I can remember years ago walking in to a Radio Shack store in the mall and being constantly amazed at the gadgets and gizmos that lines the walls with the latest in technological wonders.
Remember when they sold crystal radio kits that you pieced together to pick up an AM radio station?
I can remember begging to get one of those 150-in-one kits for various electronic experiments. I wanted to build the lie detector to see if my brother was telling the truth about what he did with my action figures.
Alas it was not meant to be. Mom couldn't justify the spending of it and I was deprived of becoming a ham operator earlier in life or an Electronics Engineer in the making because of this depravity.
But life moves on. And Radio Shack is now just a place for electronic toys that you can buy practically anywhere (often at a better price) rather than a place where you can find electronic toys to learn with.
That was Radio Shack's niche. You learned about electronics and you learned how things worked while having fun at the same time.
Now, it's just "buy this cell phone" or "buy this satellite dish" or "buy this MP3 player".
Back in the day, a Radio Shack employee had to know the stuff they sold. They knew Ohm's law, how a computer worked, and what component needed to be replaced if you had a problem with you radio-controlled car. Now anymore you get the kind of look a dog has when it hears a high-pitched sound when you ask them if they have solder.
Case in point, I was looking to install a mobile in my car last week and went in to a Radio Shack store, won't say where. My request was simple: "Do you have any molex connectors?". His response, "Huh?" echoes through the empty store (save the blaring of Robocop 2 on the TVs being displayed).
I try to explain what I need and he responds "We used to" and went back to his daydreaming and watching Robocop 2. Such a shame, really. Why should he bother with someone who knows more about electronics that he does? You'd think I'd go to an electronics store or something...
My experience in this misery was momentarily uplifted when I spotted a roll of RG-213 for cutting by the foot, and figured this wasn't as bad a place as I might give it credit, since I normally don't see this kind of cable at a regular Radio Shack, and I asked a question (given I wasn't able to look online at that moment) about the attenuation on this versus RG-8. Again, "Huh?". I restated my question: "How much better is RG-213 versus RG-8 on the different radio bands?".
His reaction can be summed up as follows:
Now, I know I should know better about Radio Shack and the lack of tech it's become, but one thing I've always been taught is that a store's employees should at least know SOMETHING about what they're selling, and if not, point you in the right direction to get the answer.
I'm sure he could tell me about the great deals on the cell phones his store carries, or that he could make me a sweet offer to get satellite TV, but when it comes to real technical questions, this guy was not going to have a clue what I was talking about.
I don't want to belittle Radio Shack employees in general, because there are those that know a little bit more than the average Joe, and I try not to let one apple spoil the bunch, but this is not the first time I've encountered clueless Radio Shack "answer guys". Over the last 15 years I've been a ham, I've watched the dumbing down of employees and it's sad to see that the company has basically taken the tech out of the picture and put in the sales, sales, sales part of it.
Now, to their credit, they still are the place to go for scanners and weather radios (I got one of the first generation SAME weather radios when they became available) and they have a good selection of shortwave radios, so they still have some niche markets to cater towards.
I still shop there for connectors, couplers, and adaptors, and every now and again I will peruse the overpriced knickknacks that line their stores, but when the employee concept has gone from being tech geeks to pushy salespeople who know little about what they're selling, it's not a good sign of things to come.
So for now I'll yearn for the days of the HTX-202 and the 5/8 wave mag-mount antenna that were the staple of my early days in ham radio. But I gotta stop by there and pick up another coupler for my home station before they close. I hope they don't try to sell me on satellite radios, however.