Re: Never knew Dick Smith existed, back in the day ...
In my UK 1960s Secondary Technical School peer group there were four out of sixty boys who were passionate enough about radio to form a school club. The scope gradually widened to include general electronics - including fashionable electric guitars.
At the time more of our peer group were passionate about football than anything else.
Components came mostly from the large number of valve radios and TVs being scrapped. The local "Ham Radio" shop had a large amount of war surplus material - but also sold transistors. Mail order was the very modern Henry's Radio - alongside Z&I, Proops.etc.
Throughout my career in IT I have built electronic things. Microcomputers were a natural component in that - some projects being just software. Most of my technical colleagues had no interest in how our IT systems worked beyond their narrow interface.
Nowadays the online suppliers provide components - especially quite sophisticated modules - and they are inexpensive.
In some ways it is easier to do electronics now - but at the same time there is little incentive to build something for yourself. I collect interesting project kits from charity shops - usually still unopened or unused. Someone obviously tried to encourage a youngster into science or electronics to no avail. When offered the fruits of my charity shop trawls - the neighbours' children only want the footballs, radio controlled cars, water guns, and various implementations of "light sabres".
They and their parents have no inclination to repair them when they break. The parents can't even follow instructions about the care and maintenance of rechargeable batteries.
It almost appears that a fundamental curiosity and thirst to learn how things work has been bred out of the last couple off generations.