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Historical articles and videos

An assortment of historical material on electronics and amateur radio in Australia.
Watch the videos and follow the links, you'll be here for hours!

Old Dick Smith Electronics catalogues

Dick Smith Electronics (DSE) was an Australian electronics retailer that catered for the electronics enthusiast from the late 1960s into the 2000s. Founded by Dick Smith VK2ZIP (later VK2DIK) it dominated the hobby electronics market through its popular annual catalogue, supermarket style shopping, adventurous marketing and Australia-wide store network. Most amateurs also remember DSE as the agent for Yaesu amateur radio equipment in Australia.

The business prospered through a canny combination of selling high margin components to enthusiasts and riding successive booms in fields such as CB radio, radio scanning and computing. Dick Smith sold the business in 1982 to the Australian retailer Woolworths to successfully pursue interests in adventuring, aviation, publishing and foods.

Although its product range became more consumer-oriented, DSE stores continued to service electronics enthusiasts for more than two decades. In the late 1990s DSE opened several large 'Power House' stores to compete with emerging 'big box' consumer electronics chains. The Australian arm of Radio Shack (trading as Tandy Electronics) was purchased in the early 2000s. Its stores were either closed or became Dick Smith outlets.

Management at Dick Smith had a choice between two business approaches. The first was to remain a specialist outlet. While potential sales volume was limited (there is only so many multimeters Australians purchase), both profit percentages and customer loyalty were high. There were also (then) no large competitor that seriously challenged its national market dominance.

The second approach, which was the one they took, was to abandon the enthusiasts, hobbyists and amateurs that made them successful. Instead they would chase high volume consumer market. The reasoning was that 10% profit on a million dollars worth of phones was better than 100% mark-up on $50k worth of wire. And, after they siezed liquor and fuel retailing, big supermarkets such as Coles and Woolworths were eyeing areas like hardware, office supplies and consumer electronics for their future growth areas.

A consumerised DSE was Woolworths' vehicle to compete with established electronic retailers such as Strathfield Car Radio, JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman. Except it didn't work. Unlike with enthusiast electronics, where DSE was the market leader, in consumer electronics it was up against large and established competition. China's industrialisation lowered prices, while domestic competition lowered margins. Profits as measured in hard dollars (the best measure as you can't eat a percentage) plunged.

With its dreams not realised DSE sold Woolworths. The company passed through several hands, including being listed on the Australian Stock Exchange as a public company. Further competition (this time from online sales) along with internal mismanagement led to the company going into receivership and its assets sold. Today the story of Dick Smith Electronics is frequently told to business students as a cautionary tale of how a good and profitable business can go bad.

These catalogues are from DSE's glory years from the 1970s to the 2000s. These videos are a flick through them, presented both by year and product type.

Dick Smith catalogue 1974/75

  Twenty Years of Dick Smith catalogues

  Twenty years of kits in Dick Smith catalogues

  Twenty years of ham radio in Dick Smith catalogues

  Twenty years of computers in Dick Smith catalogues

  Dick Smith Fun Way into Electronics: Past and future (yes there may be one!)

 

Old electronic shops in Melbourne (1930s - 1990s)

These videos are the result of going through numerous old electronics and radio magazines to get the addresses of former electronic and radio retailers that operated in the Melbourne CBD. I then visited these addresses to see what if any remnants were there. In about half the cases the old building was still standing. Food and massage services are their most common current use.

 

Some historical radio and electronic addresses in Sydney

 

Back issues of the WIA's Amateur Radio magazine

Spend hours browsing back issues of the WIA's Amateur Radio magazine from the 1930s to the 2000s. Scanned and uploaded by Will VK6UU.

 

Old articles I've written. Largely out of date - presented for historical interest only.

Computers in amateur radio

An introduction to packet radio

Introduction to Internet Repeater Linking

Operating from tall buildings

 

Books by VK3YE

 

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(c) Peter Parker VK3YE 1997 - 2017.

Material may not be reproduced
without permission.