Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

When Radio Shack was cool…

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 13, 2015

It’s funny. As mush as I¬†might embrace change and improvements, there’s still a part of me that still expects the world to be exactly the same as it was when I was fifteen. At least the parts I interact with. When I walk into a mall, a part of me still wants to seek out the once-ubiquitous arcade.

And part of me still thinks I might walk into a mall as part of daily life…

There’s a Radio Shack store in a shopping strip near my house that I pass by almost daily. I go there pretty infrequently (although more frequently than I visit a mall…), and it’s mainly a place to get overpriced home theater and stereo equipment, cell phone accessories, remote control vehicles, battery chargers, and HDMI cables. Although towards the back, I was gratified to see that they still sell fuses, some solid-state electronic components, and – much to my surprise – a couple of electronic project kits for kids.

That last discovery, several months ago, was a pleasant one. When I was a kid, that was what Radio Shack represented. It was a hobbyist electronics retail shop. They had computers (the famous TRS-80s… the “TRS” stood for “Tandy / Radio Shack”), a bunch of electronic gizmos and toys, computer software, electronic project kits galore, and of course a bunch of components and cables for wiring up your home electronics. It was a store I’d visit just to browse. I’d spend hours looking over their catalogs and mailers each year. I had a couple of their electronic project kits, and learned a little bit about electronics that way. Mainly, I learned what would happen to a microchip that was core to one kit if you decided to pour extra power into it via a model train transformer. Oh, and I learned what burned electronics smell like that way, too. You never forget that smell.

I bought parts from the Radio Shack as an older teen to build a device that would transform the electricity from a 9-volt battery into a muscle-curling hundreds of volts for use as a practical joke – or a way to prove one’s macho-ness in the most non-macho, geekly way possible.

Like its sister company Tandy Leather, Radio Shack was a retail store for the Do-It-Yourselfers. And maybe it was what it represented that was so exciting to my young mind. It was the idea that this stuff did not belong inside some ivory tower of academia or inside the white clean-rooms of industry, but there in your garage or basement workshop, or up in the bedrooms of twelve-year-old kids. In that way, maybe it helped instill the “indie spirit” in me. For that, I owe it.

Not enough to buy any more HDMI cables from them, though. I could get two of ’em for the same price from Office Max or Amazon.

But hey, maybe I’ll buy a heliquad from ’em someday or something…

 


Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: 5 Comments to Read



  • Anon said,

    Ha ha – nice story!

    And a bit similar to mine: Before I was into computers I was also interested in (discrete) electronics. All the novice circuits with LEDs, 555-timers, transistors (“multivibrators”), amplifiers, infrared light-barriers with alarm (if somebody entered my room – just in case I didn’t notice it when I was sitting 2 meters away…), solar cells etc.
    I recreated them all but never really understood electronics at that age (because I didn’t experiment and didn’t thoroughly study at a slow pace) and I never designed my own circuits.

    Before that it was model railroad which I did somewhat half-heartedly. But that got me a train tranformer, too!

    Or should I say “The LED-Killer!”

    Oh, yes, I’ve seen the “magic smoke”(R) escaping from integrated circuits, too! More than once!
    But putting LEDs into overdrive with excessive voltage that you slowly crank up was way more satisfying as the brightness got higher and higher and the hue shifted until it did something akin to a tiny supernova!

    It basically was electronics torture! LOL

    I couldn’t stop until I had destroyed them all – and they were quite expensive around 1980 as I bought them from a model railroad supplier (or did my father pay for them? I’m not sure…) instead of a local electronics store because that was much farther away.
    These LEDs were mostly meant for train signals but my unappreciative hands (and especially mind) back then weren’t ready for them.

    Another fun (but stupid) activity with the transformer was scratching the surface of a chip with a small wire – but under a microscope!
    Sometime this slightly resembled the surface of the deathstar with “explosions”. Oh yes, we still had imagination back then!

    Then computers came along with “infinite” programmability and discrete electronics took the back seat, only coming out once in a while when I have to repair something like replacing capacitors etc.

  • McTeddy said,

    Thank you Jay, It’s not often I read an article and feel young again. I can’t even imagine a day and age where radio shack was cool.

    I had to pick up most of the “do-it-yourself” stuff at specialized hobby stores (Which I could never afford anyways). The only times I remember going to radio shack was when we needed something for our VCR.

    VCR? Aww crap I’m old again.

  • Deft said,

    Great article. Radio Shack used to be like a cupboard of supplies for the electrical chemistry set. I went into a Radio Shack a few months ago for some advice on what electric parts to buy to bridge a bad circuit on a treadmill motherboard. The guy in the store was clueless about all things circuitry. I was disappointed. He did offer me a cell phone though.

    Also, somebody needs to tell you about monoprice.com for cables and all those peripherals. Just a word-of-mouth plug because I use them and have been satisfied with them.

    Cheers!

  • DeftTitan said,

    Great article. Radio Shack used to be like a cupboard of supplies for the electrical chemistry set. I went into a Radio Shack a few months ago for some advice on what electric parts to buy to bridge a bad circuit on a treadmill motherboard. The guy in the store was clueless about all things circuitry. I was disappointed. He did offer me a cell phone though.

    Also, somebody needs to tell you about monoprice.com for cables and all those peripherals. Just a word-of-mouth plug because I use them and have been satisfied with their quality and service for the price..

    Cheers!

  • Xian said,

    I always went there for the obscure cable or part. Sadly, they might not be around much longer. I was just reading of the speculation that they will file for bankruptcy.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/15/us-radioshack-bankruptcy-idUSKBN0KO04W20150115

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