Ratshack

Things must be pretty bad at Radio Shack.

An FM tuner that was given to my wife years ago had developed memory loss; it wouldn’t retain any presets. I finally got around to cracking it open, and sure enough, a largish capacitor had blown and was leaking.

Hey, I can solder (more about that later). So I headed off to RatShack, found where they keep their parts (in a bin now, rather than covering an entire wall), and spent $1.59 on a 1000uf 35v electrolytic cap, while fending off hard sells on bluetooth headsets, Xbox 360s (did you know that RatShack sells consoles?), a new phone, and other crap I didn’t need.

Got home, did the soldering deed: I know that polarity is important on electrolytics, and I made sure to solder ‘-‘ opposite the big ‘+’ on the circuit board.

Plug the tuner in . . . wot’s that wierd humming? . . . why is the tuner’s display flickering? . . . POP! Anyone who’s soldered a cap backwards knows that sound. The big ‘+’ on the board was a registration mark, not a polarity indicator. When I completely scrubbed off the dried-up innards from the old cap, I found the real polarity, which was of course opposite to the way I’d installed the new cap.  The cap had blown itself to confetti.  Sigh.

Off to RatShack again; a different one (trip logistics, not shame). I made a beeline for the parts bin, grabbed the cap I needed, and went to check out.

The salesman was not interested. “Is this all you want?” He practically sniffed.

“Yup.”

“Just take it and go.”

“Uh, okay.”

Sign of the times: A RatShack salesdroid too depressed to charge for a component, or to do upsells on cellphone geegaws and overpriced speaker wire? In the 70s they would have been all over you, trying to sell you CB radio equipment and stereos. Batten down your bank accounts, this is gonna be a rough one.

The tuner works fine now; no internal fireworks.

The smell of melting solder brought back many memories of building stuff when I was a kid. More on that later. In the mean time, I checked out Heathkit for the first time in a couple of decades, and am sad (but not surprised) to see that their kit business is utterly gone.

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14 Responses to Ratshack

  1. It always blows my mind to think that Radio Shack started out selling real radio equipment. I wouldn’t even buy an adapter from them now. Once I discovered the local salvage electronics store (Halted), I could never get myself to step foot inside a Radio Shack to buy an electronic component for 10x as much again… You just need to get over the fact that nothing is really labeled, it’s all just kind of thrown in a bin. One of my friends that came with me likened it to shopping in Ikea, just with no clue what a table or a chair is for, or how it works.

  2. landon says:

    I miss Silly Valley’s surplus shops. I haven’t found their equal here in the Seattle area. Wierd Stuff . . . I don’t think I ever bought anything there more complicated than a resistor that actually worked, but it was _glorious_ junk, some real history back in the racks and racks of garbage. Halted had better quality, but less utter strangitude.

    In Bellevue we have Vetco, and there are some smaller shops that mainly have PC and old Mac cast-offs. But nothing like Halted or WS.

  3. Sean says:

    There was a place down in Renton or Tukwila that I went to for electronic components a few years ago, and it was much better than the current Radio Shack stores. I can’t remember the name, though, and it’s been at least four years since I’ve been there, so they might not even be around anymore…

  4. vynl overdrive says:

    i’ve had many similar experiences with radioshack, and caught their employees in a variety of lies (i even had one tell me that they don’t sell cables that aren’t gold plated anymore). yet i still end up going there when i need a pot quick – no other option around here. but the thing that pissed me off the most was when they wouldn’t hire me.

  5. William Mayo says:

    As a former employee of the Shack ::spits over his shoulder::, I’m not surprised.

    It sucked when I started, and got amazingly worse over the course of a year and a half – before the financial crisis, mind you. My store manager, who’d been there for about 10-20 years, said that it had been steadily declining for the entire time he’d been here.

  6. Bob Tipton says:

    I went there a couple of Christmases ago, and was surprised to see the Vex robotics kits on sale for $149, down from I believe $399. I snapped one up right away. A couple of weeks later, I went back, and the kits had been marked down to $99 each. I asked one of the clerks about it, fearing that what they were selling wasn’t the complete kit, but he said that they’d never sold a single kit in two years, probably because Radio Shack wouldn’t let them open a box and display a model built from the kit. I bought the last 5 kits at $99 each, waited a few months, and sold four kits on eBay for $150-175 each.

    I don’t know if Vex is still in business, but the kits are great – more of a mini course in robotics than a model kit.

  7. EmptyOne says:

    Try going to Radar Electric in Bothell – they are not as good as they once were when they had their store in downtown Seattle (a casualty of high rent…). I moved to Houston a few years ago and all of my crap store ties were severed. Thank god I found ACE electronics!

    If you like kit stuff, try Electronics Goldmine. I have ordered a few kits and they are OK – just have to know what you are trying to do.

    Like the Blog!

  8. William Mayo says:

    @Bob Tipton – I’m not sure they’re even demoing RC cars any more; they certainly weren’t in my store by the time I quit. I’m uncertain if that was corporate or the District Manager (may he rot in the hell reserved for unrepentant toolbags whose only tool is high-pressure nag-sales.)

  9. Anon says:

    I remember when Radio Shack and Tandy in the UK made the sad transition from being component sellers to places that sold normal electronics complete with salesdrones on commission. Sad day really. Mind you, I bet they never made much out of selling components because it was always an extreme niche market.

    Plus modern multilayer boards and SMT are pretty much outside the capabilities or all but the most determined hobbyist – everyone I know gets the prototype boards made by professionals rather than trying to do it themselves like they did back in the Ferric Chloride, stripboard and DIL package days.

    There’s an issue of cost too. Back in the 80’s electronics was really expensive. If it blew up and was out of warranty it made sense to crack it open and try and fix it. These days most stuff is so cheap you’re better off just replacing it when it dies out of warranty.

  10. It seems as if no one is willing to properly invest in the company. Since the Tandy’s stopped selling, they just seem to get junkier and junkier products. That or there’s no real theme. It’s no longer a component store. And with such small stores, doesn’t it seem a bit ridiculous to have one aisle dedicated to clock radios. That just means you’re competing against Wal-mart and the likes. Especially if your clock radios aren’t very special.

    I suspect it’s just a matter of time before they too become obsolete.

  11. Grant says:

    There’s really no need for electronic parts from Radioshack with Digikey and Mouser around. I can have almost anything I need from mouser delivered within a day or two. I was kind of surprised the last time I went in Radioshack. They didn’t have infrared LEDs.

  12. Neil says:

    Vetco hasn’t been the same since they moved from beside the old Active Electronics. House of Science in Ballard was a fun place while they were open. I had only been the Seattle Radar Electronics once before they moved to Bothell.

    But my best memories are of going to Active Surplus on Queen Street West in Toronto with my dad as a child. The one with the old animatronic gorilla and clown outside. It was a veritable Aladdin’s cave: packed full of treasure and endless possibilities.

  13. John says:

    Check out Frys Off of exit 5 on I405 in Renton, Lots of electronic components, tools etc.

    Radio Shack is a shadow of a shadow of a shadow of what it used to be.

  14. UziMonkey says:

    True story. I’ve been to 5 radio shacks in the area, and in every single one I get blank stares and odd looks shopping for components. And that’s if I’m lucky. None of the store monkeys knows what anything is, so if you need help finding things you’re just SOL. One time I was even asked to empty my pockets. If there were another place to get that stuff locally, they wouldn’t be getting any of my money.

    I’m actually surprised they still devote shelf space to this stuff. I’ve never seen anyone else buying this stuff and the shelves are always suspiciously well stocked. I don’t think they ever need to re-stock them, no one buys it. Though I’m grateful I have at least one local source for parts, even if it is Radio Shack.

    And I was actually given some free parts by a closing store. But I don’t think that counts, all the good stuff was already picked dry and they were eager to clear the rest out.

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