Last week RadioShack announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. While this doesn’t mean the chain is going to immediately vanish, and companies HAVE recovered from bankruptcy before, the odds of RadioShack pulling off a save would be nothing short of a miracle. It’s most likely we’ll see the slow sink into quicksand that eventually swallowed Blockbuster.
For the longest time, RadioShack was the one place that came to mind if you needed to repair an electronic gizmo and needed a specific part, or you had to find an obscure battery size, or you were ten years old and wanted a build-your-own-radio kit. What we’ve seen from them over the last 20 years is typical of a large business that gets left in the dust: a slow reaction time to consumer trends, a decline in customer service, and the rise of superior competition.
Just for fun, let’s look back at some of the geeky products you could get from RadioShack in its prime.
Radio Shack had its own entire computer line throughout the 80’s thanks to Tandy Corporation, which owned them at the time. It earned the nickname “Trash-80” due to its inferiority to other home computers of the time period (I should know, I had one).
CONFUSING GAME MACHINES
Thanks to Tandy, Radio Shack was blessed with mountains of exclusive electronic toys, the use of which was completely unintuitive to the average kid. This was another device I had once, and it mostly gathered dust.
THE TANDY COMPUTER WHIZ KIDS
Radio Shack also carried its own line of “educational” comic books starring the most impossibly well-behaved children in the world. Their main goal was to sell Trash-80s to school districts, but they’d throw in a “say no to drugs” on the side. As many an online reviewer has snarked out, these are among the worst comics ever created, and if you’ve never seen one, it won’t take long for Google to bring them up.
CELLULAR PORTABLE TELEPHONE
This is Radio Shack’s cellular portable telephone.
Behold the Titanic of Radio Shack products, in every sense. If you’re wondering what happened to Tandy, they were put under by the bomb of a single product, the Video Information System. This device was like a Phillips CD-I except there were no games at all. The thinking was that the future of the Information Age lied in virtual encyclopedias on CD-ROMs, which was this thing’s specialty. The VIS went on sale in the fall of 1992 and remains one of the worst-selling products RadioShack ever stocked. Once they lost Tandy, RS would sell far fewer exclusives for the rest of its life.