Do You Remember RadioShack Back When ...
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RadioShack is on its last legs, reportedly in talks to shut down and sell its storefronts to companies like Sprint and Amazon.
For many technologists, this is much more than just the loss of another strip mall retailer — it’s the end of where their passion really began. The place where they bought their first transistor, the place where they first learned to code. Fortune’s Term Sheet newsletter asked readers to submit their first memories or early experiences at RadioShack, and got lots of nostalgic replies.
Below are some of our favorites:
• “Radio Shack was always my favorite store as a child. From their Battery of the Month Club, to their vacuum tube testers (remember those?) to their electronics kits and soldering irons, I was hooked as a young boy. No wonder I was always getting chased out of there! But the turning point for me was the TRS-80 (as I am sure it was pivotal for so many others) – that cemented my life as an engineer and geek. The TRS-80 was the first computer I typed into, wrote my first programs and played games on. Now, we never owned one – I did that all in the store. We were never in a position to spend the $1,000 (give or take) for the computer – but every trip to our little mall included a stop for me at Radio Shack.” ~ Jack Unverfurth, director of software at Get Real Health.
• “I learned BASIC programming at a Radio Shack store when I was 11 years-old. They held this class in a back room at the store and me and a about a dozen adults learned how to do ‘Print’ and ‘If-Then’ statements. This was like 1981 and the first exposure any of us had to computer programming.” ~ James Navin, VP of strategic operations at Sharethrough
• “My grandfather — who is now 94 and who’s got all the zipper machine patents in Google patent search — took me to Radio Shack when I was about 8 years-old. He bought me a soldering iron and we made electromagnets. That was the first time i made something. I cant imagine what we would’ve made with Arduino or Raspberry PI. I guess the combination of entrepreneurial genes and that early time screwing around in grandpas lab inspired me to found MINR. ~ Sol Weinreich
• “My first computer was a TRS-80 bought in 1979 at local Radio Shack – 16K with a black and white monitor and cassette tape drive. Wouldn’t have my 20-year career in tech if not for the experience of having a PC in our living room as an 8 year-old.” ~ Steven Mitzenmacher, VP of corporate development at NetApp
• “I used my Bar Mitzvah money to buy my first ‘personal’ computer in 1981 — the TRS-80 from Radio Shack. It had no disk drives; the only memory was 16K of RAM. I had to save programs on a cassette tape, and the filenames could be no longer than two letters. So awesome.” ~ Paul Greenberg, CEO of Nylon
• “Back in the mid-90s, there was no DigiKey or hundreds of other component sites. The information wasn’t as abundant either for amateur geeks (like myself), so you could bring a circuit board with burnt out component and get help finding replacement. Radio Shack employees were true hardcore geeks. Somewhere in early 2000’s Radio Shack started hiring sales people and not geeks, which resulted in Best Buy-esque experience. You may have wanted some random component, but were pushed cellphone plans instead. Knowledge of associates dropped to such low levels, they would read you what is on the box, but would have no idea what is the difference between resistor and capacitor. That is when the company became dead to me. ~ Apollo Sinkevicius, COO of Robin Powered
• “Radio Shack was one of my favorite stores growing up. My dad was an electrical engineer, so many a project involved a trip to Radio Shack: removing alternator noise from a car audio system, fixing the tube amp on my 1930s Hammond Organ, building a home-brew security system, etc. As the years went on, the front of the store was filled with more mobile phones & games, and our little section of resistors, capacitors & breadboards was relegated to a smaller and smaller back corner of the store.” ~ Matt Brezina, CEO of Sincerely Inc.
• “I grew up in Dallas, Texas. Radio Shack was everywhere. I could ride my bike to the nearest one in a shopping center that also had my haircut place (back when we called them ‘barbers’) and a local ice cream store that I loved but can’t remember the name of. Across the street was a Piggly Wiggly in a big shopping center. It’s all at Arapaho Road and Coit Road in Dallas in Spanish Village. I’d ride by bike up to Radio Shack and just sit and screw around in the store forever. I was always amazed at the diodes, capacitors, resistors, wires, and cables. Eventually they had a CB Radio that I somehow convinced my dad to by for his car. I was totally into Breaker-breaker-1-9 and my favorite thing to do was to say Breaker-breaker-1-9 I need to take a 10-100. When the TRS-80 came out, that was the end of that. I got an Apple II instead and when the Epson MX-80 printer came out, I was done with Radio Shack for a long time.” ~ Brad Feld, venture capitalist
• “During my early teenage years in the 90’s, my dad was posted in Sana’a, Yemen. For a kid in the MTV generation this spelt a death knell. Socially speaking, the city was as barren as its desert. But… it had a Radio Shack! For kids like me that was the epitome of cool. The Technic earphones and Sony tape decks were sights that we saw only on TV. But the Shack brought it to life for us. Many a dull afternoon have I spent foraging through their shelves. Hence nostalgia abounds whenever I think of them. Doubt if others see it my way, but Radio Shack would always be my yardstick as far as cool quotient comparisons go.” ~ Raju Joseph
• “I was an early personal computer hobbyist, and in 1981 entered Johns Hopkins University’s first national search for applications to benefit the disabled. My entry was a design and prototype for a word processing service that would hire typists who were blind to type dictation over the telephone and return finished text by e-mail. I used a TRS-80 and Radio Shack answering machine to prove the concept. The Radio Shack store in McLean, Virginia was where I got the equipment, but also found helpful people with ideas and encouragement. Word processing centers and services were, of course, quickly eclipsed by advances in business technology, but I still got that certificate on my wall.” ~ Alan Kotok, editor and publisher at Science & Enterprise
• “I was an early RS consumer having spent paperboy delivery money on countless ‘free’ baseball bat sized d-cell flashlights, the mystical p-boxes and subsequently, Band-Aids (early life lesson on how hot a solder iron can get…) to returning later as a college co-op student to the Fort Worth, TX headquarters. Tandy’s Research & Development division offered me a full-time offer upon graduation where I became part of the Team behind the TRS-80 and the new Tandy 2000 Personal Computers. Had the opportunity to meet Dell and Gates who were each just starting their respective companies.” ~ Don Metzger
• “Our dads built Heath kit stereos and passed on soldering skills and the maker spirit in projects we built from parts purchased at Radio Shack. I remember wanting my own radio, and us building a crystal radio to fit inside a 7-up can. One-part James Bond, one part learning the skills of engineers. The radio was my first project built with my dad, doing something he did as a boy. We later built a launcher for Estes rockets with buttons, switches, wire and solder from Radio Shack to start our family space program! Turning screen-time into ‘us time.'” ~ Joe Salesky, CEO of Ustyme
• “I learned how to program Basic on a Radio Shack (Tandy) TRS-80 in NYC in the early 80s. I would sit in the store for hours, program, and play. The software was downloaded from an audio cassette at a 300 Baud rate. A simple pong-like game would take about 5 mins to download from the cassette. Fun times.” ~ Bart Schachter
• “I bought a 101-in-One electronics kit in the 70’s to have some fun tinkering. In the 80’s my little daughter took a liking to it and how things work. Her educational path lead her to a PhD in chemistry. I don’t doubt that the kit I bought from Radio Shack created her first science building block. Thank you Radio Shack!” ~ Len Charmichael, CFO of Sunnyside Corp.
• “When I was 12-14 years old (1979) I got into talking on CB radios. I think it had to do with Smokey and the Bandit. I went to Radio Shack weekly to get the latest antennae, amplifier, speaker, etc. I remember extending wires to all four corners of my room. The theory was the larger the antennae the more distant signals we could pick up.” ~ Keith Wasserstrom, consultant
• “When I was in high school, I was in a band. I thought we were the best band in school, but another band (whose lead singer was the son of the guy who owned the Detroit Pistons) always won competitions and I thought it was because they had better equipment. We couldn’t afford better equipment, so my dad and I started to go to Radio Shack and bought raw parts to put together a complete P.A. system. We never lost again. And I’ll always treasure spending time with dad and learning about the science behind the music. ” ~ Jason Mendelson, venture capitalist
• “For me, Radio Shack was the equivalent of today’s Apple store. I loved going in there and just looking around, wondering what half the stuff was, particularly their walls of transistors, capacitors, plugs and patch cords. One of my first at home/Saturday morning projects as a 10 year-old boy was to build a robot with tin cans my Mom had thrown out and plenty of lead solder and an ‘Archer’ soldering gun, which still works after 50 years, even the little light on the front! Unfortunately the robot never did. I also still have an Archer voltmeter from the early 70’s that works great. In my teens I used some of those transistors they sold to build a device that allowed me and a friend to make long-distance phone calls for free, even though we didn’t really have anyone to call. My dream as a kid was to someday work in a Radio Shack and, dare I think it, even manage one! Today I run a software development company and credit much of my tech curiosity to those days wandering – and wondering – around in my local Radio Shack. I’m sorry to see them go.” ~ Frank Kenna, CEO of The Marlin Company
• “I still remember my brother and I as kids on a road trip fighting over a Walkman until my parents had to find a radio shack (without googlemaps) to buy a headphone splitter. Then we just argued over which cassette tapes to play.” ~ Chris Livingston, associate with Summit Partners
• “I was a geek when being a geek was not fashionable. When portable computers weighed 40lbs and the concept of a laptop was just a dream.
I was a geek when a mouse was a furry thing that you chased out of your house not made a home on your desk.
I was a geek when computers had names like Trash 80
I was a geek on the cutting edge of technology,
I was a geek thanks to Radio Shack.”
~ Warren Markowitz, Geek, attorney, radio host, and a kid from the 1980’s