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Pick of the day: The lost tribes of Radio Shack

I loathe Radio Shack and have never understood its allure. Maybe that's because every microcassette recorder I have ever bought there has broken. I'm sure they would have broken had I bought them from anywhere else, but since there is a Radio Shack next door to my office, they bear a disproportionate burden of my disgruntlement.

Perhaps I would have more love for the place if I tinkered with electronics. I recently stumbled across a story in Wired Magazine in which Jon Mooallem explains how Radio Shack lost its way as we changed from a nation of electronics do-it-yourselfers to apps downloaders. The Radio Shacks being mourned here are not the corporate outposts most of us are used to, but the approximately 1,400 franchised dealerships, including one owned by Andy Cohen in Sebastopol, Calif.

As Mooallem explains:

In exchange for using the Radio Shack name, Cohen is required to buy a certain amount of his inventory from the company. Otherwise, he has a lot of leeway. And he has used it to fashion his shop into something like the eccentric, mad-scientist Radio Shacks he grew up with. But he knows that he’s largely on his own in this, fighting a battle for the soul of the company that’s pretty much been decided everywhere else.

Recently, Radio Shack has been forcefully rebranding itself, trying to shed its image as a temple of transistors, parts, and cables...But a small subculture of Radio Shack nostalgics, including many former employees, have watched all this unfold with sorrow — if not a feeling of betrayal, then at least loss. The last nails are being hammered into the coffin of the little electronics hobby shop they once loved.

It seems odd that with the current vogue for DIY, electronic hobbyists can't keep that old Radio Shack culture alive. But the death knell sounded years ago with the rise of the personal computer.

More recently, the company counted on the switch over to digital television to bring in new customers, only to be disappointed. "The little old ladies with coupons for government-subsidized antennas were resistant to impulse buys," Mooallem writes.

By Annys Shin  | May 19, 2010; 7:35 AM ET
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I'm a former Radio Shack manager from back in the "good old days" 30+ years ago. The decline in the parts trade is largely a result of minaturization making many repairs impractical. I'm chief engineer of a radio station group now, but many of the things I work with are simply not repairable due to size, IC complexity etc. THe tinkerers now are doing software, interfacing IC's building with PIC's and have moved away from the old heavy iron construction we used to do. There is a place fo the old time parts store, but it's not as common as it once was and that's probably a good thing, but I still miss it a bit.

Posted by: billcroghan | May 19, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

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