Electronic Dreams

A few months ago I drove by a familiar store and noticed a closed sign on the front door. Memories of past visits to that store soon filled my head. For decades it was the place to go when I was in a jam. It was my electronics friend. My second home as a teenager and I’m sure it was the second home for many a baby boomer. Progress in technology had claimed another casualty. RadioShack was gone. 

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Storefront 1961

Even though I hadn’t been to that RadioShack for a while or any for that matter, It was nice to know there was a place to go if I needed something like speaker wire.

Back in the 1960s through 80s I was always going to a Radioshack. Those were the days I was usually putting in and changing car stereos or tinkering with my old tube TV.  During those times of working on my electronic gadgets, I would usually end up needing a part or getting some advice. Off to the local RadioShack I would go. Once there, my electronic problems were usually solved. It was the place to go to get parts for a VCR, 8-track, cassette or CD – DVD player.

RadioShack was also my go-to source for resistors, connectors and other stuff for electronics projects. To be honest … I just liked going to a Radioshack and just browse. Besides … it was fun just looking at their latest stereo equipment for the home.

The birth of RadioShack took place in 1921.  Two brothers, Theodore and Milton Deutschmann, opened a one-store retail and mail-order operation in downtown Boston. The brothers felt there was a need and desire in the marketplace for amateur and ham radio equipment. At this time radio technology was cutting-edge and thus the field was wide open.

William Halligan, one of Deutschmann’s first employees and later the founder of Hallicrafters, suggested the name “RadioShack.” The brothers thought the name was perfect because it was a term for the room that housed a ship’s radio equipment.

RadioShack would grow to a handful of stores centered in the Northeast, and become a leading electronics mail-order distributor to hobbyists. Due to its growing popularity the company issued its first catalog in 1939 as it entered the high fidelity music market.

In 1947, it opened the nation’s first audio showroom which provided amplifiers, speakers, turntables, phonograph cartridges, and the like. Before long the company had an extensive mail order business and expanded to nine retail electronic stores.

During 1954, RadioShack began selling its own private-label products under the brand name Realistic. 

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RadioShack interior 1950s

In 1962 RadioShack was purchased by The Tandy Corporation, a leather goods corporation, who was looking for other hobbyist-related businesses into which it could expand. The company really took off and expanded during the late 1960s and 70s. These years proved to be a time of incredible growth for Radio Shack. There was growth in the number of stores that were opened plus the quality and sophistication of the products available at the company’s stores improved. Many people in the electronic industry started referring to this growing giant as “The McDonalds of Electronics” or the “Walmart of Hi-Tech.”

Following the highly successful citizen-band (CB) radio craze of the late 70s, 1977 was the year RadioShack introduced the first mass-produced personal computer: the TRS-80® microcomputer – Only $599.95.

At its peak in 1999, RadioShack had close to 8,000 stores worldwide. In the U.S. the company ads would say 95 percent of the population lived within 5 minutes of one of it’s stores.

On October 29, 1969 the first message was sent on the internet. Dan Kohn created a music store website and first shopping cart called NetMarket in 1994. On August 11, 1994,  Kohn sold a CD of Sting’s “Ten Summoner’s Tales” to a friend in Philadelphia. Kohn’s friend paid $12.48 plus shipping, and he used data encryption software to send his credit card number securely.

On July 5, 1994 Jeff Bezos incorporated his company Amazon. Starting out as a seller of books out of Bezos’s garage he took his company online in 1995.

The internet and online stores plus companies such as Amazon have hurt many brick – and – mortar stores. RadioShack is no exception. The development of the smartphone hasn’t helped either. Less space is needed for entertainment and other electronic functions. Many of the gadgets and electronic gizmos RadioShack used to advertise in their ads can now be accomplished on a smartphone. 

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Many of the gadget's on this 1991 ad have been replaced by a smartphone

So after struggling for years as electronics shoppers shifted online, RadioShack filed for bankruptcy on July 5, 2015. The chain had about 5,200 stores and 27,500 employees as recently as 2014. Standard General (General Wireless Operations) acquired the RadioShack brand soon after. 1,800 store closures followed. It appeared to have found a lifeline when General Wireless partnered with wireless operator Sprint which opened a store within a store in most of the remaining locations. The Sprint relationship did not yield the benefits and recently the company filed for bankruptcy again on March 8, 2017.

As of September 2017 there were 28 remaining corporate location stores.  RadioShack does have an online website store and the name is licensed to approximately 425 independently owned franchise stores.

Back in 1964 Petula Clark released the hit song, “Downtown.” She sang about going downtown if one was lonely. Downtown used to be a place of stores such as RadioShack, movie theaters and places to eat. Thanks to the internet and changing tastes, the decline of downtown America is taking place. 

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RadioShack closing sign

There are exceptions, but for the most part baby boomers may only have their memories of their favorite store to visit.

Contributed by

Craig Francom

Craig Francom was born in San Diego California and raised in Midvale Utah. Craig had a "Leave it to Beaver" childhood. If not at the local fishing hole, camping out …

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