How a once mighty Amer­i­can tech re­tail brand ul­ti­mately failed in a world that just doesn’t want to tin­ker any more…

Australian T3 - - OPINION -

Shop­ping in the United States is a some­what strange af­fair. Un­less you go to the mall, stores just sit along the side of the high­way, in­ter­spersed with chain restau­rants and gas sta­tions. You drive, you get what you need and then on to the next in­ter­sec­tion, where there are more shops.

Un­til very re­cently, a fix­ture amongst these shops was Ra­dioShack. It had stores ev­ery­where, al­though I must ad­mit I’d never been tempted in. So when the sad news of 94-year-old tech re­tailer’s im­pend­ing demise came through, I fig­ured I should have a gawp.

What I saw was an ele­giac throw­back to tech re­tail past. And it mainly made me think, “No won­der it’s go­ing out of busi­ness.”

Aside from an ar­ray of mo­bile de­vices, tel­lies and head­phones, the Shack was a dad- tech par­adise. Ev­ery­where were Blue­tooth head­sets, uni­ver­sal re­motes and stuff no­body any longer thinks about buy­ing from any­where but Ama­zon – bat­ter­ies, ca­bles, ex­ten­sion leads and the like.

There was also a weirdly large num­ber of ra­dio-con­trolled cars and an ar­ray of re­place­ment com­po­nents for fix­ing gad­gets.

None­the­less, I felt a lit­tle sad that this iconic, all-Amer­i­can com­pany was go­ing down in a hail of snidey me­dia piss-tak­ing. Af­ter all, it was Ra­dioShack that brought “tech” into many homes for the first time.

Es­tab­lished in 1921 as a ra­dio parts re­tailer in Fort Worth, Texas, the Shack re­ally had it go­ing on at one point. It was the big­gest seller of CB ra­dios dur­ing the craze in the ‘70s and also brought the first fully-as­sem­bled per­sonal com­puter, the TRS-80, to mar­ket, out­selling the new Ap­ple I three­fold, ini­tially.

The store’s wealth of com­po­nents and spare parts also made it a haven for doit-your­self gad­geteers in an era when the elec­tron­ics rev­o­lu­tion was tak­ing hold. It had an in­no­va­tive spirit that let ideas flour­ish.

It had an Aus­tralian off­shoot too: Tandy. Older read­ers may re­mem­ber the stores’ hand-writ­ten re­ceipts and in­sis­tence on tak­ing your ad­dress ev­ery time you bought any­thing.

Ra­dioShack also helped to pi­o­neer cell phones, sell­ing one for the then­quite-rea­son­able early-adopter’s price of US$2,495. “Go Where You Wanna Go, Call When You Wanna Call” its cheery com­mer­cial jin­gle in­toned, as sexy mod­els walked along the beach, with the mi­crowave-sized bat­tery pack tossed non­cha­lantly over one shoul­der.

How­ever, it was the mo­bile that ul­ti­mately did it in. As de­vices con­verged into the smart­phone, peo­ple just needed less stuff. Fur­ther­more, mod­ern mo­bile de­vices have all the re­pairabil­ity of a puréed ba­nana. The Shack’s wealth of spares and sol­der­ing irons were of no use on this new tech breed.

And so Tandy shut down in Aus­tralia, with many of its stores be­ing con­verted to Dick Smith out­lets. Now Ra­dioShack it­self is go­ing the way of the dodo.

It’s a damn shame, but the fact is that even if smart­phones and LCD screens could be fixed as eas­ily as a tran­sis­tor ra­dio, the de­sire just isn’t there to do it any­more. There’s been a gen­er­a­tional shift, and peo­ple now think noth­ing of re­plac­ing bro­ken hard­ware rather than tin­ker­ing with it.

In that sense Ra­dioShack is a ca­su­alty of tech’s coloni­sa­tion of the main­stream. The irony is that this ven­er­a­ble in­sti­tu­tion did more than most to set the stage for that.

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