Scanner Tales: Why Hoffman Estates retains a special place in my (scanner) memory

N9JIG

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Growing up I lived in Wheeling, Illinois until I was 20. This was in the north suburbs of Chicago. This was at the edge of farm country when I was a kid, we used to play in a clump of trees (“Green Tree Island” as we called it) in the middle of a cornfield behind our subdivision. It is now just another suburb in a sea of sprawl.

About 10 miles away, or 15 if you are not a crow flying, is another anonymous suburb called Hoffman Estates. Before I got into radios in a big way the only reason I knew the name of the town is that my cousins lived there. By the time I was in high school they had moved off the St. Louis and Hoffman Estates was just another high school that our football team would lose to once a year like Arlington or Elk Grove.

I had had a scanner since I was 8 or 9 and a CB from the time I was 12 and we had places within bicycle range for crystals and parts, like a local Radio Shack and a store in Wheeling called Mykroy Electronics. This place was more of a permanent garage sale than a true retail store but they had everything a young electronics enthusiast could want.

When I started driving most of the guys I hung with also had CB’s and we used them constantly. This was the 70's and the CB craze was in full swing. Some of us also had scanners and we all had to have the best stereos in the cars. Best meant loudest so we had big speakers and bigger amplifiers; distortion be damned! We started to reach out for better stores for our growing electronics needs. CB’s, scanners and stereos were right below girls and above cars on our list of dreams. This was pretty much the story right into our 20’s when we started getting our careers started.

For some reason I have never discerned there was a crossroads in Hoffman Estates that seemed to breed electronics stores that fulfilled our wants and desires, at least in the electronics department. Within a mile of Routes 58 and 72 (Golf and Higgin Roads) there were a bundle of typical suburban strip malls. In one there was an Olsen’s Electronics and a Kenwood-based stereo center. In another was a Lafayette Electronics and an independent scanner-only shop called FCC Electronics. In a third was an Allied Electronics that was eventually rebranded to just another Radio Shack. Add to the mix several CB shops. Overall, between these malls were a half dozen other car and home stereo stores and a little later several of the new-fangled appliance megastores like Fretters that were a big flash on the pan in the 80’s. These had big TV’s, big stereos and even bigger speakers to go with microwave’s, mixers and trash compactors.

Why this area of an anonymous suburb in a sea of sprawl bred such a bevvy of cool electronics stores one will probably never know. Maybe it was due to a scientifically chosen retail dynamics study or collusion between the various companies to draw in electronics nerds like myself to the area. Of course it could just have been a matter of chance, cheap retail rents and availability meeting needs but I like my other theories better. What the real reason was probably had something to do with the location of Woodfield Mall a few miles down the road that spurred retail development for most of the area at the time. Woodfield was at the time the world’s largest mall and transformed the area from sleepy farms to suburban sprawl. It even boasted 2 Radio Shack stores!

When I was in high school a typical Friday night went like this: I would call Dan and see if he had any leads on possible dates for the night unless he called me first. Then one of us would call John or Ricky. If none of us had any prospects (and thus her friends for the rest of us) we would meet up at the local ice cream place. From there we would all drive our own cars down to either A: The local National Pride self car wash; B: Golf and Higgins for the electronics stores or C: one of the local roller rinks. If we were lucky and had girls with us we would usually do the same things but with less enroute flatulence.

When we had steady girlfriends we would have to so some other things occasionally to appease them on occasion but we weren’t happy about it. Most of the breakups went: “What are we doing tonight”, “Scanner store again?” followed by “I think we should see other people”. Of course by then she probably already was seeing someone else but just hedging her bets.

By the time I was in college (coincidently not far from the aforementioned Hoffman Estates) these places started closing up. First it was Lafayette, then Olsen’s. Allied changed to Radio Shack, Fretters and the other mega stores flamed out then the stereo stores started closing. The crushing blow was FCC Electronics. This place hung on for a long while. They went thru some difficulties when the local police switched to the new-fangled 800 MHz. radio system which the scanners of the day could not hear. FCC Electronics sold a converter that allowed one to hear these new channels with existing scanners and when the local police heard about that they tried to shut them down. They were not successful, there was no law against listening in and FCC sold hundreds of these converters to scanner enthusiasts and regular people. Eventually they could not compete with Radio Shack, Sears and Montgomery Wards, all of which sold scanners as well. When they closed down it felt like a nail was driven into my scanner.

Fast forward a few years and the ranks of dedicated scanner stores have been decimated. The well-known independent scanner stores like Lake Shore Electronics in Burlington ON or a couple places in the L.A. area are gone. Olsen’s is long gone, Allied and Lafayette were absorbed by Radio Shack 30 years before Radio Shack itself imploded and left the planet. The “Big Box” electronics places like Fry’s, Computer City and others flew the coop. While MicroCenter has a small selection of electronic components they do not have any communications stuff worth buying. The only place to go into and buy a CB these days is a truck stop. For a couple years in the 1990's my friend Ted owned a scanner-only store called "The Command Post" on the far north edge of Chicago but there just wasn't enough business to keep it going.

The only place I know of one can even see a scanner in operation and buy one over the counter these days is Ham Radio Outlet. While there are several dedicated scanner retailers online or on the phone like Scanner Master, I really miss the days when one could shop in person at multiple locations for different scanners, there were multiple brands other than the one and a half we have now.

Uniden’s scanners are the king these days. Whistler still sells the same scanners that were designed 20 years ago for Radio Shack by GRE. Regency, Plectron, Cobra, Robyn, Midland, GRE, RCA, Fanon, MacDonald, Tennelec, Sonar and JIL were all brands of scanners or receivers I have had over the years. They are all gone. Let's not forget the department stores that sold scanners, Sears, Wards and Penny's all sold scanners, usually Bearcats. They often sold standard Bearcat models with the store name emblazoned upon them. Many malls in the 80's had all three stores and one could get 4 versions of the BC220XLT, with Sears, Penny's and Wards names from the department stores and Sears usually sold them under the Bearcat name as well.
 

RFI-EMI-GUY

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"a store in Wheeling called Mykroy Electronics"

Yup I can still picture that place inside and out. Never did figure out what a Mykroy was, though I think they made dielectric materials as a mainstay. You could buy an SSB CB walkie talkie there if you had the cash. It was crammed full of stuff. Then there was Spectronics and Ted Bleiman (MDM Radio) if you ventured into the city.

I lived in Des Plaines "City of Destiny" from 1968-1973 and then later Hoffman's Mistake until 1983 or so, after the big snow storms..

Elk Grove HS had something "in the water". Two infamous murderesses from that place.
 

N9JIG

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Spent many hours (and dollars) in Spectronics over the years. Great place for the Motorola fan! There were a bunch of surplus electronics places in the area, several in Wheeling. There was one place just up the road from Mykroy that had a factory store, I think they made small consumer electronics and would sell parts and boards up front, great for scavenging diodes and resistors. There was another over on Milwaukee Ave., south of the water tower.

Over in the Elk Grove Industrial Park there were several other factory surplus stores that came and went over the years.

On the north side, around Irving and Milwaukee was an old TV shop that had hundreds of shortwave radios stacked up as well as some of those old tunable VHF receivers. You would go in there and get interested in one of these and the owner (an old Polish guy) would come over and say either "Not for sale!" or "It's a veeery goot rat-e-o", depending on how attached he was to it. If it "was not for sale" meant it was actually a good radio and you would have to haggle with him for it. The "veery goot rat-e-o"'s you knew to say away from or low-ball him for it, he would usually take a token offer. I bought a great Panasonic RF-4900 there that was a "veery goot rat-e-o" for about $50. When I got it home I had to do a deep cleaning on it as it was dusty, musty and crusty, hence the willingness of our friend to get rid of it. Once I cleaned it up, removed the corroded D-Cells and replaced some of the wires that were mice-damaged it worked great and I had it for years after. It was probably the most stable HF receiver I owned and worked great on RTTY with an M7000.

The same guy sold me an old Tennelec MS1 or MS2 but I wasn't able to get it working. I did get a BC250 and a BC20/20 from him, the 250 for parts to repair the 20/20.

Spectronics was also a decent source for used scanners, they occasionally had various scanners available. For some reason they often had Sonar brand 6-channel receivers around. These were great receivers, crystal controlled but no scan function. Oddly, the only place I knew to get crystals for these was the aforementioned FCC Electronics joint in Hoffman Estates. I don't recall specifically but I think they used a different formula than typical scanners but this is going back 40 years so my memory is a little hazy on that.
 

RFI-EMI-GUY

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Spectronics Home of Ted.. AKA Lefty K9MDM (SK)
When I first met him, to buy a rear cover with clip for an HT200, at his home, he was "washing" Motrac control heads in his dishwasher!

Did have an opportunity to buy some KVL stuffs from his close out sale a few years ago. I think he was moving to NC mountains. Sad he is now SK.
 

N9JIG

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When I first met him, to buy a rear cover with clip for an HT200, at his home, he was "washing" Motrac control heads in his dishwasher!

Did have an opportunity to buy some KVL stuffs from his close out sale a few years ago. I think he was moving to NC mountains. Sad he is now SK.
I bought a box of used Micor speakers from him once. They were pulled from service in very rough shape so I stripped them all down and put the plastic cases and brackets through the dishwasher a couple times. Worked great but the girlfriend thought I was nuts.

I also used whitewall tire cleaner on the white plastic grills of Mastr-II speakers, made them look brand new.
 

RFI-EMI-GUY

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I bought a box of used Micor speakers from him once. They were pulled from service in very rough shape so I stripped them all down and put the plastic cases and brackets through the dishwasher a couple times. Worked great but the girlfriend thought I was nuts.

I also used whitewall tire cleaner on the white plastic grills of Mastr-II speakers, made them look brand new.
I baked the epoxy paint on a set of VW headers in my kitchen oven once. Do this when nobody is home..
 

FFPM571

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When I first met him, to buy a rear cover with clip for an HT200, at his home, he was "washing" Motrac control heads in his dishwasher!

Did have an opportunity to buy some KVL stuffs from his close out sale a few years ago. I think he was moving to NC mountains. Sad he is now SK.
I knew Ted from Spectronics and later when he had his small shop in Oak Park MDM radios. He was a fixture at all the Chicago area Hamfests. I saw him last about 2016 when he was having work done at my shop on his suburban before moved to GA in about 2017 and passed in 2020 from Covid
 

RFI-EMI-GUY

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I knew Ted from Spectronics and later when he had his small shop in Oak Park MDM radios. He was a fixture at all the Chicago area Hamfests. I saw him last about 2016 when he was having work done at my shop on his suburban before moved to GA in about 2017 and passed in 2020 from Covid
That really sucks.
 

FedFyrGuy

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Bought a tuneable VHF/UHF from Olsen's in Hoffman Estates back in the late 70's. Fondly remember Fred at 645 Electronics (Wheeling Road) in Wheeling.
 

N9JIG

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Bought a tuneable VHF/UHF from Olsen's in Hoffman Estates back in the late 70's. Fondly remember Fred at 645 Electronics (Wheeling Road) in Wheeling.
Fred was an interesting fellow for sure. If he knew you he would give a discount based on his mood of the day. I remember well that paper receipt machine on the main desk, it had a huge ink stain around the hole where he would put his Bic ball point into to pull the paper forward!

He knew where everything was and how much of everything they had. Mr. & Mrs. Simpson owned the place and worked in the office. Fred occasionally had a helper with him (Dean). Mr. Simpson's family had owned the farm that became the Cambridge subdivision in the 60's and still lived in what had been the farmhouse, the chicken coops converted to a storage shed.

If you look closely at the roof in the Google Maps imagery "Mykroy" is still showing on the roof. (645 Wheeling Rd · 645 Wheeling Rd, Wheeling, IL 60090)
 

W9WSS

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Rich, you left out Trigger Electronics on North Avenue west of Harlem possibly in River Forest or Elmwood Park. It was owned by Irael (NOT Israel) Traeger. He was very crabby and didn't like anyone under 40 years of age. He had a good selection of higher-end Ham Radio products including antennas, receivers, transmitters, and transceivers. I believe he was a Collins, Hammarlund, Drake, and some other high-end radio products. He had all the Alliance rotators, sold towers, masts, and all kinds of feedline. I never got a decent look at his stock because I was in my late teens or early 20's when I tried to stop in. He had a huge tower on his roof with a massive tri-band beam and some other wires and verticals spun off on side-arms and brackets. He was not a very nice guy, and I heard some stories from older hams who did sporadic business with Mr. Traeger. I can't recall his call sign for the life of me.
 

W5KK

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Rich, you left out Trigger Electronics on North Avenue west of Harlem possibly in River Forest or Elmwood Park. It was owned by Irael (NOT Israel) Traeger. He was very crabby and didn't like anyone under 40 years of age. He had a good selection of higher-end Ham Radio products including antennas, receivers, transmitters, and transceivers. I believe he was a Collins, Hammarlund, Drake, and some other high-end radio products. He had all the Alliance rotators, sold towers, masts, and all kinds of feedline. I never got a decent look at his stock because I was in my late teens or early 20's when I tried to stop in. He had a huge tower on his roof with a massive tri-band beam and some other wires and verticals spun off on side-arms and brackets. He was not a very nice guy, and I heard some stories from older hams who did sporadic business with Mr. Traeger. I can't recall his call sign for the life of me.
This guy sounds like the the reason I have tried to be kind to younger hams, enthusiast, and coworkers as I have gotten older. Having encountered the type early in my life as an amateur (licensed 1972) and broadcast engineer (1st phone 1975), I vowed to remember everyone was a “newbie” once and could benefit from understanding instead of a surly attitude.

BTW, N9JIG I’ve really enjoyed the history lessons!
 

N9JIG

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This guy sounds like the the reason I have tried to be kind to younger hams, enthusiast, and coworkers as I have gotten older. Having encountered the type early in my life as an amateur (licensed 1972) and broadcast engineer (1st phone 1975), I vowed to remember everyone was a “newbie” once and could benefit from understanding instead of a surly attitude.

BTW, N9JIG I’ve really enjoyed the history lessons!
I am sure many of us have stories about surly hams and other radio enthusiasts! Thankfully they are far outnumbered by the helpful ones.
 

W9WSS

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Back in the late '60s, there was a ham, very surly, overall not friendly who I recall appeared at several Chicago area Hamfests including the former great Santa Fe Racetrack parking grounds had everything for sale wired-down to various pieces of plywood, including radios, accessories, connectors, and antennas. If you were interested in one of the items, he wouldn't release it from its wired-down state for you to examine. It had an unreasonably high price, and if you tried to barter with him, he wasn't interested in a different price. He had a van with license plate W9MAM or K9MAM. A fellow ham nicknamed him "Whispering Smith," due to his lack of audible voice unless he "whispered" loudly.
 
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