Stranger Things is a new, 8-episode Netflix show that blends classic Stephen King (Constant Readers know what I mean) with Freaks and Geeks. And I’ll be binge watching it all over again this weekend.
Set in 1983 in Hawkings, Indiana, Stranger Things is about the disappearance of Will Byers and the search to find him. It’s an exciting, well-paced show that will pull you in and keep you nervous.
But what makes the series even more enjoyable for me is spotting the contemporary 80s technology that pops up throughout the series. From the second scene in episode one, where four friends are playing D&D, to the A/V club and their new Heathkit project, this series gets its period technology right and I love it!
And then there’s the sound track! Stranger Things nails the music and they’ve even released a mixtape that you should listen to while you read the rest of the post. It’ll give you a great sense of the show’s mood and aesthetic.
The show opens with a scientist running down a hallway of what looks to be his lab. His face is strained and tense… something is pursuing him, but no one is behind him. Reaching the elevator, relief washes over his face and the music calms. He looks up. Panic. Loud noise. He is ripped upward from the elevator, but by what, we still don’t know.
(Warning: This might be a bit scary for little C.H.I.P.sters and Pocketeers!)
Now that you have a flavor for the show, here’s the 80s tech that I found while watching. I’ve done my best to keep the post focused on the tech and to avoid spoilers.
One of the first moments I realized this show is full of cool 80s tech is when Dustin, Mike, and Lucas stay after class for an impromptu A/V club meeting with Mr. Clarke. After days of waiting, their new Heathkit finally arrived!
Wait, what?! Honestly, I did a double-take when I heard Mr. Clarke say Heathkit. These kits were classics!
Heathkit manufactured educational electronics kits before it was trendy and popular. From 1947 to 2012 the company produced a range of kits from basic oscilloscopes to ham radios. Despite their contemporary troubles, Heathkit used to be a brand that you’d get excited about. In 1983, when Stranger Things takes place, Heathkit was still in its prime, making high quality, well documented kits that were approachable and fairly affordable.
With a few false restarts and ownership changes, Heathkit no longer dominates the DIY electronic space. Certainly the $149 Pipetenna, which is basically just PVC pipe with wire, is not representative of the standard Heathkit kit.
There are only a few shots of the radio equipment, but if any sharp-eyed C.H.I.P.sters can identify the Heathkit models, I’d love to know.
Once Healthkit popped up in the show, I was determined to watch more closely for other interesting 30-year-old technology. It didn’t take too much effort to find more.
Staring me right in the face, the first frame of the show’s trailer features an iconic looking boombox. It screams 80s. But the camera never pans and I couldn’t make out any branding. Yet, it sure looks like the Panasonic RX-5090. As you can see from this overview of the boombox, it has some serious style and a surprising amount of features — including I/O for all your mixing pleasure.
Take a full tour of the boombox in the video below.
Throughout the series, the middle school kids looking for Will stay in touch using their REALISTIC radios. Yes, REALISTIC was a real brand name. Actually, it turns out that these handsets were the house brand of RadioShack and were sold in the 70s and 80s. In the 90s, RadioShack moved away from the REALISTIC name, which was probably a good idea given the confusion the name can cause. Ultimately, the brand was discontinued in 2000.
Fortunately, you can still find out a lot about this product line (thanks, Internet!). Check out this RadioShack catalog page from 1983. While it might not be the exact model, you can see the styling is spot on.
If you’ve got a better eye than me and can figure out the exact REALISTIC model, make sure to share your find in the comments below.
The last bit of 80s tech I could find was Jonathan Byers Pentax K1000. It’s clear from the film that the camera is made by Pentax, but I had to ask our resident camera expert Dave for advice about the model. It makes sense Dave would know. He, Gus, and Thomas did started NTC as a camera company after all.
The K1000 is a 35mm film SLR that Pentax manufactured from 1976-1997, which is a heck of a long time for a consumer product. We’ve got a couple of these in the office and they are great little cameras. You can find them second-hand on the usual internet auction houses and they are great for beginners to use to get reaquainted with film photography.
It’s more than likely that I’ve missed a few 80s tech relics. I’m sure someone can figure out what T.V. sets were used, and the particular brand of holiday lights Joyce Byers hangs in her living room. If you do spot a new piece of 80s tech in the series, make sure to share it in the comments below.