Author Options:

Remember when Radio Shack sold electronic components? And didn't suck? Answered

I just went into a Radio Shack for the first time in quite a while, and I was struck by the glaring lack of components and project kits. Seems like all they carry these days is a bunch of consumer electronics that you can get cheaper anywhere else. It made me sad.
Of course, last time I went into The Shack looking for anything more complicated than a pack of batteries you could also still see music videos on MTV, so there's that.
I once got an awesome strobe light kit from Radio Shack, and I remember they carried photoelectric burglar alarm kits and a bunch of other neat junk. Anybody else miss the cool stuff?


At some point in the distant past there were "radio shops" that sold you your radio-batteries, valves, wire etc, like chemists sold you chemicals. Radio Shack came out of this, but as fewer people built/maintained their own electronics they had to diversify or go-under like the other radio-shops (Tandy is dead isn't it?).
With internet suppliers retail electronics don't make much money, unless you're jacking-up margins in a high foot-fall retail-park like maybe Maplin?


    "like chemists sold you chemicals"

It took me a while to decode this tautological sounding statement, but now I realize "chemist" is British-English for "drug-store" or "pharmacy".  I too have heard the old stories about how drug stores used to sell chemicals.  Unfortunately, the only documentary evidence, I can point to right now, is this chemistry book for young adults:

"The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments", (c)1960. Golden Press. NY,NY (Part of the old United States.)

Looking over the pdf of this book, on p. 111 there is a table listing various chemicals and places to buy them.  It lists KNO3 and KMnO4 as being available at the local "drug store".  Stranger still, it lists some place called a "photo store" as a source for sodium thiosulfate.

Of course going into a drug store today, seeking either KNO3 or KMnO4 would be an exercise in comedy, at least until they called the cops on you... like they did with this woman in Indiana who bought one more than the allowable quota of PE based cold medicine.

The original topic of this thread had something to do with Radio Shack, right?

Ah, I went in to Radio Shack today just because the only other electronic component store in my town closes at 4pm. I was looking for a variable or trimmer capacitor. After looking through the capacitor drawers (most of which had been emptied in the past year or 2) I asked the employee if there were any variable capacitors. He barely knew what a capacitor was and furthermore told me that they didn't have any capacitors at all, as I held an assortment in my hand.

About buying KN03 (saltpeter I believe), my dad actually carries it in his pharmacy. I've bought a bottle before to make smoke bombs and maybe one day some rocket fuel. The bottle actually says "for technical use only" :D

Wow!  KNO3 in a pharmacy?  Maybe there's hope for humanity after all?
Also thanks for that sweet rocket fuel link.   (some pun intended)

Yes, raio-shops would sell you valves and radio-batteries, later transistors. They no longer exist. Chemists / druggists did sell you things like you mention. The Young Poisoner's Handbook, film or book includes these - worth a read / watch.


Thanks for the movie link, I'll definitely check it out. 

It makes me think of Fight Club (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0137523/), another movie with some homebrew chemistry in it, specifically (spoilers follow) making soap from fat recovered from liposuction clinic dumpsters, and also making nitro from the glycerol byproduct from the soap process.  The movie was a little short on the exact details involved.  I'm not sure about the book, as I haven't read it.

It's good, but dark. Not fun, but good watching - like Get Carter I suppose...


We have a Uk distributor called "Maplin Electronics", which rather filled the same niche for us as Radio Shack (AKA Tandy electronics). Its catalogue was once a MAJOR piece of paper, and the release of the new catalogue created queues in the shops to buy it !

Now it too is just a box shifter.....


It is a sad thing.... Just to underscore the sadness, here's a little snippet of the conversation I had at The Shack the other day:

(I've been looking through the woefully understocked component drawers for about five minutes, finding absolutely nothing I need)

Retail Drone: Hi, can I help you find something?
RavingMadStudios: Well, I was hoping to find a 5 ohm rheostat, but it doesn't look like there's one in here.
RD: A rheo...what?
RMS: Rheostat. Like a resistor, only you can vary the resistance. There's not one here.
RD: What about that drawer marked "Resistors"?
RMS: Already checked - no rheostats.
RD: So what do these things look like?
RMS: Well, usually there's a stem for a knob, or a dial, or a slider or something like that.
RD: You mean like a volume knob?
RMS: Sorta, but there's nothing in the potentiometer drawer that'll wor-
RD: We got a whole drawer full of volume knobs! Let's take a look!
RMS: Looked already. No dice. But hey, thanks for your-
RD: Are you sure? There's a ton of 'em in there.
RMS: Well, yeah, but none of them are the right kind. All knobs are not created equal.
RD: Huh? Oh, yeah... They come in all different sizes. None of these'll fit?
RMS: Uh... right. None of these are the right... size. But thanks any-
RD: Anything else you need?
RMS: Got any PCB Etchant?
RD: All the PC accessories are right over here....
RMS: (facepalm)

I am sorely tempted to go out to Xtranormal and make a little movie about it....

I actually don't remember a time when Radio Shack didn't suck. 

Maybe there was a time when their selection of components was only mediocre, compared to the abysmal state it's in today. Even in the days when MTV played music videos, Radio Shack was the place to go for crappy, overpriced, off-brand (Archer?) consumer electronics, like radios, tvs, phone answering machines, etc.  Even then their associates were clueless:  You have questions. We have blank stares!

In summary, the Shack has been in decline for years. 

It's like they hide it from me, exclude me from the pack of wild turkeys.

The electronic components are there, but they're in a dirty, half-lit, smelly corner.

It's there, with rows of unkempt shelves, LEDs unorganized, understocked in everything.  Asking an employee an electronics question is like trying to ask a monkey why they swing from the trees.  The employees swing from the trees, but they have absolutely no knowledge about them.

The problem is the love is gone.

Where is the love? 

It's probably in teeny tiny drawer at the back of the store, buried under six kinds of diodes that aren't right for your project and a lonely xenon strobe lamp.