RadioShack and Tandy Nostalgia

Fox Business reported today developments in the sad case of declining tech company RadioShack.

FOX BUSINESS
March 09, 2017

U.S. electronics chain RadioShack filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday for the second time in a little over two years, faced with a challenging retail environment and an unsatisfying partnership with wireless provider Sprint Corp.

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I bought a neat piece of spying equipment in the early 1990s, an analogue microphone that you licked before sticking it to your phone in order to tape conversations unobtrusively.

It came in handy for recording story sources when I was working as a print journalist, allowing me 100% accuracy in repeating whatever I was told.

Costing about £2 from Tandy, it proved an invaluable piece of kit when attached to my Olympus Pearlcorder tape machine. Harry Caul would have been proud, though perhaps Julian Assange would likely just smirk.

The Tandy Corporation acquired RadioShack in the 1960s. However, the set-up is hideously complex and pointlessly difficult for me to try to explain here.

But Tandy maintained a pretty impressive high-street presence in the UK a few decades back but disappeared, if memory serves, in the late ’90s.

I loved browsing all sorts of gadgets and obscure components – cabling and connectors, oddly shaped components, electronics tools, etc – and fell in love with my very first computer there.

My Tandy WP2 boasted 32k ROM, 32k RAM (expandable), a Zilog Z80 processor whizzing along at 5.5296 Mhz, and ran on four A4 batteries. Far less than an inch thick, it also boasted a full-sized keyboard and an eight line by 80 character display. (Link for nerds.)

When I worked as publicity coordinator with the Edinburgh International Film Festival, I saw Bob Flynn, then film critic for The Guardian newspaper, huddled in a hallway as he used one to send an article in simple-text over a copper phone line through an incredibly primitive modem.

Those were pioneering days, from an era that marked a page-turn in the histories of both technology and wider human civilisation.

I hope RadioShack manages to reorganise itself back into a viable company through its proposed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Instead it may become an entirely abstracted footnote in the history of our digital evolution.

Either way, I’m thankful for those memories and their contribution to this particular layman’s tech history.