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Everything From This 1991 Radio Shack Ad You Can Now Do With Your Phone

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Some people like to spend $3 on a cup of coffee. While that sounds like a gamble I probably wouldn't take, I'll always like to gamble -- especially as little as three bucks -- on what I might be able to dig up on Buffalo and Western New York, our collective past, and what it means for our future.

I recently came across a big pile of Buffalo News front sections from 1991, every day for the first three months of the year... collected as the First Gulf War unfolded. Three bucks. I probably could have chiseled the guy down a buck, but I happily paid to see what else was in those papers.

There's plenty about a run up to the first Super Bowl appearance ever for the Bills, and mixed in with the disappointment is an air of hope and expectation for what is to come. Harumph. There are also some great local ads commemorating and/or coat-tailing on the Bills' success.

We'll get to those someday, but today, something much simpler. The back page of the front section on Saturday, February 16, 1991 was four-fifths covered with a Radio Shack ad.

There are 15 electronic gimzo type items on this page, being sold from America's Technology Store. 13 of the 15 you now always have in your pocket.


So here's the list of what I've replaced with my iPhone.

  • All weather personal stereo, $11.88. I now use my iPhone with an Otter Box.
  • AM/FM clock radio, $13.88. iPhone.
  • In-Ear Stereo Phones, $7.88. Came with iPhone.
  • Microthin calculator, $4.88. Swipe up on iPhone.
  • Tandy 1000 TL/3, $1599. I actually owned a Tandy 1000, and I used it for games and word processing. I now do most of both of those things on my phone.
  • VHS Camcorder, $799. iPhone.
  • Mobile Cellular Telephone, $199. Obvs.
  • Mobile CB, $49.95. Ad says "You'll never drive 'alone' again!" iPhone.
  • 20-Memory Speed-Dial phone, $29.95.
  • Deluxe Portable CD Player, $159.95. 80 minutes of music, or 80 hours of music? iPhone.
  • 10-Channel Desktop Scanner, $99.55. I still have a scanner, but I have a scanner app, too. iPhone.
  • Easiest-to-Use Phone Answerer, $49.95. iPhone voicemail.
  • Handheld Cassette Tape Recorder, $29.95. I use the Voice Memo app almost daily.
  • BONUS REPLACEMENT: It's not an item for sale, but at the bottom of the ad, you're instructed to 'check your phone book for the Radio Shack Store nearest you.' Do you even know how to use a phone book?

You'd have spent $3,054.82 in 1991 to buy all the stuff in this ad that you can now do with your phone. That amount is roughly equivalent to about $5,100 in 2012 dollars.

The only two items on the page that my phone really can't replace:

  • Tiny Dual-Superhet Radar Detector, $79.95. But when is the last time you heard the term "fuzzbuster" anyway?
  • 3-Way speaker with massive 15" Woofer, $149.95.

It's nothing new, but it's a great example of the technology of only two decades ago now replaced by the 3.95 ounce bundle of plastic, glass, and processors in our pockets.

Steve Cichon is a writer, historian and "retired" radio newsman in Buffalo, NY. This post first appeared here on, where he explores the nooks and crannies of Buffalo's past, present and future.

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