LONG BEACH — It’s been business that’s spanned seven U.S. presidencies across four locations on the Peninsula.
After more than 40 years of selling and repairing electronics, Wallace “Wally” Wirkkala, 75, of Naselle, is ready to pull the plug on his business, Wirkkala Radio-TV, where he sold TVs, radios, stereos, speakers, batteries, cables and chargers and everything electronic under the Radio Shack franchise. October is expected to be the final month of operation for the longstanding business at 49th Place and Pacific Avenue in Long Beach.
From an early age, Wirkkala said he had a natural knack for electronics and its components. While in high school he earned a general class license, the second of three amateur radio licenses.
“Lt. Leonard Clarke of the Naselle Air Force Station would come in the evenings and tutor me in electronics,” Wirkkala recalled.
“You had to pass 18 words per a minute on the code machine with no mistakes to get the license. It was like talking a different language.” Wirkkala passed the test in Portland and returned home to an unexpected job opportunity, which he parlayed into a career on the Peninsula.
“Everybody wanted me to come and fix their TV and it (the license) really wasn’t made for that, but they thought if you had the license you must be some kind of tick,” Wirkkala said.
“That’s where it started.” He furthered his expertise by training for Zenith in Chicago and later took special classes in Portland for servicing Sony and RCA products. At the time, major TV manufactures frequently had technician-led trainings in nearby cities, but as electronic manufacturing competition increased, prices dropped and demand for repairs faded as replacement became more practical.
“They would just tell you to go buy a new TV,” Wirkkala said.
“That’s what killed it.”
The business began when Wirkkala purchased Thompson’s TV Repair. Next he hired technicians and added a line of TV and stereo equipment.
“Then Radio Shack asked if we wanted to take the franchise and I said ‘Sure,’” Wirkkala said. The Texas-based franchise had apparently been fishing for a location in Long Beach.
“They first approached Ford Electric and they said to go talk to Wirkkala Radio.” Having the Radio Shack name brought recognition and benefited the business, Wirkkala said.
“We sold a lot of stereos, tuners, turntables and speakers.” At the time citizens band (CB) radios and personal computers were still in their infancy, but the technology would grow to become the backbone of the business through the 1980s and 1990s.
“All the truckers and contractors — everybody had to have a CB in their truck if they were traveling or going up in the woods,” Wirkkala said.
The business moved to four different locations over time, first from Seaview to Long Beach, then back to Seaview, then to their current location in Long Beach, where he’s remained the past 20 years. About 10 years ago sales slowed and never rebounded.
“In 2007, when we had the recession, nothing ever came back,” Wirkkala said.
“It scared people so bad that it just put brakes on everything.”
During the peak of the Radio Shack franchise, there were more than 7,000 stores in operation providing consumer electronics and advice to consumers across the U.S. Following the latest round of closures in 2017, less than 70 company-owned Radio Shacks exist today. The internet has been blamed as the primary reason for the collapse, as more consumers seek to purchase electronics online.
At age 75, Wirkkala concedes that his eyesight, essential for repairing delicate electronic components, isn’t what it once was. He also said that the business, while still profitable, isn’t keeping pace with the rising rent. More importantly Wirkkala feels another opportunity is calling, one to spend more time with his wife, church and the Christian association Gideons International.
“They’re the ones who put the Bibles in the hotels, and I want to spend more time doing that,” Wirkkala said.
“And it’s time to retire. My wife has a ‘honey do’ list a mile long, I have to get after that.”