Radio Shack filed for Bankruptcy and is about to close for good. Yesterday at work standing around in my group of Electrical Engineers I felt the need to say something. “You know, if it wasn’t for Radio Shack – I wouldn’t be here today”, “Yeah me too”. We weren’t having a group cry or anything – but we did realize that many of us shared the same experience ( sometimes decades apart ) that started us as little kid electronic hobbyists on to paths to becoming Electrical Engineers. I knew at age 10 that I wanted to be an Electrical Engineer. This kept me motivated and on track for the next ten years to get my BSEE.
A store at a mall that offered electronics where you could build things. The 100-in-1 kit got me started. For $30 you got a wooden box with a piece of cardboard with components attached to springs and wires to attach them. This wasn’t building pretend space ships with plastic LEGOs – this was so much more. This was making the future. I built sirens, and amplifiers and even a radio transmitter. This thing was a gateway drug to Electrical Engineering.
After building all 100 projects for the 100th time ( thats 10,000 afternoons of pre-internet, pre-cable TV childhood boredom resolved ) I escaped the confines of the wonderful wooden box and discovered the $2 “Engineer’s Notebook” from Forrest M. Mims III. This 128 page recycled paper marvel was the Rosetta Stone of what all those mysterious transistors and ICs inside broken electronics did.
10 years before opening a text book in college on CMOS – I discovered the 4011 CMOS NAND gate. From it and a 9V battery ( from my Radio Shack Battery Club Card ) – I could build other gates. The best thing about the “Engineers Notebook” was that every IC and resistor and capacitor in it could be purchased from my local RadioShack mall store.
Now I just buy everything from Digikey – as they have exactly what I want in every package size imaginable. RadioShack had like 30 different resistors, Digikey has 500,000. When you are getting started in electronics – which is better?
In 1977 RadioShack came out with a personal computer the TRS-80 Model-I. I think I had one by age 9 or 10 right around 1980. Yes it was crap, but at $499 versus $2K for an Apple-II – it was incredibly affordable back then. The thing about the TRS-80 and the Apple-II was that they are both computers – one was accessible, the other not. Before the TRS-80, the most advanced piece of electronics in our house was a calculator that did multiplication and division. I was soon teaching myself BASIC and wiring up my 7400 series TTL IC’s to the magical 40 pin expansion connector that brought the raw 2 MHz Z80 8bit bus right out to my breadboard. I was writing software at age 10 that flashed LEDs and made sounds from an otherwise completely silent computer. A computer in my home. My own Computer! Awe – the 1970s and early 80s. Wonderful time for technology. Jump forward to 1988, thanks to my “Trash 80” experience – I breezed through my freshman Fortran programming class at the University of Washington that many of my fellow EE classmates barely survived.
Thank you Radio Shack for sending me on this wonderful path to becoming an Electrical Engineer. RIP