RadioShack Refuses to Die!

TRS-80 image

Most of you reading this blog are probably too young to remember when RadioShack was cool. I know Ollie remembers because he even gave one of his characters a job at RadioShack, but most of you probably cannot remember the days of the Trash-80 (TRS-80) or Realistic car stereos. Before we had every retailer under the sun horning in on the low priced tech gadgets market, we had RadioShack. Today we have news that RadioShack will live again.

One can wonder if they will bother bringing back the Realistic audio line. It made sense back when most auto manufacturers didn’t give a hoot about car stereos. They begrudgingly gave us AM/FM radios. A few offered an 8-track or cassette as an option back then. Today it’s not just a car stereo but an Infotainment system fully integrated into the vehicle. Back then you had 2 power leads, a ground, and a couple of speaker wires to deal with. Today you have a complicated network communications plug which means you have to get an aftermarket stereo which licensed the API.

Realistic car stereo ad

Realistics were notoriously problematic, but that was part of their appeal. The “I can fix it” gadget crowd loved having something they could tinker with. Then again, many of them also worked at RadioShack. When some wide eyed kid came in with a parent wanting to build something the staff could scratch out a schematic and parts list in a matter of minutes and tell them just how to assemble it.

It’s sad to see Walmart become the brick and mortar mecca of low priced tech. Back in the day that was RadioShack. Those RCA made Android 2-in-1 computers I’ve blogged about here and on my own blog should have definitely had a Tandy logo on them and been sold at RadioShack. There was a time when Tandy was one of the best selling most widely known home computers in the PC world. They had a name recognition like Dell does today. Of course Tandy had a reputation much like Gateway computers did back in the day.

If it worked out of the box it would always work. Sadly, about 1-in-3 actually worked out of the box. The other two just kept getting sent back for repairs until the warranty expired.

AST 286 Premium image
AST 286 Premium

Tandy did get respectability when DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) got out of the PC manufacturing business after never having really been in it. DEC also contracted with AST at one point but the trade press had more fun with Dandy – Digital’s Tandy. I actually used a few of these computers on a job for DEC and they had incredibly great typing keyboards. I owned an AST 286 Premium back in the day. AST built a rock solid keyboard you could pound away on 8+ hours per day forever. I miss that keyboard, then again, I miss being that young and on top of the world. There was nothing I couldn’t code from a device driver all the way up to a massive corporate order processing system which ran on a global cluster. Now I find things I don’t wish to code.

Wish I could find a good picture on-line of “The Dandy” PCs. They had one seriously annoying design flaw. The power button was immediately to the left of the eject button for the 3.5″ floppy. It was the same size and shape as the eject button _and_ it had a light on it to attract your attention. Numerous people, myself included, powered down the computer when they really wanted to eject the floppy.

This was part of the RadioShack appeal. Cheap stuff which was almost good enough. Seemed to be designed to inspire people to build their own.

I think what went wrong with RadioShack is both they and the market believed they were a retailer. Nothing could be further from the truth. They were a geek club. We paid a bit more for stuff there to be a member of the club.

One comment

Leave a Reply