BiState Vintage Radio Repair, LLC
Fixing vintage electronics since 1974
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Comments & Blog
March 15, 2017

This has been a nostalgic and sad weekend for us at BiState Vintage Radio Repair, LLC, as we mourn the closing of one of the last two remaining local RadioShack stores. While we were happy to be able to take advantage of deep price slashes on components and equipment that Gary often uses in his repairs, we were sad that this sale opportunity had to exist.

As RadioShack stores become Sprint stores, we understand that in order to thrive in an ever-changing market place, the market must change. If RadioShack were only about Tandy Computers and CB radios, they would have folded long ago. Nevertheless, the changes mandated by consumer evolution also represent the withering of childhood memories, many of which include RadioShack purchases.

In 2014, RadioShack spent $4 million on a Super Bowl XLVIII ad extolling that it is not the store that you remember from the 1980s. Or apparently from the 1970s that we remember. And therein lies the rub for us.

There are many websites and reports that hypothesize that RadioShack did itself in by poor management and misdirection of which markets to follow. One website (…/for-radioshack-a-history-o…/…) says that RadioShack would be yet another tale about a business failing to adapt to the times, if it were not RadioShack. This is the retailer that sat at the heart of the electronics revolution and had many paths to glory, most of which it took. Yet, in what should be a Harvard Business School case study, it executed all of them badly...RadioShack could have been Best Buy. It could have been Amazon. It could have become Dell. The paths that RadioShack could have taken are numerous. But instead of choosing one, it chose them all, walking away from its place as a hobbyist’s dream.

And a hobbyist's dream it was. At least for Gary and me. At age seven, Gary received a Christmas present of a Micronta multimeter to measure ohms and voltage and a kit of 101 circuitry projects to build such things as a burglar alarm, photocell switch, wheatstone bridge, or a crystal radio. All Christmas presents from RadioShack. Gary's dad was using Tandy leather for hobby projects. A neighbor would often arrive home carrying bags bearing the RadioShack logo. Gary was curious about this place called RadioShack and asked his dad to take him to the store. There Gary would find a world of components and parts with which he could make his own radios and learn about electronics and circuitry. He earned money mowing lawns with which he bought a RadioShack seven-piece tool kit, which included his first soldering iron, and his first P-Box kit to build a one-tube radio. For several years Gary's dad would take him on a Saturday shopping trip to RadioShack at Dutch Square Mall where Gary would usually buy a P-Box kit, one of which he used to make a shortwave radio that he used to spy on his older brother.

In the 1970s when enclosed shopping centers, called malls, started springing up in most cities, every mall, and I mean EVERY mall, had a RadioShack. So did most strip malls and any busy commercial districts. When I was in high school in the '70s, everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, shopped at RadioShack. We bought Realistic cassette tapes to use in our Realistic cassette tape recorders that we'd set up, waiting to record our favorite songs to play on our Realistic pocket transistor radios that we ran on Realistic batteries. We bought Realistic 8-track players for our cars. And we went to RadioShack for bottles of cleaning solution and extra long Q-tips to clean the heads of those 8-track players. We bought remote-controlled cars just because they were cool. Handheld calculators were a new invention in the early '70s, and RadioShack started selling them in 1972. Everyone was talking about RadioShack when they sold one of the first computers for in-home use in 1977. Even those of us non-geeks knew what a Tandy TRS-80 was, even if we didn't know it was the first mass-marketed, fully assembled personal computer and had an operating system built by Bill Gates. We jumped on the CB radio bandwagon, many of us using Realistic CBs in our cars. (My handle was Little Pilot. What was yours?)

The RadioShack in East Town Mall was only a couple shops away from the Jo-Ann Fabrics where I worked. I often stopped in the RadioShack on my way to work, just to see what I could see. Everyone was abuzz during my junior year of high school, talking about the new local FM station that played the music we liked. Everyone in our high school seemed to be listening to Z106. I remember inquiring at RadioShack about buying an FM converter for my 1960 Chevrolet, because FM was the trend and RadioShack was the place to make it happen for me.

Who knew that 9 decades later, Gary would mirror RadioShack's humble beginnings in the 1920s as a small ham radio shop by opening BiState Vintage Radio Repair? And who would have guessed that two of the first things brought in for repair would be a Realistic reel-to-reel tape machine and a Realistic 8-track player?

So we will use the products in the seven large shopping bags that printed out on 20 feet of cash register receipt, and we will remember when RadioShack represented simpler and happier times for us.

What are your memories of RadioShack?

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Betcha don't know what this is:


Posted by Diane, June 1, 2017:

This is a drip pan for grid leaks.  hahahahahahaha!  They are usually inventoried near the tubes of elbow grease, pails of prop wash, and jugs of blinker fluid.  In other words--this is a joke, a play on words.

So what the heck is a grid leak anyway?

Definition from Practical Radio Construction and Repairing by James A Moyer and John F. Wostrel (second edition) © 1930 McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc.

Grid Leak--A non-inductive resistance which is used to permit excessive electric charges to leak from the grid of a vacuum tube.  By this leakage method, it is possible to control accurately the operating conditions of the tube.  The detector circuit is a rectifier which uses only one-half of the radio wave.  The other half of the wave is wasted, and the grid leak serves as a path leading the wasted energy away from the vacuum tube.

Huh?  So what does that mean to dumb girls like me who are not smart technicians like Gary?  A grid leak sounds like a bad thing, but it's actually desirable.  Without a grid leak, the radio frequency (RF) signal that comes from the transmitter (i.e. radio station) would not be able to be received by a receiver (i.e. a radio).  It is a rectifier (or "corrector" or "fixer) to translate the transmitter signal into the music and announcer heard through the receiver.

Why is it called a vacuum tube?  What does that mean?  Inside of a tube, often a glass balloon-shaped globe, is a vacuum.  There is absence of air.  Think about how we talk about "the vacuum of space".  Think about how meteors and asteroids and astronauts float in the "nothingness" of space.  The vacuum inside a "vacuum tubes" allows electrons to float freely until they are attracted by the positive on plate or screen grid or repelled by control or suppressor grid.

 When referring to vacuum tubes, the "grid" is not a series of squares like on a piece of graph paper or pegboard.  A grid in a vacuum tube is a coil of wires that resembles a spring.  A tube usually has a screen grid, a suppressor grid, and a control grid (which is the one that is hoped to leak).  The control grid attracts or collects the correct amount or volume of electrons, and the excess electrons "leak" back into the tube.  If there is no leaking, all the electrons have been repelled.  Therefore, the signal will not get through; there will be no conduction of the signal.  So the radio won't work. 

As explained on the site, Normally the grid of a tube is negative and so it repels electrons but if the grid goes positive it will attract electrons to itself. The grid wires are fine and fairly far apart but even so some electrons will impact it especially when it is attracting them. This causes a current to flow like the forward current through a diode. The cathode of the tube is grounded and the signal is applied to the grid where it is rectified.

There are different types of tubes, and the type depends upon its purpose (such as audio, amplifier, detectors).  This is a picture of a pentode tube, "pent" meaning "five", so this has five elements.


Here is a schematic (diagram) of a typical tube as illustrated in Understanding Electricity and Electronics by Peter Buban and Marshall L. Schmitt © 1962 McGraw-Hill.



This is a super-overly-mega simplified explanation of a grid leak, and I'm sure those among you who are not dumb girls such as I will take exception to some of this explanation.  But take it for what it's worth. 

Oh, and drip pans for grid leaks are available for sale at our shop!

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