Fight Back for the Shack

Radio Shack!  Come over here and listen to me!

I have your future all figured out.  I do. And I’m serious.  I’m not like all those other guys.  I’m not sucking you in so that I can be mean. In this post, right here, I will outline a simple way by which Radio Shack can actually become something other than the ill-defined butt of jokes it has become.

And please, Mr. Shack (I will be formal here, though I feel that we have become close enough over the years that I could call you “Radio” if we were just sitting around drinking), don’t take offense at that description. You have to accept that it is true in order to move on from it.

Radio Shack used to be the store that most of us made fun of, and shopped at.  When you built or repaired something, and you were showing it to someone knowledgeable, you would have to mention “Yeah well, I needed the parts right away, so I went to Crap Shack…”

That, right there, was the beauty of the place.  It had things you needed RIGHT NOW.  You didn’t have to go to a real electronics store, or order things through the mail–you just went to Radio Crap and THEY HAD THE PART.

Plugs, jacks, hookup wire, resistors, capacitors, soldering and de-soldering stuff, switches, dials, knobs, meters, batteries, cable, raw speakers–all the stuff you needed was there.  And most stores had a nerd right there to help you find the parts.

Sure, it was a love-hate relationship, but there was a lot of love.

Well, times change, right?  Now nobody listens to the radio, nobody repairs things, nobody needs the old Radio Shack, right?

No.  Wrong, actually.  But wait–let’s keep talking about old Radio Shack.

What else did Radio Shack sell?  Well, radios, for one thing.  And walkie-talkies, and stereo equipment and small PA stuff, and microphones and tape decks and a surprisingly good line of bookshelf speakers called “Minimus.”  None of this was the best you could buy.  Nope. But it was usually solid, lasted forever, and had good warranty and service.  And it was not expensive. These products were mostly sold under the “Realistic” brand.  Which really summed up what you had to be in order to shop there.  You were not buying anything great, but you were getting your money’s worth. Realistic.

But times change, right?  Nobody wants to buy a house brand if it’s not prestigious, right?

No, I’m pretty sure that’s wrong too, actually.  But I promise I will only bore you with this background a little more.

Radio Shack also sold kits.  You could buy a crystal radio kit and build it yourself in about 15 minutes.  I had one.  I listened to Rod Phillips have conniptions about the Edmonton Oilers on it for years.  I also had an electronics experiment kit that I wish I had paid more attention to now.  It was just a bunch of components all cleverly attached to a board that you could clip together with bits of wire to make different circuits.  Mine could do everything from a crystal radio (again) to a tone generator, to basic computer circuits. It was a lot cooler than I was.  I mostly just made the siren over and over and over again.

There were all kinds of kits.  Photoelectric switches, and radios, and electric motors and all that good stuff.

But times change, right?  Are you as bored with all this parallel structure as I am?  Good. Let’s dispense with it and cut to the chase.

A lot of people are getting into fixing and building stuff now. Some are collectors, some are “makers” (folks who build things from other things because it’s a cool thing to do), some are just forced to do so because buying good stuff is expensive. The point here is that there IS a market for small electric/electronic parts again, PARTICULARLY if they are sold by people who actually know how things work.

To the best of my knowledge, there is nowhere within a reasonable distance of my home at which I could buy resistors, capacitors, plastic stand-offs for gears, hook-up wire or a decent metal enclosure.  All the brick-and-mortar places are gone, and everything is done on the Onetarweebs–which does me absolutely no good when I need a stomp switch, a 5 volt DC power supply, a 250K pot, a headphone plug, or anything like that in less than three days.  Or someone who can tell me what I need to buy.

There are even more people who would LIKE to fix stuff, but have been taught that anything through which current flows is a dark, mysterious secret.  For those people a little kit from which they could make a thing that does stuff would be a nice entry point into actually comprehending the world in which they live.  So of course, most of them would buy these things for their kids, and then have the kids explain it to them. That’s how the home computer made it into the home after all, and those things don’t even work.

Thanks to general stupidity and greed, we’re seeing more and more brand-name electronics being sold for high prices that are just plain bad products.  Whether encumbered by pointless DRM, made more expensive by licensing proprietary junk, cross-marketing, bad out-sourcing, or simply being marketed by price-point, these products are unpalatable to folks who want to buy something just for its functionality.  A small but reliable line of simple electronics, sold knowledgeably and supported well, could have a nice, stable market.

So my big recommendation to “The Shack” is to just go back to what it originally did.  Be Radio Shack:  Sell electronics, parts and kits. Stop competing for the same buck as big-box electronicmarts.

It might be a good idea to tweak things a little–have both the “Crap Shack” quality components AND some higher-end equivalents.  You could probably get away with a convenience markup on that stuff.  I know I would rather fix something properly once than do a Saturday fix and then a Tuesday fix.  The electronics should be like the old Kenmore or Craftsman brands used to be.  Not sexy–just good.  And the kits should be for stuff people might use now–wi-fi gizmos, Arduino kits, adapter/convertors, and most of the the stuff you see on sites like Hackaday. There is a lot of cross-breeding potential with sites like Instructables and MAKE as well.

Nobody needs a small retail store in malls, selling the same chip jewelry as everyone else, with no real value-add, that wants your a phone number to sell you a 9 volt battery. Nobody needs “The Shack.”

What IS needed–and what doesn’t exist, is a reliable, knowledgeable electronic store.  Most people don’t even realize that they need this, and that is a good place to start.

Radio Shack could own this space in the market. And I would be there every week.

Spam Sez “-Faxes delivered to your email.-“


  1. Dear Mr. R. Shack,

    Please listen to the Netdud. He knows whereof he speaks.

    There are many of us who just want some place real that can advise us and sell to us those bits and pieces (and those marvelous kits for projects we would never otherwise attempt) that would make life easier to deal with, right now, not in 5 to 10 working days if purchased by credit card or paypal.

    Thank you.

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