ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog


A lot of people are telling me about, which purports to be an archive of the yearly catalogs put out by Radio Shack, a chain of electronics stores (now not quite so much) dating back to 1921. (You can read an excellent history of this store chain on the official Radio Shack Corporation Site.) From the 1940s, Radio Shack has been putting out a catalog which has inspired generations of technology-minded people and which has grown and changed with the health and focus of the company behind it. No question about it; Radio Shack Catalogs are a definitely important chunk of computer (and electronics) history.

But like all good archivists, I browse the site and find a bunch of things that give me pause.

First of all, it has ads. And by “has ads” I mean like one would say that a bear “has fur”; it’s absolutely caked with them. I counted five ads on the front page, and two of those five are Google Ads where there are three more ads between them. So that’s either five or nine ads, determined by your charity. I have little charity.

Next, it has this pretty weird ownership thing. The top of the site says, and I quote,

This site not affiliated, nor associated with RadioShack Corporation in any way.  No copyright infringement is intended towards RadioShack Corporation.  Any reproduction, duplication, or distribution of the contents of this site is expressly prohibited.

Well, that’s interesting. So what is being said here is “I don’t own this stuff, and I know that, but still, you can’t have this stuff. P.S. Please click through the ads to help pay for this.” You know what I love? I love when people totally invent copyright law out of their heads. I fucking love that. It makes me warm, like sitting in a bowl of oatmeal.  The use of the Radio Shack Corporation logo as the FAVICON.ICO is also an excellent touch, since it inevitably will lead to confusion on the part of browsers, especially if they save it as a bookmark, as to whether or not this site is affiliated or associated with Radio Shack.

On to the content.

The site intends, if the index is any indication, to have catalogs from Radio Shack from 1939 to 2003, for a total of 64 catalogs, more or less.  As of this writing, forty of those catalogs are available, and oh, how they’re available!

To read them, you are given the choice of “large” or “small”, which is basically the resolution of the images being presented. “Large” appears to be decently large and even “small” appears to satisfy the needs of people idly flipping through, laughing at hair styles or remembering forgotten items they saved up allowances to purchase.

But here’s the best part. You have to read them in this crapped up, weird-ass, sound-effect-containing flash abortion. It has some nice features, but you don’t have much choice in the matter. Plus, you get an additional 3 or ads at the bottom of each set of pages, continually selling you stuff. If you don’t have flash, or want to read them another way, or want to take these freely-given-away catalogs and put them up somewhere else, the site is trying to stop you from doing so. After all, the site owner, Mike Haener, scanned them in, so they’re kinda “his”, right? And if he wants to dress them up and tart them out, well, who are we to stop him?

I think you know where this is going. Benj Edwards and I had this little disagreement a few years back, and after some admittedly-because-I-blindsided-him handwringing, his solution of watermarking his scanned old material by adding an easily-clipable-if-you-wanted-to-take-the-effort block to the side of the scan was an excellent compromise.  Benj has gone on to great things, moving from just being a kid with a stack of magazines to scan to a columnist and writer who refers to his scanned material while writing original essays and creating excellent, totally-his content that references this older material. Ah, how time flies.

Haener’s not there yet, and I know the feeling – you work so hard to scan stuff and then, well, some douche with a goatee comes along and just swipes your shit. YOUR SHIT, which slowly fell under your purview and control with each swipe of the scanner. How dare they even think of snagging that hard work. Been there, man. I mean, I didn’t stay there very long, but I’ve been there.

It’s a shame the JPEGs are not of the top quality, but I assume this was because you wanted to save bandwidth costs. Me, I’m all for just throwing up some TIFFs for download and bite down on the rubber ball when the visitors come. It hurts, but only a little.

Here’s the 1983 Sherborne Holiday Catalog. It took quite a bit of effort on my part to get the scanning just right, line up all the pages, blow them out to TIFF format, write scripts to convert them. But one might notice I make all of those TIFFs available for download, link right to the large-sized JPEGs so you can zoom in there but deep, and include a PDF I generated from the JPEGs if you want to experience the whole thing like a catalog. Not a watermark to be found, my little scanning friend. Not an ad on the page, unless you count the catalog itself. Note also, if you will, the paragraph at the top, where I actually spoke at length with the creator of this catalog, got his history, and discussed the context of this catalog with him. Great guy. Have you chatted with anyone at Radio Shack?

But let’s move on. It was pretty trivial to poke around and find where the original JPEGs of the catalogs were located. It was even more trivial to write a script to yank them down. And it was even a little fun for me to deal with where the webserver freaked out I was downloading stuff in such an unusual way and modify my script (RATSHACK.SH) to make sure it wasn’t acting suspicious. It was like chess, except I was alone and I think I ate a rook.

So allow me, if I may, the opportunity to present a mirror of RADIOSHACKCATALOGS. I’ve taken the liberty of making PDFs of everything as well as .ZIP files, in case people want to check it out. I’m sure I’ll be hearing from your legal team at some point in the future, but hey, we “copyfighters” have to bear the weight of our sacrifices, am I right?

Class is dismissed.

Categorised as: computer history

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  1. imagelink says:

    Someone with Gimp script-fu skills should write something to automagically erase the watermark for you.

  2. Ansgar says:

    Yeah! Stick it to the man.

  3. Drew Wallner says:

    I woke up this morning and read this and just had to laugh, because while I loved the feeling of nostalgia that site inspired, all of the same things annoyed the hell out of me (but mostly the interface and not the ads, just because I use ABP and never saw them).

    So halfway through writing my own script to do the EXACT SAME THING, with the intention of maybe offering you a tarball of images when I was done, I went to bed last night and now today I see you’ve done it already yourself! LOL. Good show dude.

  4. ross says:


  5. Jason T says:

    Now that that’s done, on to the DAK catalogs…

    • Jason Scott says:

      I know, you’re kidding, but I absolutely LOVED the DAK catalogs. If I could find some I’d digitize them in a second.

  6. Jason T says:

    Only half! I don’t think I ever ordered anything from DAK (since I was probably about 13-15 in their heyday) but I remember them well. An (older) guy I work with loved them, and bought his first CD-ROM from them in the 80s, a giant single-speed Toshiba or somesuch thing.

    DAK sold a lot of otherwise unsuccessful computers, like the Epson Geneva and an odd portable that I have in my collection, but can’t shake the name of out my brain at the moment. It had a lid like a giant laptop, but when you lifted it up – nothing! It was just a cover. There was even an indentation where a screen might have gone. It had normal external ports. So, it was just a PC with a lid on it 🙁

  7. Benj Edwards says:

    I appreciate the kind words, Jason, and I owe you thanks for smacking some sense into me those years ago about the scans. In the American culture of selfishness, it’s hard to strip away the almost inborn feeling of “I did this; this is mine” and actually share something with other people without asking for anything in return. You’ve excelled at that difficult task though, and I continue to be amazed at the incredibly selfless things you do for the sake of preserving history. Thanks again.

  8. Drew Wallner says:

    Continuing in the tradition of catalog porn, I came across this today. I absolutely remember these pages too, man I used to pour over the Wish Book like it was some sort of holy text.

  9. Travis says:

    “First of all, it has ads. And by “has ads” I mean like one would say that a bear “has fur”; it’s absolute caked with them. I counted five ads on the front page, and two of those five are Google Ads where there are three more ads between them.”

    I suggest using Firefox + AdBlock Plus. When I go to the website I don’t see any advertisements.