(or, Things Aren’t What They Used to Be)
My love of Radio Shack (now RadioShack) started in the 1970’s, when I discovered them in junior high. They were a place of wonder, where you could seemingly get a device or parts that would allow you to do damn near anything. The annual catalogs were my “wish books” and I spent hours poring over them. I even had, at one point, a constantly-updated list of three stereo systems in different price ranges that I would buy from them if I had the money. My paper route soon enabled me to start building one of those systems. When high school graduation time arrived, I landed a job with them and stayed for over five years. (That introduced me to the ugly side of working retail, but that’s a story for another time.)
I kept up with them when I moved on and still shopped there, but over time that decreased. I watched anxiously when news broke of a possible bankruptcy in late 2014, and I held my breath during the months to follow. The local store closings brought the ability to get some great deals but I didn’t want to see the company disappear. Let’s face it—many of us may have liked their stuff but knew it was foolish to buy until there was a sale. Their prices weren’t the greatest but if they had something no one else had, we were stuck paying retail. When the news finally came that their stores would still be around but in fewer numbers and under different ownership I was relieved.
But, as you’d expect, there were some ‘gotchas.’
Their web site took literally months to bring back online. The store personnel who remained in the new company always looked shell-shocked and didn’t always have the most current information about what they had in stock or what would be available in the future. In the stores where Sprint was to occupy about a third of the floor space it often took months (again) for them to arrive and set up shop. The stores still had an air of uncertainty about them as the pieces of the explosion slowly settled. I thought that everything, once finished, would be kind-of like it was.
Then came what I call “Scannergate.” First, some history is necessary.
For many years before the bankruptcy a company named GRE made scanning radios for RadioShack. They were a great product that worked well and I lusted after a desktop digital trunking model called the PRO-197. GRE closed up their business and stopped making scanners for RadioShack in 2012. The next year Whistler Group acquired GRE’s intellectual property and re-opened one of their factories to resume producing scanners for both themselves and RadioShack. The current-model RadioShack PRO-652 and Whistler WS1065 were said online to be internally and functionally identical to the PRO-197.
During the liquidation I purchased a PRO-652 scanner that was a display unit, and some months later I stumbled across an earlier PRO-197 from another source. The PRO-197 had a problem in that the combined volume/squelch/power control was noisy. I disassembled the unit to discover that the part was a completely sealed unit—there was no way to clean the control with a cleaner/lube spray. The scanner would need a new part and I thought it would be a simple problem to resolve. RadioShack operated a National Parts Department for decades where you could purchase nearly any part or service manual for an item that was under five years old, with some parts available even longer than that. In the recent past they changed the name to “RSU Online” and allowed their customers to order parts locally to have them delivered to their mailboxes. I went to one of the surviving local stores near me to place an order.
You can guess what happened next. I was told RSU Online was no more. An email to RadioShack Customer Care yielded this response:
“No, we do not have any of National Parts’ inventory left. I believe that product was liquidated months ago. We regret any inconvenience.
They apparently had no information on whom, or what company, had purchased their parts inventory. I also sent an email to the bankruptcy court but they did not have that information either. I returned to the store and posed a series of carefully worded hypothetical questions to the manager. In the new RadioShack world:
• If an item fails within the warranty period the customer will be swapped for a brand-new unit.
• If a brand-new unit is not available (was recently discontinued and no stock remains) and the unit is still in warranty, they will be given a refund of the purchase price.
• They do not provide parts or repair services on any item they sold or currently sell. They might at some future point but not now.
• The customer may be able to obtain parts directly from the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) of that item if the manufacturer is known.
• Repair of non-warranty items would be performed at a local electronics shop of the customer’s choice at the customer’s expense.
Some of this makes sense—what choices do they have if they’ve sold off their repair facilities and the parts to do the work? On brand name items (such as Logitech) that OEM can provide parts and warranty service. However, for any RadioShack-branded product the consumer may likely find themselves out of luck when their expensive gee-whizzy breaks. RadioShack also makes a big assumption that most people won’t think about until they’re in trouble. If the customer’s item has a generic part that needs replacing (and they can find a local shop who does board-level repairs, which can be rare) they’re good. But if you need a custom LCD display, or a battery door, or a special-purpose IC chip, their precious piece of electronics is a paperweight.
In my case I knew that the OEM of my scanner, at least the newer one, was Whistler. There was a great chance that the PRO-197 volume control assembly was identical to the control in the PRO-652. No problem! I could just order a couple of controls from Whistler. I sent off an email to their customer service department and waited. After getting no response in a week I sent another email. Again, no response within a week. After a third email I heard from call center manager Mary Jo Duncan, who wrote,
“Unfortunately we do not offer parts for sell (sic) for the scanners.”
After we exchanged some emails and I made her to understand my unique situation, she told me to call back the next week and talk to Bryan, the lead scanner technical support person. When I reached him and explained the problem, I was told he needed to check with an engineer to verify that the newer product’s knobs would fit the older unit. That was the last time I could reach Bryan. I’ve left several messages for him, including the information that the knobs between the PRO-197 and PRO-652 are indeed interchangeable, but he’s never responded. It appears that he’s been informed of their policy and has decided not to continue our conversation further. By the way, when you call Whistler and are put on hold you get a message saying they can repair their scanners for a fee if you send them in. RadioShack units are not mentioned and, I’d imagine, older units like mine would be completely out of the question even if they did service them.
I now have a disassembled scanner in a box with no way to obtain a repair part and two companies that could care less, with one of them having the solution but are unwilling to assist. I’ve checked a number of parts sources online, including several places that offer to fix broken scanners. They don’t seem to have the part either.
I’d entertained the idea of purchasing the upgraded Whistler WS1095 but I won’t consider anything from them in the future. Granted, my situation is not a textbook, clear-cut problem, but you’d think they would help given that they still produce the scanner in question. If the way they’ve handled my issue is typical of their company’s attitude toward the end-user, I wouldn’t recommend their products to anyone.
As for RadioShack, well—I’m still cheering for them. But I wouldn’t recommend that anyone buy RS-branded products unless they have enough money to consider them disposable when they break.
If anything changes in the future I’ll post the information here.