There was an excellent article in the May issue of Wired that really hit home for me, The Lost Tribes of RadioShack: Tinkerers Search for New Spiritual Home.  It’s about the re-branding of Radio Shack from a “temple of transistors, parts, and cables”, to a purveyor of all things digital and disposable.  Radio Shack has had to make some changes to stay profitable in today’s market.

Here are some of the quotes in the article that brought back some vivid memories of the frequent trips I made to RadioShack as a tinkering youth:

Some people say RadioShack is just a store  … But to me it was an idea — a learning and resource center that really shaped people’s lives.

I remember countless days spent working on an electronics project, where I made many trips to the local Radio Shack for components.  It was exciting to learn about photocells, electromagnets, diodes, transistors, etc.  Sometimes these projects would last weeks on end.  I was always taking things apart (and in many cases never got them put back together!) much to my parents’ chagrin.  I recall only very few of my peers frequenting the store… so it is nice to see this article put a face on the real impact RadioShack had on people’s lives.  I never really realized the magnitude RadioShack had on others until I read this article.  I went on to study Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and in a real way, my tinkering has turned into a marvelous career.

He also pored over the RadioShack catalog the day it arrived, studying up on what was then cutting-edge technology — reel-to-reel tape decks, fax machines — and the pages and pages of arcane electronic components.

Wow, this hit the nail on the head.  I spent so many hours dissecting all the new components in every Radio Shack catalog.  There was so much cool stuff to build!  (Ready for some nostalgia?  Check out 67 years of old RadioShack Catalogs here).  Of course, there were Heathkit catalogs as well…

Oh, how I lusted over the GC-1000 Most Accurate Clock (I finally purchased a used one on eBay a few months ago).

The books were written exclusively for RadioShack and were offered in stores for a few dollars each. They were essentially giveaways; the real money came from all the diodes, transistors, and tools that hobbyists needed to build the circuits he diagrammed.

Remember the Engineer’s Mini-Notebooks?  These were always filled with great projects, and circuits, that could be used to build a multitude of gear.  I was always interested in radio, and built all kinds of receivers and transmitters.  One of the neatest projects I made was a digital voice synthesizer, that took its input from and 300 baud serial line.  Now that was cool!

Over the years, I got interested in Ham Radio… especially packet radio.  There was just something so neat about sending digital messages to others across the country with a TeleVideo 925 dumb terminal, a MFJ packet radio, a Yaesu 2m ham radio, and a homemade J-pole antenna on the roof.  Of course, many of the parts that made it work were from RadioShack.

I leave you with one last quote from some reader correspondence printed in the July issue:

RadioShack “was my tech school as kid”

That about sums it up.   Except for the fact that my folks now think this video clip “The Knack” pretty much sums up my childhood.

Update 7/14/10 – I came across this similar retrospective, Raised, in part, by Radio Shack.  Good reading.

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