Our 27th year of publishing

Published June 1, 2021

My favorite nerd store has come back to life

By John Toth / The Bulletin

I was browsing through Facebook while on break and just stopped in my tracks - there was an ad for Radio Shack.

I thought RS went out of business and left geeks like me high and dry, forcing us to shop on eBay and Amazon. Apparently the company, formed in 1921, has died many deaths - and survived.

I did some research on the Internet machine, but not before clicking on the link and being transported to the virtual RS store, where an old-fashioned looking super-duper AM/FM/shortwave/cassette/Bluetooth/flash drive combination radio had my name written all over it.
Just to make sure I was lured in, they flashed a 15% off sign across my monitor if I acted in the next few minutes.

You’ve come a long way from the annual catalogs, RS. I found them online and enjoyed browsing through them, starting with 1939. It took a while.

They must have known that I’m a sucker for radios, especially with old and new gadget features combined, and that I cannot resist a deal when it comes to electronics. I could if I had to, but I have never tried. I’m sure I could, though.

I ordered it with just minutes to spare. Then they threw at me a fancy digital thermometer, very similar to the ones used in my dentist’s office. Another deal - half price. We have one, but it’s broken. They must know that we need a new one, so I got that also.

RS and I go way back. I built a crystal-powered AM radio with one of their kits when I was 13 or so. It could actually tune in one radio station. I had to use an earpiece, and there was no volume control, but it worked. I heard the program when there was complete silence in the room.

When I was in a high school vocational program, RS was my one-stop store for soldering guns and solder, wires, speakers, transistors, resistors, capacitors and all other stuff that I have since forgotten and have no idea what they were used for, or how.

The next year I switched to the technical, pre-engineering program and went back to RS to buy one of their very expensive calculators.

The high price wasn’t their fault. Calculators were expensive everywhere back then. Texas Instruments had a decent one for $100 with all the basic functions and sine, cosine, tangent and percentage.

It was backwards compared to today’s technology, but far better than the slide rule. Google that on the Internet to find out why. The slide rule and I were not the best of friends, and our parting was welcomed, even if it costs $100 (plus tax).

I then decided to switch my major to communications and stopped frequenting RS all that often. I still visited the nearby store now and then to see what was new. It was a geek’s candy store.

As mentioned, browsing through the catalogs took a while. If you are even an amateur geek, you’ll enjoy the early phonographs and recording gadgets. Just flip over the technical offerings, which tend to be boring.

I looked up the 1955 catalog, the year I was born.

On the next to last page, they featured the Garrard Automatic RC-90 turntable for $68.11. That’s just for the turntable. You still needed an amplifier, speakers and a box to put it in. Granted, Garrard was always a good brand.

Remember, those were 1955 dollars. The average annual pay in 1955 was $3,300.

Back in those days, everything they offered was made in the USA. I’m sure that my super-duper radio I just ordered was made in China, like almost everything else. But that’s how it is today. There are practically no electronics manufactured domestically anymore, not even Zenith. It’s a division of LG now.

RS is owned by Retail e-Commerce Ventures. REV was founded by Alex Mehr and Tai Lopez in 2019 to renew businesses that have struggled in the age of ecommerce.

Maybe that’s exactly what RS needed. I’m rooting for them. Now let me go to their website and see what’s new.

(John looks forward to hearing from you on this subject. Send me a note at john.bulletin@gmail.com. You can even send an old-fashioned letter to: The Bulletin, P.O. Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516.)