The Radio Shack Catalog archive

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While it might be hard to imagine a modern day Radio Shack fanatic, it's considerably less difficult to empathize with the person behind "Radio Shack Catalogs (dot com), an archive of catalogs that is trying to collect every single leaflet distributed since 1939. Kirk suggested we take a look, despite the fact that he doesn't normally "go for fancy Flash interfaces". I don't like the Flash interface in the least, but I'm not the one doing all the heavy lifting collecting catalogs!

There are several holes in the collection still, so if you run across any old catalogs hang on to them for the curator. I'm sure he or she would appreciate it. (And if you find other old tech media you think we'd all like, that's exactly what our Electro Selectro Flickr pool is all about.)

Radio Shack catalogs archive [RadioShackCatalogs.com]

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9 Comments

  1. I worked for RadioShack from 2001 until 2006, for one of the longest-employed managers in the company (over 30 years when I started). Amongst some of the awesome tech detritus he had tucked away was a small file cabinet full of old RadioShack catalogs- our own private archive for looking up information on discontinued product. Going through those catalogs on slow and snowy days was awesome, and although I think something will be lost in not having the old paper to slide between your fingers, I’ll probably burn through a few lunch hours looking at this site.

    As anyone who was a ‘Shack monkey for long knows, RadioShack is a bit like the mafia… once you’re in, you’re in for *life*. I still look suspiciously for missing price tags and spacesaver clips when I go into a store, and woe betide any employee who doesn’t know how to manipulate the POS system when I’m making a purchase. 😉

    Honestly I can’t tell why the RadioShack company has slipped so far off of it’s hobbiest moorings. The stores were originally known as a good place to buy project gear, radio accessories (and radios… <3 HTX-202) and if you go back far enough, even computers.** Now the company seems intent on selling off-brand home audio equipment, poorly-made iPod accessories, and pushing mobile phones to an already oversaturated market. They still have many of the cables and adapters that no one else carries, but they've lost a lot of the core items that made them awesome. I think the first thing they could do to restore awesomeness(tm) is to get back into radio gear... bring out an HTX-202 Retro unit, identical to the old model but maybe with improved battery life. Then bring in better quality home stereo equipment, and for gods sake bring back the car stereo section, even in miniature!

    err, not that I have an opinion on this or anything...

    ~Bilby~

    **Well, technically if you go back far enough what Radio Shack was known for was leather products, but that's just because Old Man Tandy started out in leather, and anyway the leather goods never made up more then half the store.
    Interestingly, Tandy Leather is still around.(pops)

    [tl;dr – old catalogs rule, radioshack was fun but is leaning towards suck, bring back old RS]

  2. with the popularity of MAKE and DIY in general (from more science eduction to computer mods) i’m hoping radioshack utilizes their physical space – meet ups for tinkerers, how-to lessons for cell phones and computers. i think radioshack is competing with many “big box” retailers for commodity consumer electronics – that’s a tough market, they could do a lot with their massive distribution and store in every town network in ways their competitors cannot.

    these catalogs are fantastic, good fine.

  3. Although there’s a resurgence in MAKE / DIY, this seems to in opposing phase to the decline of amateur radio and hobbyist electronics of the Art of Electronics variety.

    All 5 RadioShacks near me do basically three things:

    1.) Provide replacement CB equipment for truckers before the next leg of their haul.

    2.) Provide A/V cables and adapters that you can’t get at Best Buy. (Including AC/DC power adapters.)

    3.) Let people pay their mobile phone bill.

    Ok, and they do still carry some basic soldering tools, heat shrink wrap, and basic ICs. I was actually able to find 9 DCv -> 5 DCv regulator for using 9v lithium batteries as emergency phone / iPod rechargers.

    Oh, and they have watch batteries for when you need them once a year.

    Honestly I can’t tell why the RadioShack company has slipped so far off of it’s hobbiest moorings.

    I remember when it happened, not long after I “overclocked” my TI-85 graphing calculator with a switch behind the battery cover to go from 2MHz to 6MHz for advanced ZShell programs. It’s when the actors from Lois & Clark started pitching RadioShack as a competitor with big box stores for consumer electronics, instead of as an electronics hobbyist shop.

    This is very much like 7-11 convenience stores directly competing with supermarkets.

  4. I think the previous owners are not old enough to comment here. 🙂 The original Radio Shack was a single store on Washington Street in Boston, approximately where the Charles Schwab stock broker store is now. It was a treasure trove of electronic junk. While I had bought stuff by mail, my first visit to the store was in 1955, shortly after getting my driver’s license.

    The place was full of military and commercial surplus stuff. You could buy the innards of some device for a buck, then spend hours stripping out all the parts.

    Or, you could go in with the parts list out of a magazine and buy one 200 ohm resistor, one 500 mf capacitor, etc. A guy behind a counter would put the whole thing together for you. When he rang it up, the total might be only a couple of bucks.

    Its principal competition was a Lafayette, across town in the financial district, across from the current Blue Cross building.

    Radio Shack had already expanded into multiple stores when Tandy bought it and turned it into what we know today.

  5. The first Shack was indeed in Boston.

    The second was in my hometown, New Haven, on a block of Crown Street that had somehow escaped the wrecking balls that tore the heart out of the city in the late 1950s and early 1960s. On its brick wall an ancient painted sign advertised: “Free! 224-Page Catalog!”

    Inside it was dark and very, very geeky, but my father and I braved the chill and entered sometime in 1958-59 to buy me some headphones, some copper wire and a crystal so I could build my first radio. With these components and a toilet paper cylinder I was in business and could pick up a strong AM signal.

    Later, as a teenager, I dropped in every month for my free battery from the “Battery of the Month Club” and did my best to resist the insistent requests for addresses for the Shack’s insatiable mailing list.

    Tandy turned the Shack into Dullsville.

    Rick Prelinger

  6. Battery of the month club, wow, does that bring back memories.

    My parents would always have a supply of Radio Shack batteries (I think they had 4 or 5 free battery cards), and every Christmas all my toys got Radio Shack batteries installed…

    …which of course invariably leaked and ruined my toys.

  7. Tandy brought the Battery of the Month club to the UK, which was great for a teenage geek with a burgeoning pile’o’electrocrap. I was never much of a hobbyist but did occasionally try and put together boards for projects, although the *other* independent hobby electronics shop was far better for components even in the early-mid-80s.

    Tandy pulled out of the UK in the early 90s but their place has been taken by Maplin, who sell the same sort of stuff including never quite the right components. I wonder if they’re looking to expand to the States? No equivalent of the Tandy synth though.

  8. The kids in Cory’s “Little Brother” would have been right at home in a Radio Shack a couple of decades ago. Great stuff.

    Anyway, radio shack had low margins. Even if a pack of resistors cost them just 5 cents, you couldn’t make any money selling 5 or 10 of them a day for fifty cents.

    You have rent, taxes, the cost of 2 or 3 bumbling employees plus other overhead.

    If you own the building, fine – but people with money don’t come into dark dingy 30 year old hole in the wall buildings. So RS had to keep upgrading, and that means ever increasing rents.

    The one guy in 20 who knew something about electronics… the guy you all liked… he generally lost the company money.

    By neglecting the elderly woman who wanted to spend $100 while shooting the breeze with a hobbyist who would spend $5 (and make the company $4), he would lose $40 in margin.

    The problem with such things is like running a tiny diner vs running a big fast food place. Love only goes so far.

    BTW, the “hobbiest” spelling started as a joke.
    Lobby –> Lobbyist
    Hobby –> Hobbyist

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