been damaged in a shipment from Toronto, and had an early morning show. After carefully opening the circuit from the magnetic connector on the door, we waited across the street, until the owner showed up to check the place out, and then approached him as if it was a coincidence that he happened to be there outside his store at 4 AM when we just happened to be cruising the city looking for a parts store that was open.

The stories like that are legendary. Especially in the rental portion of the industry, we all have stories about how we saved a show at the last second with a roll of gaffer tape and a part from RadioShack.

But that’s not the only thing that RadioShack has done for us. RadioShack introduced many of us to electronics. My first crystal radio set, which I have written about in the past, came from RadioShack. My first computer, a TRS 80, also came from RadioShack, and even though it was quickly replaced when the Apple II became available, it gave me my first experience with computers. Later, I also had a TRS 80 model 100 portable, which was really the first notebook computer. It had an eight line screen, 16 K of memory, and ran for weeks on C batteries which you could get anyplace in the world. It had a built-in phone modem, and an acoustic coupler so that I could get my email from my BBS system at 300 Bd anyplace in the world. in the days when “portable computer” meant something the size of a sewing machine, it did my first several worlds tours with me from places where the use of any other type of computer would’ve been impossible.

It still works.

So RadioShack was more than a store. It was, for those of us who were enamored with the mysterious field of electronics, a home base. We ran into each other at the store, and while buying solder and project boxes we would discuss our latest experiments. If you were to talk to the founders of the AV industry (and the microcomputer industry) each of them would tell you a fond story about the trips they made to RadioShack when they were inspired to build something.

I must admit that in many ways online suppliers have replaced the need for RadioShack. But there will always be those times when I am struck at 7 PM with an idea and I glance at my watch to see if RadioShack is still open. And even when Amazon delivers with drones, there will no longer be the thrill of pulling on my jacket and racing to be the last customer at my local RadioShack, so that I can pull an all-nighter, trying out a crazy idea.