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Radio Shack: Still Relevant for Neighborhood Engineers?

3/4/2014 05:30 PM EST
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Bill_Jaffa
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They are stuck in the middle
Bill_Jaffa   3/4/2014 5:45:23 PM
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For the vast majority of folks, all they need "right away" might be cable assemblies (cable+connector) or batteries. Radio Shack can't make a profitable business from those items alone. For the serious hobbyist or DIY person--and there are some out there--it's easier, smarter, and cheaper to get your BOM filled online if you can't get to a Fry's or equivalent nearby. Radio Shack is stuck in the gap in the middle, not a good place. And the "iconic" name sure doesn't help, either.

Bill_Jaffa
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Re: They are stuck in the middle
Bill_Jaffa   3/4/2014 5:54:56 PM
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I guess it's like Kodak--when change came, there was little they could do about it, despite what all the pundits said: "they didn;t adapt, even though they invented the digitla camera." Fact is that their entire business model was based on selling consumables like film and chemicals and processing, not one-time items like cameras (those were almost an incidental business for them). And Kodak had lots of IP and patents, unlike Radio Shack, so RS is in a far more precarious place.

DrQuine
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Re: They are stuck in the middle
DrQuine   3/4/2014 6:01:26 PM
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As a kid, Radio Shack was my favorite store and I often went there to buy parts and to learn about new components. Now I'll admit that I buy big ticket items online (better selection, ability to compare and research alternatives, avoid a trip to the mall). Radio Shack is the place I go for parts once a year when something breaks. It seems that they are the "convenience store" of electronics. If you want tools, there are home improvement stores, if you want cell phones there are cell phone stores, but if you have a shopping list with a variety of items then Radio Shack gets a visit.

MeasurementBlues
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Re: They are stuck in the middle
MeasurementBlues   3/4/2014 6:07:43 PM
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You-Do-It has been around for years and has adapted well. They're more heavily into selling things like computer cables and other IT infrastructure, bu they still carry lots of components, meters, ham radios, and the like. They even had one oscilloscopes when I was last there. It's a 30-MHz, two-channel analog model from Elenco.



MeasurementBlues
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Biggest electronics store
MeasurementBlues   3/4/2014 6:17:03 PM
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The biggest electronics store I ever saw was in Tokyo. Nive floors, mostly consumer stuff but one floor was dedicated to computer hardware and components.

 

betajet
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Re: They are stuck in the middle
betajet   3/4/2014 6:13:47 PM
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Well, for what they charge for cable assemblies, RS must be getting a pretty big profit margin... when they're able to sell one.  RS is a good place for cordless phone batteries, the occasional connector, the occasional LED, and the occasional switch.  However, the part selection is so limited compared to (say) Digi-Key, that it's rarely worth bothering.

MeasurementBlues
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MIT electronics flea market
MeasurementBlues   3/4/2014 6:10:11 PM
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I hope toget back there again this year when it opens. In theory, it's warm enough in April but this year, who knows?

MeasurementBlues
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Surplus electronics
MeasurementBlues   3/4/2014 6:18:36 PM
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I used to buy surplus parts from a basement store called Verada 214 in Lowell, Mass. The cabinets for the Utah speakers I bought at You Do It came from there. I also bought a National Semi MM5316 digital clock chip and built a clock. It still works although the LEDs don't put out much light anymore. I still have the MM5316 data sheet.

Bill_Jaffa
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You also mentioned Lafayette
Bill_Jaffa   3/4/2014 7:01:03 PM
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One of the highlights of getting my driver's license "back in the day" was that I was able to drive to Lafayette HQ/main store, instead of being limited to their smaller store near my house (a short bus ride away). Going to Lafayette by car the first time, in those pre-GPS days, was an adventure in itself. On the way back I stopped at nearby Eico (a vendor of kits, like Heathkit but smaller) with an AM/FM tuner kit I built, didn't work. They were nice enough to send a technician out to look at it, turned out it was a defective front-panel rotary switch (they gave me a new one). That kind of customer service is long gone!

daleste
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Re: You also mentioned Lafayette
daleste   3/4/2014 10:43:10 PM
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Ah, yes.  Heath kit.  I think RS will go the route of Heath kit.  It is a shame since I spent a lot of time in RS during my high school years.  I think there are too many better options today due to Frys and Digi-Key.  RS will not survive.  I wish I could build a Heath kit since I never got to do it in my younger days.  Now I need to invent something new instead.  Too much pressure.

zeeglen
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Re: You also mentioned Lafayette
zeeglen   3/4/2014 11:23:04 PM
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>I think RS will go the route of Heath kit

Funny you should mention this, brings back some memories.  Long ago I worked at a Heathkit retail store in Winnipeg Canada, and there was a Radio Shack right next door.  We enjoyed a bit of friendly rivaly, our H8 computer against their TRaSh 80 (as we jokingly referred to it).


The RS manager liked to build Heathkits.  One day he came in with a digital clock pcb that did not work, I told him probably a solder bridge.  He denied this, claiming he had thoroughly inspected his soldering.  My trained eyes spotted the solder bridge in just a few seconds.  He was slightly embarrased, but it worked after he removed the bridge.


I did send some business his way. One of Heathkit's most miserable failures was a general-coverage shortwave receiver (SW717).  Even without an antenna connected, tuning across the dial produced oscillatory sounds like a scalded cat. When a customer came in wanting to buy one, I gently informed him that he would be much happier going next door.


RS has outlasted Heathkit, but with many RS stores stocking fewer parts for the hardware hobbyist it is understandable that they are in decline.


betajet
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Re: You also mentioned Lafayette
betajet   3/5/2014 9:44:51 AM
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daleste wrote: I think RS will go the route of Heathkit.

Heathkit may be coming back.    Currently they're in "stealth" mode, whatever that means.  From the FAQs and the reddit comments, it sounds like they're seeing what products might be viable.  Reading between the lines, it's most likely ham gear since that niche is too small to interest Asian competition.

Heathkit FAQ

reddit comments

Personally, I think they should go with electric car retrofits. Given the morass of electronic gewgaws that new cars shove down your throat, I think there's a niche market for people who want to make a simple, clean electric car without 10 million lines of undocumented code between the pedals, the engine, and the brakes.

TonyTib
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No, next question?
TonyTib   3/4/2014 7:14:34 PM
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RS's selection is too limited; heck, even Fry's is limited, but they do have stuff that's handy in a pinch, like a good selection of resistors, DSub connectors and adapters, and such.

But my normal retail shopping is Excess Solutions, and maybe All Electronics (more electronics, but fewer connectors & such); I haven't been to Halted in a long while -- and those three are about all that's left for Silicon Valley surplus.  There used to be a lot before the Dot-bomb bubble destroyed most of them due to rising rents.

For industrial stuff like servo motors, eBay is the place.

RichQ
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Lost focus
RichQ   3/4/2014 7:49:51 PM
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I have two Radio Shack stores in my area. The one I like better is too far away for me to visit much. The other is a bit sparse on the components I need. I go only when I need just one or two small items that it doesn't make sense to pay shipping and handling for. But when I do go I often have to wait quite a bit for all the folks getting cellphones to be done getting them activated. There are only a few store clerks and the phone sale and activation takes quite a bit of time for each customer.

I think Radio Shack (which bought out Lafayette as I recall) lost its focus as a hobbyist store and never made it as a consumer store. The advent of the Arduino and the Maker Movement has revitalized its hobbyist element somewhat (in the stores that adopted it) but on the whole I think it is going to simply fade away.

rick merritt
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Re: Lost focus
rick merritt   3/4/2014 9:10:50 PM
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@RichQ: You may have hit on what Radio Shack needs to revitalize itself...become the retail outlet for the Make group. Whadaya think?

RichQ
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Re: Lost focus
RichQ   3/5/2014 9:35:05 AM
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I think that would give Radio Shack a boost, but this, too, is only temporary. I expect the Make movement to fade within a generation.

Clive
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Re: Lost focus
Clive "Max" Maxfield   3/5/2014 9:44:51 AM
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@Rich: I expect the Make movement to fade within a generation.

Sad Face :-(

MeasurementBlues
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Re: Lost focus
MeasurementBlues   3/5/2014 11:36:33 AM
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"I expect the Make movement to fade within a generation."

What do you expect will replace it?

RichQ
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Crystal ball
RichQ   3/5/2014 12:13:02 PM
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Martin, if my crystal ball were all that clear I would be posting this from my private island in the Caribbean after making my fortune on stocks and racing.

But if you want a guess, I would say that the current interest in technology will fade once the IoT is established as it did after the moon landing and something more in the arts area will rise to soften the hard edges of modern life. Music, perhaps.

betajet
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Re: Lost focus
betajet   3/5/2014 10:00:01 AM
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Rick asked: Radio Shack needs to revitalize itself... become the retail outlet for the Make group. Whadaya think?

I see the problem as inventory.  A retail store cannot afford to maintain a large inventory, so what do you stock?  Meanwhile Amazon is working on same-day delivery.  I'm not referring to those silly 'copters, but it would be practical for Amazon to ship to their drop boxes within hours, any day of the week, from nearby warehouses.

I don't see the Maker movement going away.  Humans like to build things, or the lines wouldn't be so long at Home Depot.  Sure, some corporations try to lock up their devices so that they're only suitable for consumers, but they limit their customer base and others fill in the gaps, if not in the USA then in plenty of other countries.  Those countries are the ones who will win in STEM.  If the USA wants to produce STEM, open documentation and hackable (in the good sense) products are necessities.

MeasurementBlues
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Re: Lost focus
MeasurementBlues   3/5/2014 11:43:15 AM
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@BetaJet "some corporations try to lock up their devices"

Are you referring to Apple or, for example, test-equipment companies that biuld all the features into an instrument but some are locked?

Speaking of that come over to our live chat in just over an hour.

Live Chat March 5: Modify or "Hack" Test Equipment

betajet
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Re: Lost focus
betajet   3/5/2014 12:42:56 PM
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MB asked: Are you referring to Apple or, for example, test-equipment companies that build all the features into an instrument but some are locked?

I'm primarily referring to Apple and smart phones in general, and to most automobilies sold in the USA.  But at a level down I'm also referring to FPGA vendors who do not document their programming bit streams so you're forced to use their software to design your hardware, which has set back FPGA software technology for decades, particularly in Reconfigurable Computing.

GPUs used to be in this category, but some vendors have started to document their GPU instruction sets.  Notably and very surprisingly, Broadcom has just released documentation for the VideoCore IV GPU used in Raspberry Pi's BCM2835.  This is great news for Makers and STEM.

JeffL_2
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Re: Lost focus
JeffL_2   3/5/2014 12:06:27 PM
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Yes this "Maker" deal will be around for awhile, and the "high school STEM" push will be even bigger (I personally believe encouraging anyone to go into engineering as a career in THIS economy almost borders on fraud but it's not going to be up to me to make the call, and nobody listens to me much anyway). It's not just Arduino and Raspberry, it's also Parallax and Adafruit, and with the emphasis on robotics there should also be stepper motors and servos, bearings and timing belts and pulleys and miniature roller chain and sprockets, with enough variety to subsume much of the McMaster-Carr online catalog on these topics (miniature drive components, they don't happen to break it out as a separate section though). I live within a short driving distance of the San Fernando Valley, and All Electronics over there seems to be trying to fall into this model a bit (with the occasional slipup, they got hold of a quantity of Nidec BLDC motors with internal controller chips but their catalog naively classified them as "stepper motors" which spread quite a bit of confusion for awhile). It would take a substantial capital commitment to get there, but if RS doesn't do it it will just be Heathkit or Edmund Scientific (another name mostly from the past, well known for "science project parts") or someone else.

Bert22306
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The signs were clear
Bert22306   3/4/2014 9:17:33 PM
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When all of the Radio Shack stores took their interesting items off the pegboards, and crammed them in those drawers to be forgotten and never replenished, I could see where it was leading.

Fry's is a California phenomenon. And even there, not necessarily a stone's throw away. Whereas Radio Shack stores are everywhere. I fixed new and old electronic equipment, with Radio Shack parts, more than once. Just hop in the car and buy what you need in minutes. I replaced the woofers in my nice speaker systems with Radio Shack drivers. I built a stereo preamp from scratch, with Radio Shack parts. I even bought my first HDTV STB from Radio Shack (a very decent, for those days, Accurian receiver, actually made by Digital Stream).

It's a shame to see what came of Radio Shack. Any options are either very few and far between, with inconvenient hours, or online. Nothing wrong with online, but it's not like walking into the neighorhood store Saturday night, to buy those resistors you need NOW, while you're on the way to dinner and the movies!

rich.pell
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Still relevant for anyone?
rich.pell   3/4/2014 10:36:08 PM
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CTHP
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Re: Still relevant for anyone?
CTHP   3/6/2014 3:59:58 PM
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So the question is "Radio Shack: Still Relevant for Neighborhood Engineers?".

The answer is No and they haven't been for a long time. Unless you want to buy a cell phone and stand around for 45 minutes waiting for the clerk to setup your account then there's probably not much for you at RS, at least not for the engineering gang. I worked at RS back in high school and long gone are the days of restocking those clear blister-packs onto pegboard while drooling over 4004 CPUs and expensive Monsanto red LEDs. Maybe long gone too are the days when kids really enjoyed building, experimenting and learning about electronics; now it's just about loading the most current game app on their Smartphone.

Here's a secret that maybe some of you don't know about, those customers that showed up only once a month to collect their free battery - jokingly they were referred to as "Shack-ee's"

David Ashton
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RS type stores
David Ashton   3/5/2014 5:00:42 AM
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When I first arrived in Australia, nearly 12 years ago, we had 2 electronics stores in town - Dick Smith - a chain started by a gentleman of the same name who was an entrepreneurial ex-telco technician, and a Tandy - Australian (in fact I think rest-of-world as I saw them in Paris as well) arm of RS.

Dick Smith sold out to a supermarket based chain who soon removed all the electronics bits (I got some real bargains there) and who have now onsold it again - it now only sells TVs, Phones, Laptops, printers, etc, and odd cables and batteries if you're lucky.

The Australian Tandys all closed but the franchisees of some of them - including in my town - went to a different supplier.  They still stock electronics bits. but I probably have a better stock at home than they do....so very rarely buy that sort of thing.  I occasionally need AV cables and the like, which both stores stock, but I always tend to patronise the ex-Tandy one first, because they stock more electronics bits and I'd like to keep them going.

Neither stock things like Ras PIs, I don't think there would be much of a market for them in our small (pop 35000) town.   

It is sad that these shops are getting fewer and further between, but there is just so much stuff available these days that I doubt they could keep everyone happy, especially when (as someone above pointed out) you can get stuff via mail order so quickly).  I fear they will die out completely, like Mock Electronics in Max's hometown, and they had some really tasty stuff.   I'll certainly feel their loss, but I don't know that we can stop it.....

 

Max The Magnificent
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Re: RS type stores
Max The Magnificent   3/5/2014 10:01:18 AM
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@David: I fear they will die out completely, like Mock Electronics in Max's hometown...

They closed their doors at the end of Jan of this year -- a little tear rolled down my cheeks -- I'm just fortunate I managed to acquire those amazing old vacuum tubes before they closed thwir doors for ever...

MeasurementBlues
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Re: RS type stores
MeasurementBlues   3/5/2014 11:39:33 AM
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"amazing old vacuum tubes"

What's a vacuum tube?

Bill_Jaffa
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What they carry
Bill_Jaffa   3/5/2014 7:49:14 AM
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The RS in your story carries a lot more variety than the one near me. Yours has Arduino and higher-end products, mine has mostly cell phones, cell accessories, batteries, and cables. Plus some basic connectors and discrete components in drawers, it's a real odd inventory.

mhrackin
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Ancient Memories!
mhrackin   3/5/2014 3:08:20 PM
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Mine go back to the mid-'50s forward.  I had the pleasure of shopping regularly at both the ORIGINAL Lafayette store (100 Sixth Avenue in Manhattan), and their Newark NJ store on Central Avenue (not far from NCE, where I got my BSEE a few years later).  By 1961, I was at MIT, and often walked across the Mass Ave bridge to the Radio Shack "mother ship" at 732 Commonwealth Ave.  There were MANY "surplus" shops both in the Boston area, and of course the old "Radio Row" in Lower Manahattan. My friends in junior high and I would often take the bus from NJ into NY and spend an entire day hitting them all, from Lafayette to Harrison Radio and the uncountable number of surplus outlets on Cortlandt and Canal Streets.  Later on, in grad school in the Chicago area, I frequented the Allied Electronics "mother ship" on Western Avenue.  I still have "inventory" in my basement workshop from all these places!

I  now live in Atlanta, and have multiple RS stores near my home and my office.  Like others, I find they rarely have what I need on hand (even though the items show as 'in stock" at that particular store on the RS Web site); thus, it's only when I need something RIGHT NOW and it's a fairly common item that I even bother.  I find more stuff I need at Home Depot than RS!

anon3887601
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not any more
anon3887601   3/7/2014 3:46:56 PM
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Radio Shack was pretty good for parts in the late 70's, mind you in those days most hobbyist activity was with transistors, standard TTL and one of the popular then-new microprocessors.

Today there are just too many components for any storefront to stock.  Just look at the bewildering variety of packages for even basic devices such as 74HC series - there is DIP, SOIC, TSSOP, Micro-BGA and more.  Whatever any store may have in stock is almost guaranteed to be not what you need.

Most hobbyists are afraid of surface mount anyway (needlessly I might add) so despite the STEM push hobbyist activity for the future will likely be with preassembled items such as the Makerspace stuff.

As for myself it's Mouser at #1, followed by Digikey, ALL Electronics (always some real gems there), Parts Express and MCM Electronics for audio and service/repair parts and Antique Electronic for guitar amp and tube related stuff.

Sadly, despite 30+ years of buying from Jameco I tend to avoid them, their catalogue is not comprehensive and their website is so bad it's nealy impossible to find a component that's not in the catalogue, even if they have it.

MeasurementBlues
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Re: not any more
MeasurementBlues   3/7/2014 4:04:55 PM
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Anything smaller than a DIP package is too small for me to see anyway, always has been. Besides, the breadboard on page 3 only works with DIP packages.

liverdonor
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We had both...
liverdonor   3/7/2014 5:42:01 PM
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Lafayette and RS (which used to say "Division of Tandy Corp." in large letters on the sign), staring across the parking lot at each other, in the same strip mall in Lynnwood (suburb of Seattle).

It was pretty great for the wirehead kids like me, because we could get nearly everything we needed by visiting both stores in the same trip.

Downtown, near the Seattle waterfront, was a store called Radar Electric Co. Their claim-to-fame was several rows of discount, overstock or discontinued items in what we called "looney-bins" near the entrance. I remember getting RCA triode tubes for $3 and Darlington transistors for 10¢.

Radar moved out into the boonies to an industrial park and became a wholesale-only company in the late 90's, and now I think they only sell cable and connectors (wholesale).

I don't honestly know if the maker movement will have this kind of impact. In my generation's case, most of the impetus came from the space-race and the Apollo program - all of us wanted to be the engineers or astronauts that went to space.

Matt Tuley
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That ship has sailed.
Matt Tuley   3/7/2014 8:28:13 PM
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I loved Radio Shack as a kid. They seemed to have an unlimited selection of cool tech and elecronics kits and toys and, like many I'm sure, my first electronics kits and tools came from them. My first two computers were TRS-80/Tandys, in fact.

But they started to lose me when I had to argue with them about giving over my phone number on every purchase, no matter how small and even when paying with cash. And in the late 80s I discovered, via the back pages of electronics magazines and Compuer Shopper, the world of mail order and the realization that buying stuff at Radio Shack was actually really expensive. And then, of course, places started setting up shop on the Internet...

And in the 90s Radio Shack really started losing their way. Anything of interest to EEs started being relegated to drawers in back (if stocked at all) as their focus shifted to cell phones. And forget getting any kind of real help from the Shack Droids who replaced the knowledgeable people who used to work there. They know how to activate a cell phone and that's about it.

Radio Shack's big problem is their breaking a decades-long chain of being known as the place you could go and find what they need. After all, that's why my mom took me there. She knew nothing of the stuff I was getting interested in, but she knew Radio Shack. But just about the time many of us were having kids ready to be introduced to our fun hobbies, Radio Shack demonstrated they were no longer the place to get the supplies to make it happen. They've rightly earned themselves a reputation as being understocked, over priced, and staffed by unknowledgeable clerks, and with so many excellent sources available online, they won't be able to come back from that.

In a way, I'm sad that I can't take my kids to a place to see all the cool stuff I got to when my mom took me as a kid. But, I can sit down with my kids at the computer and browse even more stuff, ask questions and get competent answers, and get all the parts I need for my projects without feeling like I got fleeced. So there's that.

wcmoore
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Re: That ship has sailed.
wcmoore   3/8/2014 3:53:26 PM
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CEO's, Technology and Government have conspired to kill off not only Radio Shack but many other  store fronts. Radio Shack no longer carries surplus parts at discount prices but CEO's manage to price their products like their items are made of gold. The Internet, credit card issuers, and shippers have created a source stream that puts parts at your fingertips, often overnight, at prices that should make Radio Shack beancounters blush with embarrassment. Local government inventory taxes force merchants to limit their stocks to minimize annual lability, onerous state sales taxes further cut the budding engineers purchase power and when you heap on the state plus federal income taxes on income used to purchase your parts you suddenly realize the fact that over 50% of what you are paying for the part is going to government. (8% sales tax, 3% annual inventory tax, state income tax of 8% and 20% plus Federal income)  Eliminate the parasites which do nothing for Value Added to parts then store fronts in your town might stand a chance. Until then expect simple economics to drive down prices via any legal path.

seaEE
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Re: That ship has sailed.
seaEE   3/11/2014 12:35:04 AM
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I still have my 75 in 1 electronics project kit from Radio Shack, which my nephew is presently using.  I also enjoyed building their electric motor and lie detector kits as kid.  The motor worked fine, though it was wound quite inexpertly.  I refuse to say whether the lie detector kit worked. :)  I also always looked forward to getting their flyer in the mail and seeing what new kits were available and also looking at their general product offering like stereos.  They were always labled "Good", "Better", and "Best".  Best meant more expensive speakers with walnut grain enclosure.  They had the Clarinet series, with names like Clarinet 50 or Clarinet 60.  A higher number might mean more components, like Tuner, tape deck, and record player all in one.  Cool! 

Here is the little Micronta multimeter which I still have:



 

And below is a power supply kit that my cousin designed for me to build.  For Christmas he gave me the schematic, bill of materials, and parts. The transformer is definitely Radio Shack as it is an Archer.  I'm not sure about the other parts.  I think the enclosure was from Radio Shack.  Did Radio Shack ever sell carbon comp resistors?



 

I hope Radio Shack doesn't have to close any additional stores.  It is nice to have a place where you can actually walk in and browse electronic components.

 

seaEE
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An interesting development
seaEE   6/8/2014 7:48:35 PM
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From today's WSJ:

 

"Yet this week's announcement it was launching RadioShack Labs to give startups a direct path to its base of 2,000 stores is more than just a step in the right direction, it's a realization the creation of tomorrow's next big thing is where it needs to go. Radio Shack will partner with PCH International to provide innovative startups a pathway to consumers through a direct-to-store channel featuring both marketing promotion and a strong retail and online presence."

Article: http://247wallst.com/consumer-electronics/2014/06/08/radioshack-labs-do-more-of-this-radio-shack-and-you-might-just-survive/

 

Sounds interesting!

MeasurementBlues
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Re: An interesting development
MeasurementBlues   6/8/2014 8:37:03 PM
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@SeaEE

Thanks for the link. How did you find this article?

seaEE
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Re: An interesting development
seaEE   6/8/2014 8:54:56 PM
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@MeasurementBlues

 

I saw the original link from the Yahoo search front page.  You might have to scroll down awhile until the link surfaces.

EMIguru
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even older memory
EMIguru   6/26/2014 7:46:10 PM
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I can remember saving my allowance and drooling over the pulp Olson (Olsen?) Electronics catalogs of surplus goodies some 55 years ago.   One of my early purchases was a tape recorder head, electrolytic capacitors, and resistors that I married with a 3 or 4 stage CK722 transistor amplifier using information gleaned from the CK722 application manual.   I then added a Pittman clear plastic hobby DC motor for a drive and built all on a wood breadboard.  I immediately got my first big lesson in EMI control.  The amplifier and motor were not compatible!  I subsequently went through the Allied Radio Knight kits -- ACVTM, RF generator.  Only later graduating to a Heathkit oscilloscope, distortion analyzer, and hi-fi amplifers.   Yes, those were the "good old days."  I learned a lot from those hands-on mistakes.

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