Surfin: Buyin’ Parts, Part Three
By Stan Horzepa, WA1LOU
May 14, 2010
This week, Surfin’ readers share their memories about all the places where they bought parts way back when.
To wrap up the buyin’ parts exposition, I reveal the interesting comments I received regarding a previous installment of this series.
Bob Mudra, AK9RM, wrote: “In the Chicago area, we had Allied Radio and Newark Electronics. Allied had a big sales store/warehouse on the west side of Chicago. The sales end included several ‘Hi-Fi Studios’ where you could do A-B comparisons between amps, speakers, turntables and the like, but the highlight was ‘The Ham Shack’ where you would find Hallicrafters, Johnson, National, Gonset and many others. For a high school kid with a limited budget, I pretty much just did the ‘look, but don't touch’ routine, but drooling was allowed. Rich Czepiel, WA9QEW, ran The Ham Shack for a while and we still stay in touch.
“Newark was in downtown Chicago in the shadow of the el, so I could get there on public transportation. They also had parts a plenty, but their ham shack was not nearly as neat and polished as the one at Allied. They did have bins on the floor with all sorts of surplus components for low prices Of course, Newark and Allied are both still around, but their complexion has changed dramatically and they are now just another industrial supplier.
“If you went south on Michigan Avenue to about 2500 South, there were several store fronts like Arrow Sales and R-W Electronics that sold World War II surplus. You look at some of that stuff now and wonder how we won the war. Technology marches on!”
Tom Maier, K3WFN, commented, “During my formative years here in Pittsburgh, Tydings Radio and Cameradio were a 45 minute, 25 cent streetcar ride and 10 block walk from my house. Both places had actual ham gear on the shelf! You could go in and actually touch them. I spent countless Saturday mornings in there ‘owning’ many pieces of Collins, Hammarlund and Hallicrafters equipment. Sigh. Despite their instant pocket communicators that similarly aged kids have today, I’ll bet that few of them will remember what it was like with the same fondness that I do today.
“You could go in there and buy ‘mini-ductor’ coils, variable caps and tube sockets. Cameradio was not quite as friendly and helpful as Tydings ,where W3BWU would expound in great detail about his latest E layer contact with the Bahamas on 6 meters. At Tydings, they always had a keyer (I forget the brand) on one of the shelves where you could bang out your call letters for all to hear. ‘KN3WFN’ echoed through that store more times than you can imagine.”
Harry Gross, KC2FYJ, remarked, “You are forgetting the other big mail-order house of the ’60s: Allied Radio. And it’s odd that you did so because Tandy Corporation (the parent company of Radio Shack, at least at that time) bought the Allied Radio company and incorporated it into the Radio Shack chain. My first shortwave radio was purchased from Allied and I also bought almost all the parts for the first CW transmitter I ever built from Allied. They used to have a catalog at least as big as the Lafayette catalog, and it was stocked with better quality merchandise. Ah, the good old days!”
Bob Koblish, N3HAT, had this to say: “I grew up in Albertson, New York on Long Island. Arrow Electronics had a retail store within cycling distance and I would go there often on my bike as a teenager. Lafayette Radio’s headquarters was in Syosset, about 10 miles away. My folks would have to drive me, though one time I went there on my 3 speed bike. I loved their scratch-and-dent section; still have some stuff from there!
“In Baltimore, we had such places as Baynesville Electronics, which had rows of tables with surplus stuff. On 36th Street was the Amateur Radio Center (since closed) where hams (mostly older than me) would gather in the basement on Saturday mornings for coffee, doughnuts and an eyeball ragchew surrounded by old QSTs and gear. I remember particularly a big Collins transmitter in a full-height rack cabinet with the PA tube visible through a glass window. Now I’m in Cincinnati, where Debco Electronics is selling surplus and imported parts. They go to hamfests all over the area, and will be in Dayton again.
“I am sure that you know of Mendelson’s in Dayton. Even though they are a Hamvention exhibitor, you haven’t really experienced Mendelson’s until you’ve wandered through their building near downtown Dayton. It’s a huge place and even though only two floors are open to the public, there are aisle after aisle of surplus stuff.
“If you've got the time while you’re in Western Ohio, head north a couple of hours up I-75 from Dayton and visit Fair Radio Sales on the south side of Lima. They have a collection of surplus radios and test equipment that must be seen to be appreciated. Last time I was there a few months ago, they had some Command sets (these days they aren’t coming from Uncle Sam, but from folks’ basements and garages). And they had a beautiful WWII vintage shipboard transmitter. Actually, it was two transmitters in one, one for long wave and one for medium wave and HF. The construction was exquisite.”
Pete Kemp, KZ1Z, expounded, “I worked at the Radio Shack store in Stamford, Connecticut while in high school; this was before Tandy purchased it. At the time, there were only five or six stores -- Connecticut had West Hartford, Orange and Stamford, and the rest were in Boston. As a high school kid, I was primarily in charge of stocking the 27 wall, so-called because the plastic-bagged parts all had stock numbers starting with catalog number 27. During lunch time, we used to get a lot of engineering types (CBS Labs and other R&D facilities were in the area). They would eat their sandwiches while walking around the Manager’s Specials and purchasing a resistor. Broken Archer Space Patrol phones were always in demand. I would spend time with them finding parts for some top secret project they had going in their mind. In the end, a giant sale of $3.40. I didn’t mind, they were happy and I wasn’t getting a commission.
“After a while I had a good following. During the Christmas season, high-end products, like Scott, Fischer, Macintosh, Marantz and KLH were in demand. Radio Shack brands like Archer and Micronta were just evolving. Eventually, these high end products were phased out of Radio Shack stores with few exceptions.
“One time a fellow went into the glass room (stereo demonstration area), looking to get a full system. The full-time salesmen were chomping at the bit. He turned around and came out on to the main floor, pointed to me and said ‘I want him to help me. He took the time to help me before I want him to do it again.’
“It does pay to be nice to people. The sale was for more than $1000. This was 1966. The store cash register only allowed sales up to $999.99, so the sale had to be split into parts. Now that was an attention-getter. Having earned my stripes, the manager gave me a raise to $1.35 and hour, plus a commission. Probably only a percent, but every penny counts when earning money for school.
“Quarterly, we had to do an inventory. That was fun. Most Connecticut stores were closed on Sundays back then. The staff would come in, lock the doors, turn on a few lights, crank up the music in the stereo room and start counting. No computer bar code scanning then. To add in the fun, it would be pizza day. Yep, good old Radio Shack.”
Lenny Tamulonis, W1LVT, recalled, “As a teenager, I used to travel down from New Hampshire to Radio Shack on Washington Street in Boston (when they only had two stores and specialized in parts and ham gear). Then they sold out to Tandy, I guess, and became just another shiny audio appliance store. In New Hampshire, we had DeMambro Radio in Manchester and Evans Radio in Bow. Evans was run by Carl Evans, W1BFT, and his wife Dotty, W1FTJ. What a place! Everything from parts to new Hallicrafters and Collins gear (which I could never afford) to used, refurbished trade-ins. Boy, them were the days!”
Robert Lewis, AA4PB, said, “As a teenager in the late ’50s, I had it made. There was Aaron’s Surplus in Detroit with (as I recall) three floors of electronic WW II surplus that you could hardly walk through. A new ARC5 receiver, still in the original carton, was $10. There were 55-gallon drums full of J38 straight keys to pick through. One in good shape would set you back a dollar. I could spend the whole day at Aaron’s. There were several smaller electronic surplus stores around the area as well.”
Until next time, keep on surfin’.