RadioShack through the ages: 8 adorable images from the fallen giant's vault

RadioShack may be gearing up to call it quits, but—wow—look at all this amazing consumer electronics history.

Radio Shack 1931 Boston
Radio Shack

Vintage Radio Shack style

RadioShack first opened its doors in 1921 to serve radio officers stationed on ships in Boston Harbor. On February 5, RadioShack filed for bankruptcy.

We hate to see our beloved nerd emporium shut its doors, and selling off half its locations to Sprint is almost as distasteful. Sure, the retail chain may not be relevant today, but for decades it epitomized consumer electronics.

Intrigued? Then join me on a tour of vintage RadioShack moments. This first slide was shot in 1931 at a store in Boston. Then as today, customers visited RadioShack to listen to audio equipment before making a purchase.

Radio Shack vintage audio room
Radio Shack

Listen to this

RadioShack says it invented the in-store audio equipment listening experience—a service that pure audiophile shops adopted many years later.

Here we see the audio room of a RadioShack location in Boston (year unknown). Notice the two turntables beneath the wall of amplifiers. It appears switching equipment in the middle of the two turntables lets the clerk demo different amplifiers at will.

Radio Shack vintage Boston store
Radio Shack

The primordial makers movement

Yep, RadioShack has been selling educational science and electronics kits since the days when all men were required to wear hats by federal law.

The sign on the left reads, “Each kit chock-ful of electronic parts and instructions!” I’m guessing this photo was shot sometime after 1958, as the “record store” kiosk in the upper right of the photo is advertising a recording of the original Broadway cast of the The Music Man.

Radio Shack 1961 Braintree MA
Radio Shack


You have to love the branding on this Braintree, Mass. storefront circa 1961. At this point in the Atomic Age, America was still celebrating the “friendly atom.”

You probably couldn’t buy the now-infamous Gilbert U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, but RadioShack sold other science kits, and of course the atom icon in the store logo spoke to general electronics. Today, RadioShack remains one of the few brick-and-mortar retailers that keeps electronics parts in stock. 

We seriously doubt Sprint will continue that tradition if it buys half the stores.

Radio Shack 1961 Stamford CT
Radio Shack

Let's do some A/B testing

Look how far the “audio room” experience has evolved since 1931. This photo was shot in 1961 at a RadioShack location in Stamford, Conn. We see vinyl on the bottom, amps and turntables in the middle, and speakers on top.

But how in the world did an all-in-one Windows PC make it into this environment?! Or how else would you explain what’s going on behind the two turntables in the middle of the photo? 

Radio Shack 1970s
Radio Shack

A groovier day and time

I don’t know much about this photo. RadioShack didn’t share when and where this image was shot. But judging from the storefront, it was probably photographed around the time when Peter hit Marcia in the face with a football.

Radio Shack 1980s
Radio Shack

We speak TRS-80 here

This image speaks volumes about the birth of the personal computer revolution. In 1977, RadioShack rolled out the TRS-80, a 1.77MHz machine that cost $600 a pop (that’s about $2,300 in today’s money). The “Tandy/RadioShack, Z-80 microprocessor” would give about 200,000 Americans their first experiences with PCs, and apparently meant so much to RadioShack’s business, this store was branded a “computer center.” 

Note the “Sign Up for Lessons” invitation in the store window. This store’s grand opening was in 1980.

Radio Shack 1980 catalog
Radio Shack

This is a radio, not a piece of NASA equipment

Imagine: In 1980, high-end radios were called “receivers.” They cost hundreds of dollars, and in most cases you needed to pair them with amplifiers—which cost their own pretty pennies—in order to integrate them with home stereo systems.

Today, we just stream radio over our mobile phones. 

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