Eight Strange Things I Sold at Radio Shack in 1980
# 8 - A Lie Detector Kit
Yes, break out the soldering iron, wire this together, and measure the galvanic response of your friends! When properly assembled, this kit would produce a screech that varied in pitch as your skin moisture changed.
I shudder to think how many killers were set free because of cold solder joints in this kit.
#7 - Record Player Needles
For those of you who remember record players (the dim little siblings of "turntables", usually distinguished by an internal amp and speaker), maybe you remember the needles. Well, we had needles of all sizes and colors.
I drank the Koolaid big time... Radio Shack said we should only sell an EXACT match... don't sell an Astatic R-3a if their needle says R-3b, etc. The frequency response could be wrong! A laminated chart and a magnifying glass helped.
I was very frustrated that a coworker needed only seconds to sell a needle, while it would take me minutes. And sometimes I couldn't find a match, while he always could.
Later, I learned that he figured if it was close it would fit and if not, they weren't going to drive back to the mall to exchange it for $3.99. But lots of them did...
#6 - Car Stereos
Plenty of them. At every price. Because many vehicles had no radio, and most had a mono AM radio.
"Some vehicles may require minor dashboard alterations" it said. Heh. Yep.
You can't imagine the frustration of the average hobbyist when the AM radio they removed had two black speaker wires and one red hot wire, but the new AM/FM 8 Track had four speaker wires, a red hot wire, a yellow hot wire, and a ground wire.
Much debate at time of purchase... should they go with the tried and true 8 track, or the up and coming cassette? I wish I had told them to save their money, buy a harmonica, and wait for the iPod to come out.
#5 - Car Clocks
Few cars had clocks. Finally, a clock you could install in your car! I'm not sure if watches were rationed or what, but folks would gift these like crazy. It was one of those things no one wanted but everyone knew someone else would want.
Three wires... one ground, one ignition, and one always on. "My car clock resets to 12:00 every time I turn it on...". Oh, and if you installed it properly, it still might kill your car battery.
#4 - Bike Radios
Once dad had a stereo in the car (and maybe a clock!), Junior wanted tunes for the road. These actually worked, and you've gotta go an extra $9 for the horn.
Notice that the rider doesn't just ride, doesn't just listen, doesn't just whistle "Flight of the Bumble Bee", he or she also conducts the music with their right hand. #notsafe
#3 - Noise Filters
I'll let Wikipedia explain.
You've made the slight dash modifications, check. Matched and adapted all the wiring, check. Turn the key to ACC and listen... IT WORKS! I'VE GOT A RADIO IN MY CAR. I am so happy. I'm going back to buy that Car Clock I had my eye on. Start the car and Bzzzzzzzzzbzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzbzzzbzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Time to choose from a bewildering array of noise suppressors. How about one that installs on the center post of the distributor of your ignition system, what could possibly go wrong with that one?
I guess the voltage tester was appropriate, you could use it to figure out why the headlights always stayed on at the completion of your little project.
#2 - Crystals
No, not the New Age variety. These were tuning crystals. For your walkie-talkie, or your scanner.
For your scanner, we just needed to know the pin spacing and the intermediate frequency. Then we'd refer to a typewritten sheet to see the local Volunteer Fire Department or Airport frequency, grab the correct crystal which would be the difference between the frequency on the sheet and your intermediate frequency, verify the pin spacing, and send you on your happy way.
"We don't sell crystals for a Midland scanner, it has a different IF than a Bearcat."
"Do you have fire for the Bearcat? Just give me that."
"Yes, I do, but it won't work in a Midland."
"It looks the same."
"It does, but it's not."
"Let me try it."
"Crystals aren't returnable."
Two hours pass.
"My husband bought this earlier and they gave him the wrong one, I want a refund, it doesn't work in a Midland."
For your walkie-talkie, we'd ask what channel you wanted, select a native crystal of that frequency from a chart for transmit, subtract your intermediate frequency and select an offset receive crystal.
"Now remember. This one is channel 17 transmit, this one is channel 17 receive. I'll tape them to the receipt."
Of course the light printing would come off, the customer would confuse the crystals, and return with the off brand radio, a bag of unidentified crystals, and we'd have to figure it out.
#1 - Stereo Systems
So many. So many varieties. This was the "Big" system, and we sold it occasionally at full price, and very frequently when it would go on sale for $1,500 or so about twice per year.
What a setup. Those speakers are about three to four feet high. In the box, you could always fit one in the back seat and one in the trunk.
And the subliminal sell in the ad was that if you bought this, even if you looked like Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club, a Marie Osmond lookalike would be there to listen to music with you.
Most of the stereo systems sold were in the $799 to $999 range. But we sold plenty of "The Everything System", and I'm stunned today to see that $1,749 in 1980 dollars is $5,050 today. Wow.