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Look How Awesome RadioShack Was In The 1980s

Catalogs, computers, and… comic books?!

Look How Awesome RadioShack Was In The 1980s

For young geeks and nerds in the 1980s, there was one undisputed truth: RadioShack was an awesome place. A store filled with computers, remote control toys, and gadgets of all sorts that seemed to magically have a location anywhere your family went shopping on the weekend? Sweet.

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Now, as we sadly know, RadioShack is no more. The company’s announcement on Thursday that they filed for bankruptcy and are winding down operations was widely expected… but that doesn’t make it hurt less. But rather than mourning a store that hasn’t been relevant for years, let’s take a moment to celebrate the glory days.

For decades, RadioShack published omnipresent catalogs hawking their computer and electronics wares. The last one was published in 2003, at exactly the same time that the Internet was changing the contours of commerce and making it much cheaper for anyone to buy stereo wires or headphone splitters–with the caveat that you’d have to wait a few days for delivery. A wonderful site called Radio Shack Catalogs contains scans of RadioShack catalogs dating back to 1939 and is, as we can attest, a wonderful Internet timesuck. But this one scan from their 1989 catalog shows how dominant–and stocked!–they were back in the day:


Here was the genius of RadioShack. While Sharper Image and Brookstone catered to more well-off customers, RadioShack was the gadget and gizmo purveyor of the people. Plant meters that give soil moisture readings? Alarm clocks that, blessedly, talk in a robotic voice? Bring ’em on. In an age where consumer electronics weren’t yet omnipresent beyond the television and radio, RadioShack offered a reliable venue for early adopters to try out the latest and best in electronics.

One of my favorite RadioShack memories comes from the comic books (yes, comic books) the brand produced. Starting in the 1970s and continuing into the 1990s, the retailer produced a series of educational comic books ostensibly designed to teach the history of electronics. But if young, elementary-school-aged readers were turned into reliable RadioShack customers over the years, all the better. Here’s a page from their 1979 comic, which is just full of retro goodness:


And on a personal note, I remember the day when I was 7 or 8 years old and my father bought a 160-in-One Electronic Project Kit home with him as a surprise. For a tech-inclined kid in the New York City public school system whose computer class didn’t extend far beyond Oregon Trail, it was amazing. You could build your own radio? Program your own games? Muck around with electricity? Hells yes. There was even the potential to someday convince your parents to buy you one of the more high-end kits, the ones with soldering irons.

Now RadioShack is going away. Individual stores might stay open under one new name or another, but a brand with a long and storied history is shuttering their doors. We could talk late into the night about the business decisions that made them fail–if you’re so inclined, BloombergBusiness has one of the most extensive explanations of RadioShack’s collapse–but the thing that matters is the loss of an iconic American brand. Goodbye, RadioShack, and thanks for the memories.

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And if you want one last memory of the iconic brand, we urge you to make it this:

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