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…

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. $3. 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 Superbowl 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 4/5ths 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 $3054.82 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 $5100 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.

Buffalo story teller  and Historian Steve Cichon brings us along as he explores the nooks and crannies of Buffalo’s past present and future, which can mean  just about anything– twice a week on Trending Buffalo. 

As he collects WNY’s pop culture history, Steve looks for Buffalo’s good stories and creative ways to tell them as the President and founder of Buffalo Stories LLC. He’d love to help your business tell its story. For a decade, he’s also collected and shared Buffalo’s pop culture history at  His latest book, Gimme Jimmy! The James D. Griffin Story, is available now at | @SteveBuffalo |


  1. This could have something to do with why Radio Shack is circling the gutter.

    They used to sell cool electronic gizmos that were not-quite-mainstream, and Apple (and other companies) took these things and made them so easy to use on your smartphone that they’re now mainstream. Radio Shack has somewhat shifted to selling smartphones, but nobody goes to Radio Shack to buy an iPhone.

    At one time, they were unique in a couple ways. First, they used to make their own computers (Tandy), but no more. Second, they used to sell raw electronic components, but no more (and with Octopart now, there’s no way that could be profitable).

  2. I might argue with the CB one. Unless there’s something I don’t know about, you can’t use an iPhone to communicate with arbitrary strangers within a certain radius while driving down the interstate.

  3. The iPhone may not be able to replace a speaker with a 15″ woofer but the speaker in it is shockingly good for its size compared to small speakers from 23 years ago. I remember how bad laptop speakers were in the 90s.

  4. Great article! I have to take issue with the claim that your iPhone replaces the Tandy 286 computer. Unfortunately the iPhone is not a general purpose computer in the way other smartphones are. Case in point: try finding an app which allows you to SCP files from your iMac or Linux box onto the iPhone filesystem, for use by any other app – it can’t be done. Because of that design constraint, the iPhone isn’t fundamentally different from the rest of the consumer electronics in that advert. The truly ground-breaking device is the general-purpose Tandy computer.

  5. This sort of thing can get into apples-and-oranges comparisons pretty quickly.
    For example, who really wants to tell me that an iPhone, with it’s tiny screen and touchscreen interface is as good as a desktop PC, with a much larger screen and proper, full-size, responsive physical keyboard, for word processing? Better to compare with another desktop PC- which can also do far more, the only disadvantage being portability.
    The camcorder? Lower quality, yes, but probably a lot easier to hold steady (or stick on a tripod) and to be fair, home videos weren’t as big a deal in the days before YouTube when all they were good for was showing to friends or maybe getting a 10-second funny clip on TV if you were lucky.
    The CB radio doesn’t have quite the same function as a mobile phone- to illustrate, imagine “Convoy” happening with mobile phones instead of CB radios- it wouldn’t work, basically. Phones are for talking privately (NSA surveillance aside) to people you know over a distance. CB radios are for talking over shorter distances- a few miles at most- to people you may or may not know, with not much privacy. And there aren’t call charges either (not sure if license fees were required back then where you live).
    Of course it is interesting to see how technological improvement changes things. And how prices changed- the Tandy 1000 probably wasn’t the highest-end PC you could get in ’91, but is probably as expensive as a high-end gamer’s system nowadays. Even the cheapest low-end system now can vastly outperform any 1991 PC. And in 1991, a cellphone was just that- a phone- and much bulkier. (But at least it had a proper keypad…)

  6. Also, the Waze app attacks the same problem as radar detectors, but from a different angle.
    Only front sections of those Buffalo News es? I’d love to see an Advantage ad from the Gusto around that time. It would bring back memories of my first job. Well, my first job other than delivering the News.

  7. But who uses a CB these days besides truckers? You can get more reliable and more long distance communications with a cell phone, plus you don’t have to worry about jammers and idiots.

Leave a Reply