A requiem for RadioShack

Now that the end may be near for the iconic chain of electronic shops, there are two RadioShack products I’ll remember fondly.

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Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

RadioShack is not dead yet… it only seems that way.

Even as other electronics chains like Circuit City fell victim to e-commerce and the Internet, RadioShack, perhaps the oldest and dowdiest of them all, has struggled bravely on. Originally known for selling cables and connectors and kits, over the years the stores have tried various revamp strategies to stay relevant, but none of them really caught on. (Remember “the Shack?” Me neither).

And now it seems that the end may finally be about to catch up with the little shops and their iconic black-and-white-and-red signs – last week, news outlets began reporting that the company is “rapidly running out of cash and might have to file for bankruptcy protection, or even liquidate.”

RadioShack was the walking dead

In one sense, the end of RadioShack seems inevitable. The stores have seemed hopelessly sad and old-fashioned for a long, long time. As technology hardware became smaller, more integrated, more disposable, and less user-serviceable, the need for spare parts other do-it-yourself products faded away. The Internet offered lower prices and a seemingly infinite selection of pretty much everything RadioShack offered.

Maybe that’s why way back in 2007, The Onion reported that "Even CEO Can't Figure Out How RadioShack Still In Business." The story was brilliant satire, and it was also prescient.

See also: A requiem for Blackberry

Today, it seems, almost no one can figure out how RadioShack is still in business, from shoppers who have been avoiding the stories in droves – leading to massive losses for 10 consecutive quarters – to bankers and investors who appear ready to cut off credit to the floundering company.

That’s why I’m not totally heartbroken at the thought of RadioShack passing. While I’ve bought plenty of large and small items there over the decades, of the products that came from the store seldom had much emotional connection for me. It was mostly just a quick place to get a tiny battery, a phono plug, or some coax cabling when I needed it in such a hurry I was willing to pay a premium.

With two important exceptions:

  1. The Realistic brand Minimus 7 black metal speakers that I still have in a box in my guest bedroom. They were tiny, heavy, and sounded way better than they should have for their size. But they needed an amplifier, and so they didn’t make a successful transition to computer speakers. (Today, I rely on my Jawbone Big Jambox for similar applications).
  2. The TRS-80 Model 100 that was the first portable computer I used back in the 1980s. It had only a few lines of display and required “acoustic couplers” to hook up to the phone lines, but it let me write and file stories remotely in my first tech journalist job. And it was the clear precursor to all the amazing laptops I’ve used and reviewed since then. As a productivity device, the “Trash 80,” as we called it, was a slow and awkward mess. But it was also a beacon to the new world of mobile devices we all live in today.

Both those devices are decades old now. RadioShack hasn’t offered exclusive access to anything as interesting in a very long time. I won’t miss today’s RadioShack stores if they’re gone, but I will miss those great-sounding little speakers and the thrill I got the first time a filed a story from a phone booth in San Diego to my editors back in New York.

How about you? Will you miss anything about RadioShack if it goes out of business?

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