My Favorite Radio Shack Memories
My first favorite memory was around 1974 or 5 while I was in graduate school in physics at the University of Southern California, USC. I was always popping over to the local Radio Shack and the manager and I got to be well acquainted with each other. In fact, so well so that he'd eventually learned that I was a graduate student living on a $3,000/year stipend and from then on he'd give me price breaks on whatever parts I needed.
I've had good relationships with many Radio Shack managers throughout the years and while I haven't needed those price breaks in some time, not that I would pass one up if it came my way, it has always been nice to walk in to the store and be able to talk to someone else with an interest in electronics.
My next small story hit closer to home than I ever expected. It was after my daughter finished college and got her first job. She was a marketing major but had to settle for a job as a sales person at, you guessed it, a Radio Shack. This was not because she was good with electronics but because of her home education. She'd been picking up things from me and had the interest and during high school and college learned alot about cell phones and Radio Shack was now in the cell phone business. So, while she could handle all the cell phone questions without a problem she was constantly calling me for more basic electronics advice for customer after customer. At this time I was an embedded software consultant and I was either on site, at the office, or on the road somewhere between. Well, she got so fed up with never knowing where I was at any given time, that when Radio Shack had a Christmas special on their cell phones she bought a new phone and got another one for a penny and gave it to me. She also put me on her plan all so she'd be able to call me for advice and know she'd always be able to reach me.
My last story was even closer to home, literally, but first a little personal history. I am always fixing, or building, some kind of electronic device, TV, radio, record player, tape player, electronic toy, Joule Thief, mp3 player, etc.. Everyone in the family knew this as did many of my friends as well as the manager of our local Radio Shack. About this time my wife had put her foot down telling me that I was NOT, under any circumstances, to accept any more repair work for friends or bring any dead electronic stuff into the house since the house was full and she wanted me to get rid of stuff not collect more dead stuff. That evening my daughter came home from her job at our local Radio Shack and said that the manager had asked her if she thought I would like a brand new, dead, TV that a customer had returned. This was one of those big heavy CRT TVs before the flat screens came out and before HDTV. The story we got about this TV was that the manager had to get it off inventory and wanted to know if I would be willing to take it off his hands to fix and keep, otherwise it would go in the dumpster. My wife pipes up that nothing else is coming into the house, period. I tell my daughter to wait and then forgot about it for about two weeks when my daughter calls (I still had the cell phone) and was told either I had to pick it up or it was going in the dumpster EOB today. So, well, you know, I couldn't let the poor thing be dumped until I at least ascertained if I could fix it without a schematic. I told my wife that if I couldn't fix it that day that I would take it back and put it in the dumpster myself. So I called my daughter and told her I'd be right over. I put the TV on the garage work bench and took it apart. I measured the AC cord, and then looked for the fuse, sure enough the fuse was blown. I think it was something strange like a 1.5A fuse. I didn't have any fuses of that value so I used something larger, a 3A fuse. I plugged the TV into a switched outlet and turned it on waiting for the magic smoke to pour out, but instead the TV turns on and works just fine for about an hour. I then drove back to the store and bought a few correct fuses and put one in and it worked fine all evening. I figured it was either a defective fuse or a power fluctuation that caused the original fuse to blow. In any case, I did get the TV out of the house, not that night but not too long after when my son went off to college. It went with him and since he never came home to stay again, and he needed a TV, it has never returned. He currently has it in the basement of his house, with a bed for guests and his computer workshop, so it is still working and being used. I even get to watch it when I spend the night at his place.
Definition: Magic smoke, the stuff that makes all electronic devices work, resistors, transistors, capacitor, inductors, ICs, etc. once you let it out, the electronic device no longer works.
Last edited by PhilKE3FL; 03-06-2014 at 02:54 AM.
Thanks so much for posting your story here I'm glad you were able to give the TV a second life and that it's still alive and kicking. Funny though, based on what other readers emailed us, a lot of poor college kids with little money to spend on electronics projects rely pretty heavily on people throwing out old TVs that they can use for parts. A bit like an electronics organ donor I suppose
Ah, the time-honored first attempt when a fuse is blown: just put in another one. Fuses, like other parts, can just fail, but often they're just under-rated to start with. A liability thing, I guess, so if it blows too soon the manufacturer won't fear getting sued. I've often fixed a set by going up a half or a full amp, or putting a slow-blow fuse in rather than a fast-blow type. Just be sure to check obvious things that will cause the fuse to blow first; usually a filter capacitor or AC rectifiers short (especially if a storm's passed through the area). If there's really a problem the fuse will just blow again.
Regarding magic smoke: In my college days I shared a house with some friends and we had THREE TVs, all "curbside boutique" purchases. There was an old dead console holding up two portables. One got a picture but no sound, and the other got the sound but no picture. One day we decided we'd try to fix one to get both, without the aid of a schematic. We thought we'd solved the problem, but when we plugged in the set and turned it on all we got was lots of that magic smoke. And sure enough, nothing worked after that.
My favorite RS memory comes from my days as a computer tech for a (now long-closed) RS service center. (I know other techs have reported similar stories, but this really did happen.) A customer was back at my bench and we were downloading and installing some update or another. This was back in the dial-up days so it was taking a while. He was looking at the screen, which was showing the Windows animated sequence where papers are flying between a couple of folders as the copying progresses. With a perfectly straight face, he asked "Would this go faster if those folders were closer together?". I never asked if he was joking, just said "no, sir." I also have fond memories of the days when our local stores regularly had clearance tables. I found lots of interesting stuff on those!
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