Your Guide to the 80s Technology in The Netflix Original Series Stranger Things


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.


Series poster in the style of Drew Struzan, who painted posters for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Thing, and countless more. (The Thing poster makes a cameo in the show in Mike Wheeler’s basement.) via Netflix

Excitement From the Start

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.

HeathKit As It Was Meant To Be

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.

Recent times have been tough for Heathkit. Adafruit attempted to figure out just what’s going on with the classic company, but came up with more questions than answers.

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.

Panasonic Boombox

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.

REALISTIC brand Walkie-Talkies

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.

Realistic radio featured in a 1983 RadioShack cag

Realistic radio featured in a 1983 RadioShack catologue

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.

Shooting Film in Style with Pentax

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.

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I take issue with only one thing in this movie, They have a scene where the science teacher is watching The Thing on TV (or maybe a vhs tape) the problem is that this show takes place in 1983, The Thing came out in 1982. The first VHS release of the thing was in 1984, and it usually took a year after that before it was even considered for TV broadcasting. It would have been better if they used “the fog” That was at least released in 1983.

LOL Timing! just as I was reading this article, at the same time as watching chapter 8, they did a close up of the Walkie Talkie! It is a TRC-214. 3 Watt, 3 Channel.

I have a few Realistic Walkie Talkies, TRC-210, 212, 216 and 217. As far as I know you should always fully extend the antennas (roughly 40 to 50 inches long) when transmitting, something they never do in the show. Otherwise you risk getting a really high standing wave ratio that could potentially be fatal to the radio.

I noticed that two models of Realistic CB transceivers were used, the anachronistic TRC 214, seen first when Eleven is sitting in Mike’s basement the night they discover Will’s “body” and channel’s Will voice. This model was first produced in 1984. The other model we see Lucas (on his bike with the compass) and Mike use is the TRC 206, which was produced from 1979 to 1984. I just bought two of the TRC 206s and am trying to fix one of them.

The Heathkit stuff is the DX-60 (maybe DX-60B) transmitter, HR-10 receiver and HG-10 VFO. These radios were produced in the 60’s. The DX-60 was marketed as a “Novice” transmitter, following some specs set by the FCC for that beginner license class (75 watt power, ‘CW” [Morse Code] operation, and crystal controlled single frequency). It was ‘upgradable’ with the VFO for all frequency use, and ready for AM voice. By 1983, most ham radio voice operation was ‘Single Sideband’ (a more efficient form of AM). There was, and still is, some AM in use, but it’s a nitch mode.

The kids radio procedure on the ham equipment was all wrong, of course, but it met the needs of the show (to establish their characters as geek/nerds), and the radio would fill a plot point later on. Their CB procedure was more ‘realistic’ (sorry, Radio Shack), but eventually both the kids and the cops succumb to the need to ‘interrupt’ radio transmissions, something that’s not technically possible. Maybe the MOST realistic thing was Mike admonishing Lucas to say ‘over’ at the end of a transmission. Spot on for us Kilocycle Kops who liked to correct other Ham’s radio procedure.

Only 3 channels, yes, but you chose what of the 40 CB channels you wanted by what frequency of crystals you installed. I can say this as I have a Realistic TRC-215 sitting on my desk next to me as I type this.

An Atari for Christmas in 1983? Not likely. That year was the start of the great game crash, and the 2600 had already been out for 6 years.

I bet the Commodore 64 was on his wish list, though.

I tried to make it out last night, but the body looked a bit large for the ME Super. I still have my ME Super, even if I don’t have film for it 🙁

Not only did the ham radio headphones seem wrong but there were too many Gremlins, and other car errors, and the Bangles version of Hazy Shade of Winter was not released until 1987.

Had to comment since I came across this article after just spending the last two hours messing with my new pocket chip and watching Stanger Things, which so far has been excellent.; very Super 8’ish.

Pocket Chips pretty awesome too!

The film camera that Jonathan is using is a Pentax ME-F. The first true auto focus camera made by Pentax which would released general around the same year the show takes place “mid 80s” But the auto function on the camera was known for being bad because technology at the time wasn’t advanced enough to make auto functions with film cameras as we do with modern cameras. As can be seen it looks like he has a old 70-135mm or 70-150mm manual zoom lense on there, which would’ve probably allowed him to have taken those far shots of steves party. The flash on the camera though is undistinguishable

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