No more Radio Shack? NOOO!

A lot of my youth was spent hanging about in Radio Shack (or the Boeing surplus store, but that’s a different story), and I can’t imagine losing them, but Radio Shack is in talks that may lead to a declaration of bankruptcy, selling half its stores to Sprint, and closing the rest. There will be no more Radio Shack signs, even if the stores persist under new management.

Jebus. Where will we go for more solder, switches, cables, batteries, obscure connectors, and emergency audio gear? I hope the Morris store isn’t one targeted for shuttering, because I occasionally need my nerd fix, and the local hardware stores aren’t quite the same. And what good is a generation of kids who don’t know how to decode a resistor or make an ethernet cable splice?


  1. gog says

    There’s a local electronics enthusiast store nearby. Ever since I found it I haven’t thought about Radio Shack in a tragic/nostalgic way.

  2. iknklast says

    I understand your pain, PZ. Life without Radio Shack is difficult enough if you live in a large city where there are plenty of other options. We already lost our Radio Shack. It closed in secret, without any fanfare. Even in a town 5 times the size of Morris, we have nothing else to take it’s place. And if the Office Max in the next town over closes, we’ll really be in bad shape!

  3. Johnny Vector says

    They’ve been a glorified cell phone store for at least two decade. I used to go there all the time when I was a kid, but in the last 20 years I haven’t had any success finding what I need. And really, with Digi-Key and Jameco and Small Parts around, who needs ’em?

    Good riddance, I say. Now get off my lawn.

  4. says

    The Radio Shacks I’ve looked in over the last years didn’t have all that much in connectors/wire/etc. Nothing obscure anyway. But I’d gotten spoiled back when (early-mid 90s) I did need some of these bits cause I was in Toronto at the time and there was a great shop next to the old SCTV firehouse downtown. Got the bits to solder up a network cable for my Amigas (serial port thing) and a few other bits. They had quite a lot of cool thingies.

  5. says

    Where will we go for more solder, switches, cables, batteries, obscure connectors, and emergency audio gear?

    Where do you go now? The Radio Shacks around here haven’t sold any of that stuff in decades, just ordinary consumer electronics.

  6. bassplr19 says

    Milwaukee has an American Science and Surplus. However, we are losing another similar store, Greenfield News and Hobby. Both of which are way better than Radio Shack has been in my lifetime.

  7. twas brillig (stevem) says

    Okay, nostalgia time: When I was in high school (’70’s), being a nerd, I found an electronics supply store nearby, that I frequented frequently [dept of redundancy dept.]. Back then it was well known (amongst the majority of _me_ ) that if one wanted supplies, avoid Radio Shack (like the plague), as Radio Shack jacked up the prices sky-high, while a local shop could give you fair prices (selection also an issue: RS having many fewer).
    Ah, this news explains why the RS I went into last week was having a “70% off everything in the store” sale. I thought it was just that one store closing, not the whole business going bankrupt. ;-(

  8. buddhabuck says

    Where do I go for that stuff? Online. There’s Adafruit, Sparkfun, Digikey, Mouser electronics, and more. All using standard part numbers (as opposed to the RadioShack-specific renumbering), all as cheap, or cheaper, than Radio Shack, and some (like Digikey and Mouser) with tremendously larger selection and stock.

    RadioShack hasn’t been a good hobbyist electronics store in decades. Good if you just broke something (that they carry) and need a replacement today, but if I can wait a few days, online is better.

  9. Usernames! (ᵔᴥᵔ) says

    Oh man.

    I was just at a RS, picking up a phone case that wasn’t available at any other major store in town. There was no way I wanted to wait a few days and risk smashing my screen.

    The Radio Shacks around here haven’t sold any of that stuff [solder, switches, cables, batteries, obscure connectors] in decades
    — Dalillama, Schmott Guy (#6)

    Every RS I’ve ever been to in Cali, NC and TX has had a (albeit tiny) selection of that stuff. Maybe you missed seeing them?

  10. says

    Now who’s going to ask me for my personal information when I buy batteries with cash?

    Just kidding. We haven’t had a Radio Shack in Edmonton for years.

  11. blf says

    The Radio Shacks around here haven’t sold any of that stuff [solder, switches, cables, batteries, obscure connectors, …] in decades, just ordinary consumer electronics.

    That matches my memory: Radio Shack wasn’t carrying much, if any, of that stuff by the time I left for Europe a large number of yonks ago. They did whilst I was growing up, but then stopped.

  12. bryanfeir says

    Of course, we haven’t had Radio Shacks here in Canada for several years now. The basic sequence of events:

    – Many years ago now, Tandy decided to spin off InterTan, the holding company that handled most Radio Shack stores outside of the U.S. As part of this, InterTan was granted a licence to continue using the Radio Shack name under the condition that they did not act to compete with Radio Shack in the U.S.
    – Back in 2004, Circuit City decided that, instead of actually fixing their business in the U.S., they would simply buy a business outside of the U.S. that was already profitable. So they bought InterTan to get the network of several hundred Radio Shack stores in hopes they could make money that way.
    – Tandy in the U.S. pointed out that Circuit City WAS competing with Radio Shack in the U.S., and thus revoked the licence to use the Radio Shack name in Canada, giving Circuit City something like half a year to rename everything.
    – Circuit City grudgingly did so, spending millions of dollars to rebrand every Canadian Radio Shack store as ‘The Source (by Circuit City)’.
    – In 2008, due to the fact that Circuit City never had actually fixed the problems in the U.S. and wasn’t making enough money from Canada to cover for it, Circuit City declared bankruptcy and sold off The Source to Bell Canada.

    Some of The Source stores here actually do still have odd bits of electronics components in a back corner, but usually it’s better to go to a more specialty place for that now.

  13. says

    That sbnation story is discouraging. I never had to face the store from the other side of the counter.

    One thing: I had a Cue Cat! I was given it for free, of course, and plugged it in, and it sort of worked…and I never ever used it after that.

  14. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    In my youth, Radio Shack was a nerd paradise. Last time I was in one, it was just cell phones and Sirius satellite radios (I miss XM, which actually cared about music, thankyervurrymuch). When I wanted to buy a good radio to pick up distant AM signals, I had to order it from Amazon, cause Radio Shack didn’t have any. It’s been a long, slow decline.

  15. congenital cynic says

    Someone already mentioned it, but Digikey is just up the road from you in Thief River Falls (about 75 miles?) and they have a massive selection of electronic components. When I order from them the order arrives in one or two days, and I live in eastern Canada. You should look at their catalogue on line. You would get overnight delivery, and they make the stock selection at Radio Shack look like a joke.

  16. kc9oq says

    I received my first ham radio license in 1970. Even then, serious radio amateurs regarded Radio Shack as a joke or a place of last resort. Their selection of passive components (i.e. resistors, capacitors) was way too limited in terms of wattage & working voltages; as for active components (tubes, transistors, ICs) — forget about it. With the internet, packet radio, micro-controllers, etc… They stock absolutely nothing for the serious hobbyist and the last time I needed a simple toggle switch, their bins were empty.

  17. neuzelaar says

    Radio Shack is stripmallnostagia. In the Stone Age they sold TRS-80 home computers and cool electronic parts and gadgets like radio scanners. All stuff of high school memories indeed.
    Like PZ, I like RS to be around as a nostalgia marker. But the problem is: they simply don’t sell anything appealing anymore.
    The world has moved on to video games and the Internet, killing the magic of electronic circuits and radio.

  18. Larry says

    Who’s gonna ask for my phone number now after I buy some batteries?

    Kidding aside, RS has been swirling down the toilet for years. Their management sucks, they treat their employees like shit, and they have nothing to sell that you can’t buy elsewhere at lower cost. When they finally do close, they won’t be missed because there is nothing there to miss.

  19. says

    The last time I was at a Radio Shack, they were selling T-shirts emblazoned with the Radio Shack logo.

    Yep, I think they lost their way a long time ago…

  20. says

    Now who’s going to ask me for my personal information when I buy batteries with cash?

    Yeah, really. Did anyone ever see any sign that Radio Shack used that information in any way to help their business? I never got coupons, fliers, adds – nothing – no matter how many times they asked for my name and address.

    Radio Shack was kind of a quintessential “business with no vision” … let’s see, the parent company also ran a chain of leathercraft stores, opened pretty much exactly when the belt-making hippies were all being outsourced to the 3rd world.

  21. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Ah, nostalgia. I made several Heathkit products thirtyish years ago. If a part went bad, or resistor fried, Radio Shack to the rescue. Alas, no more.
    I suspect the shift from single components to ICs had a major influence on the demise of both companies.

  22. unclefrogy says

    while it is true that Fry’s does have a wide selection of merchandize out where I live all there parking lots are horrible and there is something about the inside of the store that makes me uncomfortable something I can’t put my finger on. some barely audible buzz maybe.
    It is online I guess but that means no random browsing and a wait of delivery.
    Though there is an independent distributor nearby.
    the choices are how ever much better.

    uncle frogy

  23. Lofty says

    Waay back in the 70’s Tandy opened up a number of stores in my town Down Under selling Radio Shack bits and pieces. They also ran franchise operations with small country stores. The few times I went there I couldn’t believe how limited their parts range was, and it was the first place where I met over packaged (over priced too) single components. Other local independent stores did far better, although most have gone to retail tat heaven there are just a few of the old style shops left.

    The only proper way to get parts is all mixed up in a small plastic bag so you have to read all their codes before using them.

  24. joel says

    When I was in engineering school I used to be able to go to Radio Shack to buy resistors and capacitors. They had drawers and drawers of all different sizes and types. (I still remember the resistor color code: black, brown, red, orange, yellow, etc.) They also had IC’s of various types, breadboards and jumper-wire sets, power supplies, meters, wire strippers and needle-nose pliers, etc.

    They had everything an electronics geek needed to work, and then some. Today, and really for the past decade or more, Radio Shack is just a cell-phone store. That’s all. And it’s sad.

    Now, granted, if they hadn’t made that transition they might have gone bankrupt even earlier . . . .

  25. Kevin Kehres says

    Radio Shack sold one of the first TRUE portable computers. The newspaper I worked for outfitted a bunch of us with them. We LOVED them. There were two versions — 64k and 128k memory, no disk drive. The larger one even had a clamshell design. You wrote your stories and then plugged in with a 300 baud modem….BLAZING fast!! Actually, it transmitted about the same speed as a good typist. But that was more than enough for our purposes.

    Ah, memories…and you darn kids get off my lawn!

  26. magistramarla says

    Frys is Mecca for my computer-loving hubby. When we lived in California he positively drooled at the idea of stopping at the gigantic one in San Jose. I loved the fact that it has a cafe inside the store. I could sit down with a cup of coffee, a snack and a book while he was happily lost in his computer and electronic parts.

  27. moarscienceplz says

    Frys is Mecca for my computer-loving hubby. When we lived in California he positively drooled at the idea of stopping at the gigantic one in San Jose.

    Frys is dying, too. They’ve lost too many sales to online shopping, they inexplicably still focus on newspaper ads, their online presence is a joke, and they have never had a sales force that could answer more than kindergarten questions.

  28. jaybee says

    Back in the 70s I spent a lot of time in Radio Shack trying to decide how to spend the $3 or whatever I had saved up. Back then I had one of their battery-of-the-month cards, and nearly always opted for the 9V. As others have pointed out, Radio Shack’s glory days are long gone, but you can relive the fond memories by flipping through their old catalogs, which are online:

  29. chrisv says

    Radio Shack blew it. They had an early foothold in the PC market and they didn’t evolve. No organization can survive bad management.

  30. Al Dente says

    Last summer I needed a wire stripper so I went the mile or so to the local Radio Shack. They didn’t have any. The only tools they had were some overpriced jeweler’s screwdrivers. I went a mile further down the road to the local Ace Hardware. They had wire strippers for both solid and stranded wire.

  31. dorght says

    I’ve noticed that Microcenter has been greatly increasing the shelf space of electronic kits and components at the same time Radio Shack has minimized their’s. Making your own stuff with microcontrollers (Arduino, Launchpad, pi, etc) that you wire and program is really booming. Radio Shack not only missed this boat but scuttled the ship too.

  32. madscientist says

    Radio Shack just didn’t keep up with the times, nor were they entirely to blame for that. There was some lull from the late 1980s up until about 5 years ago where electronics enthusiasts struggled thanks to the very high costs of using modern fabrication techniques, but thanks to folks in China and the emergence of free (and open source) design software enthusiasts can once again practice the art of electronic design. Unfortunately for Radio Shack they were not involved in these recent changes; they could have produced kits, books, and affordable tools but they seemed to be mired in a culture of selling artifacts of the past and in later years selling low-cost items that you could also purchase anywhere else. They ceased to be of interest to electronics enthusiasts many years ago.

  33. madscientist says

    Eh, some folks are confusing me by referring to RadioShack as ‘RS’ – for me, ‘RS’ has always been ‘Radio Spares’ and they’re still in business selling a huge range of components at inflated prices which would make RadioShack look amateur. Now one problem with Radio Spares is that they haven’t called themselves that for a very long time; they use the infuriating trademark name ‘RS’ which makes it great fun trying to find their web pages with a search engine.

  34. dvizard says

    I used to be amazed at the fact that in the US there were stores selling electronic spare parts like everywhere, when here in Switzerland the only option was ordering from a catalog or the one or two hobbyist stores in the country, who had resistors and transistors but didn’t keep up to date with the new developments. Then I visited the US and was disillusioned that all RS I saw were just regular consumer electronics stores…

  35. Moggie says

    Nerd of Redhead:

    I suspect the shift from single components to ICs had a major influence on the demise of both companies.

    Really? Why? Because they had to carry a bigger range?

    In the past few years, the rise of cheap microcontroller cards like Arduino has, I think, revitalised hobby electronics somewhat. Suddenly, projects which would have seemed daunting before are within the range of novices. I was in a branch of Maplin yesterday buying Veroboard and IDCs for an Arduino project, and I wouldn’t have been doing this stuff ten years ago.

    Putting nostalgia aside, though, I’m not convinced that tinkerers like us have ever been a big enough market segment to support a major chain of bricks-and-mortar stores. Didn’t they always make the bulk of their money from less nerdy stuff?

  36. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Really? Why? Because they had to carry a bigger range?

    No, according to a previous Heathkit worker, the fact that ICs tended to use a technique, wave soldering, to solder them to the circuit boards, and this technique can’t be duplicated at home. Also the size of the components are smaller too, making soldering harder.

  37. Moggie says


    No, according to a previous Heathkit worker, the fact that ICs tended to use a technique, wave soldering, to solder them to the circuit boards, and this technique can’t be duplicated at home. Also the size of the components are smaller too, making soldering harder.

    Oh, you’re talking about surface mount devices (SMDs), not ICs in general., which confused me. Remember, for many years ICs came in dual-in-line form for use in through-hole boards or in sockets, and presented no particular challenge to home soldering. I built a few things using ICs back in, good grief, must have been the late 70s / early 80s, just using a crappy 25W soldering iron with a bit which was far too big.
    There apparently are brave people who solder SMDs at home, with the aid of kitchen equipment like toaster ovens and hotplates! But it doesn’t look much fun to me.

  38. shadow says

    About the only thing I’d go into Rat Shack for were components. There’s a Frys close by, but I may need to catalog shop more often.

    I remember getting one of the electronics project kits from my dad one xmas (coincident to my birthday — the old ‘combined gift’ every December kid seems to get). I built a light activated burglar alarm and set up a Rube Goldberg method to set it off when my sibling tried to sneak into my room — you had to remove one wire to get the thing turned off as it would run off a capacitor if the battery was removed. Drove my sibling nuts.

  39. congenital cynic says

    These days it’s getting so there are a lot of ICs you can’t buy in DIP packages (they are available in surface mount only). This makes the hobbyist’s life difficult. You can get breakout boards, but soldering the chips on them is a challenge, even with good magnification and a steady hand. We have a proper soldering setup for surface mount chips, and even with that there are some jobs that push the limits for a non-robot assembly.

  40. chrislawson says

    Having seen this happen in Australia to Tandy and Dick Smith, I suspect that this is the natural lifecycle of electronics stores: start out selling to enthusiasts, realise that the margins are better in consumer electronics., learn the hard way that consumer electronics are already well catered for by very large, powerful retail chains, lose business, die or get bought out.

  41. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Oh, you’re talking about surface mount devices (SMDs), not ICs in general.,

    Back in the day, an IC could look like a big transistor. Now a chip the size of my little fingernail holds GB of RAM, and has a huge amount of leads. All which must be soldered perfectly to work.
    The kits sold nowadays has the IC and other miniature components properly soldered, with just some big stuff that can be hand soldered.

  42. says

    Radio Shack in Australia went down the drain long ago. It merged with an Australian competitor which was eventually bought out by Woolworths. No longer can you buy electronic components and hobby kits from them but fortunately there is still at least one company on the business. Over here in Malaysia there are zero companies. There doesn’t seem to be a culture of making and fixing things. I cant even buy a roll of wire to show my stepson how to make an electromagnet and teach him about magnetism and electricity.

  43. Menyambal - not as pretentious as I seem says

    I haven’t been to a Radio Shack for anything serious in decades, and I was educated as a 1970s electronics technician, twice. I still have a few Radio Shack tools, but I can get solder and cheap irons down at Ace Hardware, and heat-shrink at WalMart, even. The last few times that I braved the sadness to get the stuff Radio Shack still had, the prices were steep and the staff were odd.

    And hey, PZ, the Boeing surplus store was amazing. I bought foam there to fill the stand-up paddleboard that I made a long time before stand-up paddleboarding took off. (I’d like to find my old boss from the kayak factory and say, “See, I told you it would work! If you had fucking listened to me, you would still be in business.”)

  44. says

    joel@29: To my shame, the colour code mnemonic that first comes to my mind is the really horrible one. I’m sorry, it’s the first one I learned, when I was 16 years old, and it stuck….

    Also: Yeah, Radio Scrap/The Source has been useless for parts and tools for a very long time. Locally, we’ve got Active Tech, or Sayal if we happen to have a Toronto trip in the works (spent an, um, unplanned amount of money last time we were there). And then there’s the internet….

  45. says

    True story, about a week ago I went to our local (okay it’s on the other side of town) Best Buy looking for a microphone. They didn’t have what I was looking for; the rep there actually said I might try the Radio Shack in the nearby mall. I did, and they did have a few different brands of them, compared to the apparently zero Best Buy did, and the rep at Radio Shack actually said the Best Buy people often suggest people to Radio Shack.
    Although, wasn’t Best Buy in some financial trouble, too? Are tech stores just having financial difficulty in general or something? Did the Amish take control of our economy while we weren’t looking?

  46. says

    Radio Shack is a private company, but in a way, they served a public need similar to the post office or public radio. At their peak, they enabled the public access to things that would never have been possible otherwise. And they’re all being run into the ground meddlers who don’t understand the purpose of each nor what made them successful. If those running (read: ruining) RS were Ayn Rand types, you could honestly say all were destroyed by idiotic political ideologies (see also: Sears).

    I greatly appreciated RS when I was younger, being able to parts (from circuits to wires) or single electronics items (e.g. a tuner) instead of having to buy an entire stereo system or whatever. It saddens and infuriates me that being able to find parts to learn and repair stuff is gone, and only disposable final consumer products are in any stores. How can you produce the next innovative genius, the next Steve Wozniak, when DIYing isn’t possible anymore? Living in Taiwan (one of the major manufacturers of computers), I’m fortunate that there are parts and kits stores in nearly every city, but most people don’t have that available to them.

  47. Moggie says


    Over here in Malaysia there are zero companies. There doesn’t seem to be a culture of making and fixing things. I cant even buy a roll of wire to show my stepson how to make an electromagnet and teach him about magnetism and electricity.

    That’s a shame, since the last reel of solder I bought was made in Malaysia!

  48. says

    Small loss: as others have noted, it’s been a shell of its former self for a long time.

    My nostalgia input: I was maybe 9 when I got a Radio Shack 50-In-1electronics kit for Christmas. It was a nice wooden box with a cardboard insert holding various electronic components: some capacitors, some resistors, a meter, a relay, a potentiometer, a holder for two AA batteries. All of the components were wired to springs that stuck up out of the cardboard, and each spring was numbered. A a small box on the side held wires of different colors, each color corresponding to a different length. The enclosed project book had instructions for 50 circuits, giving which color wire to connect to which springs, as well as a schematic of the completed circuit. Over the next couple of years, I ended up getting the 100-in-1 and 150-in-1 kits, a radio transmitter kit, a crystal radio kit and a transistor radio kit. Heady stuff for a developing nerd. I haven’t seen anything like those kits in decades.

  49. Moggie says

    Gregory, I had one of those! Though, being in the UK, I don’t think it carried the Radio Shack brand. The vagaries of memory: I may not remember where I put my keys, but I remember that that kit had BC108 and BF194 transistors.

  50. John Horstman says

    Eh, Radio Shack functionally became Sprint outlets a decade ago, so not a huge change there. The one nearest to me is basically a clone of the Office Depot electronics department with a worse selection, as they retired 95% of their component and tool stock (Home Depot now has a substantially better component/tool stock), so I started using the remaining local, independent hobbyist electrics/electronics store (Amateur Electronic Supply) instead, though it’s farther from my house.

  51. bryanfeir says

    Radio Shack blew it. They had an early foothold in the PC market and they didn’t evolve.

    Some of the problem was with their evolution. Yes, Tandy/Radio Shack started with the TRS-80 (that’s where the name came from, Tandy/Radio Shack and the Z80 processor); they also had the TRS-80 Color Computer, or CoCo. The CoCo 3 was an amazing piece of work for its time, better than the Atari 800 and cheaper than the Amiga, and Tandy even had a whole lot of games and programs ported to it. You could get Sierra’s King’s Quest III for the CoCo 3; you could also get Tandy’s own ‘DeskMate’ office suite.

    Then, after all the work they did building their own ASIC to replace most of Motorola’s support chips for the CoCo 3, Tandy threw it all away to focus on the Tandy Model 1000 line, which was their IBM-compatible line. And which were some of the least compatible IBM-compatibles on the market. They quickly got a reputation as horrible machines if you actually wanted to run IBM software on them, and all the resources Tandy had sunk into that line, while throwing out their previous lines in the process (such as the portable Model 100 mentioned above), were wasted.

    A few years after that, and Tandy stopped making its own computers entirely, just reselling others instead. What a waste.

    The CoCo had a pretty big hobbyist/modding community for years, especially with Microware’s OS/9, which was a fully multi-tasking OS running on the 64K CoCo machine. All thrown away.

  52. says

    @60: I think we still have a CoCo2 in the basement. I wrote a BASIC program on it when my kids were really small, that let them push a key and have a coloured shape pop up on the TV, and also played a tone.

    Now one of them is an electronics technologist who mucks with Arduinos in his spare time, and the other is doing his Ph.D. in Gaming Studies. That’s what happens when you start corrupting them early ;-).

  53. says

    Radio shack was a “hobbyist” store. Of course it didn’t evolve into a computer store. They tried to hold to what they where, while at the same time expanding into “pre-built” shit that everyone else carried. This would be the equivalent of some place like Michaels (a hobby lobby like place, without the BS religion) starting to cell groceries and cleaning supplies, to compete with Wallmart, while, to do so, eliminating whole swaths of their hobby supplies. The only time I so much as set foot in one in years was to get some shrink tube, and then **only** because I needed it immediately, and they where the only place in town who had any. They haven’t provided what a serious hobbyist would need for 20 years, and.. while they could have, if they had the least imagination, adapted to become “maker spaces”, which is the latest hobby idea that has started to appear, they, apparently, have, instead, just further and further derailed into “premade” products, and a disinterest in anyone who does any sort of electronics.

    Can’t say I will miss what they turned themselves into, especially when relying on them to order anything, like a camera battery (something my father tried to get from them), wasn’t even something they could accomplish, never mind within a reasonable time frame, when asked. Worthless…

  54. caseloweraz says

    I really miss the D. C. Heath Company of Benton Harbor, Michigan. (I know; just knowing the name and location marks me as an old fart.)

    Here in Silicon Valley we have several Fry’s Electronics stores, as Sunday Afternoon pointed out. They do carry passive components, but their selection is limited. Then we have Anchor Electronics in Santa Clara, which carries almost everything a hobbyist might need.

    But most of the walk-in component stores have gone. Sunnyvale Electronics, Jade Electronics, Quest Electronics: all defunct — as are personal computer stores like The Digital Deli. (For computers, Fry’s is still good. You can get motherboards, CPUs, memory, power supplies, cases, cooling fans, etc. But you have to know exactly what you’re looking for, because you probably won’t get much help from the sales associates. I worked at one store for a couple of years, so I know whereof I speak.)

    If you want surplus, there are still quite a few local options. Mail-order outlets (Digi-Key, Allied, Mouser, etc.) prevent the situation being hopeless for new components. But it doesn’t feel the same. I suppose a lot of that is nostalgia, but the D-I-Y culture seems diminished.

  55. caseloweraz says

    Dorght: Making your own stuff with microcontrollers (Arduino, Launchpad, pi, etc) that you wire and program is really booming.

    Yes it is, and that gives me hope — as does the advent here of several TechShops, where for a monthly fee you can use a lot of advanced tools to build personal projects.

  56. caseloweraz says

    John Horstman: Home Depot now has a substantially better component/tool stock.

    I agree they’re good for tools used in electronics, but I haven’t seen electronics components at any I’ve visited. I’ve even had trouble finding solder for electronics (as opposed to plumbing.)

  57. dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!" says

    Count me as another one who used to get soldering supplies and such from the local RS as a wee sprog (early-mid 90s) but will not mourn it’s passing. For the last few years I’ve gone into the local shop every once in a while out of a strange sense of duty to check before buying online, but nine times out of ten they don’t have anything like what I’m looking for and the tenth time it was twice as expensive and half as good. They do still have a little back section dedicated to wire and resistors and stuff, which I may have to hover over like a buzzard for the inevitable clearance sale.

  58. Alaric says

    Great link 5up. I gotta agree with you a lot nicer electronics than when Radio Shack actually sold something other than cell phones. Planning on picking up a few things from them next payday now that you introduced me to the site.

  59. neuroturtle says

    I think the last thing I bought at Radio Shack was my Gordon West Learning Morse Code tapes… cassette tapes. (back when you actually had to know morse code for a general-class amateur license.) Since then I’ve used… the website is kind of awful but the brick and mortar store I used to go to was a paradise. kc0eyd

  60. says

    I’ve used Digikey on and off, can speak well of them. (Not a shareholder, not paid for this comment, etc.) Radio Shack/The Source hasn’t really been useful in hardware hackery for anything other than the odd battery compartment part for years.

    As others have mentioned, the larger problem this decade is more finding stuff in DIP packages. But Digikey, in their wisdom, have an awesome search facility that makes it relatively easy to find stuff both by what it does/what the interface is/how it’s mounted, which helps.

    There’s also an Active Electronics in town, which is nowhere near as awesome/a but pricier, but can get you where you’re going. Built my son a Dalek costume this Halloween, and in the end the ‘ears’ were flashed by a 555-based timer circuit I built almost entirely from bits they had on the shelf (yes, they had 555 DIPs).

  61. lorn says

    Back in the day there used to be a lot of places to get electronic components. Every second strip mall had a TV and/or electronics repair shop. There were scores or guys, typically veterans, who picked up their skills in the service, driving around in vans repairing TVs. Every five years or so you would take your TV to a shop and have it tuned up. They would do a “cap job”, replace the capacitors that had dried out, clean all the contacts, and check the tubes. As a kid I used to pester the repair guys for advice, used parts, and stuff too far gone to repair economically to practice on. That’s how I learned to solder and un-solder. How to take stuff apart and put it back together.

    This was in a day when owning a car meant a brake job, wheel alignment, and tire rotation every six months, and a tune up and oil change every three or four months. Every gas station had at least one service bay and the mechanic was always busy with routine maintenance and fixing flats.

    We hadn’t adopted a throw-away ethic yet.

    In the 70s the repair shops disappeared. Radio Shack changed also. Used to be you could you could buy little booklets that taught electrical theory and practice. I would collect bottles for the refund and buy another lesson. I must have completed a couple of dozen of those things. I remember sitting on my bed working through the course materials on resisters, patiently working through the math of Ohm’s law to determine voltages and currents.

    In the 70s Radio Shack went from having everything an electronics experimenter might need to just the basics like solder and small resisters. They shifted from repairs and advice and components to consumer electronics. Mostly crap consumer electronics. Cheap toys and shoddy gadgets. Anything good was something you could buy for less money elsewhere.

    Over the last ten years this trend has advanced. The only thing I go to Radio Shack for was solder and oddball batteries.

    Now, very few people make anything or can repair anything. They use stuff until it stops working, toss it out, and get another. I’ve hooked up poorer neighbors with microwaves (usually a blown fuse or maladjusted micro-switch) and vacuum cleaners (typically a plugged hose or filter and/or a broken belt) rescued from the dumpster. Oddly, and quite sadly, I’ve noticed that people increasingly resent repaired appliances delivered for free and would rather just buy new.

    The other day a boy rolled up on his bicycle and complained his brake didn’t work. I looked at it and noted he needed a new brake lever to replace the broken one. A local bike shop will sell you a new one for $12 and a salvaged one for $4. I told him if he got one he could use my tools to replace it. This is the sort of repair I used to do all the time. A simple ten minute job. He rolled off. Yesterday he showed up with a new bike. I saw the old bike leaning against the side of his house. Odds are it will rust there for the better part of a year and end up tossed into the dumpster. I may salvage it for parts but … what is the point?

    The good news is that I have enough solder for a good long time. I’m old enough to not have to worry about having a huge supply. Radio Shack closing is just another sign of the times. Sigh …

  62. Johnny Vector says

    Lorn, if you happen to live in the Washington DC area, you should suggest the kid donate his old bike to Bikes For the World. They’ve moved 100,000 old bikes to people who are happy to have them, in foreign countries and our own.

    If you don’t live in the DC area, look around and see if there is another similar organization near you. There are still plenty of people who are happy to fix up old things; it’s just harder to find them now.

  63. says

    This was in a day when owning a car meant a brake job, wheel alignment, and tire rotation every six months, and a tune up and oil change every three or four months. Every gas station had at least one service bay and the mechanic was always busy with routine maintenance and fixing flats.
    We hadn’t adopted a throw-away ethic yet.

    I won’t comment on the rest of your “kids these days” rant, but: cars in those days were notably less reliable than cars made more recently. People weren’t going in for maintenance every six months because they loved going in for maintenance, they were going in because cars had to have maintenance or else they would fall apart. Between better materials and better engineering, this is no longer true.

  64. boygenius says

    I’m an international sales rep at Digi-Key. I work 6:PM-6:AM U.S. central time (-6 GMT). If any of the global Hoard needs gizmos, just ask for extension 2924. I’ll be glad to help you out.

    (I’m paid by the hour, no commission. So this is not an advertisement, just an offer to help.)