Relive Radio Shack’s Glory Days by Getting Goofy

The Golden Age of Radio Shack was probably sometime in the mid-1970s, a time when you could just pop into the local store and pay 49 cents for the resistors you needed to complete a project. Radio Shack was the place to go for everything from hi-fi systems to CB radios, and for many of us, being inside one was very much a kid in a candy store scenario.

That’s not to say that Radio Shack was perfect, but one thing it did very well was the education and grooming of the next generation of electronics hobbyists, primarily through their “Science Fair” brand. Some of us will recall the P-Box kits from that line, complete projects with all the parts and instructions in a plastic box with a perfboard top. These kits were endlessly entertaining and educational, and now [NetZener] has recreated the classic neon “Goofy Light” P-Box project.

As it was back in the day, the Goofy Light is almost entirely useless except for learning about DC-DC converters, multivibrators, RC timing circuits, and the weird world of negative resistance. But by using the original Science Fair instructions, compiling a BOM that can be filled from Mouser or Digikey, and making up a reasonable facsimile of the original P-Box chassis, [NetZener] has done a service to anyone looking for a little dose of nostalgia.

It would be interesting if someone brought back the P-Box experience as a commercial venture, offering a range of kits with circuits like the originals. If that happens, maybe some of the offerings will be based on that other classic from Radio Shack’s heyday.

31 thoughts on “Relive Radio Shack’s Glory Days by Getting Goofy

  1. I made many P-Box kits back in the 70’s, and they got me into electronics. Most of them were not very useful, and the plastic melted when you soldered a wire, but if you were careful they turned out looking quite good.

    They did teach the basics, but I was too young to understand the basics back when I was six. The XX-in-one boards came soon after and were much better, and had a much better variety of projects, even if they were only temporary until you decided to rip all the wires out and build another one.

    Then dalo-pens, ferric chloride, blank PCBs and a cheap Tandy drill. Had to be careful with the drill bits because I didn’t have much cash to buy new ones.

    Unfortunately it all seems to be just about buying an eBay module these days…

    But, I’m fifty now, I still love electronics, and despite buying eBay modules, I still design a lot of stuff myself (for myself).

    1. I never got any of the P-Box kits. Don’t know if they were mostly phased out by the late 80s, or if my Radio Shack just didn’t carry them. What I did get, was a 50-in-1 and later a 200-in-1 electronics kit. Those are what got me rolling as an electronics hobbyist. As I out grew them, I ultimately scavenged them for parts, but a couple years ago, I had the chance to find intact versions of both kits I had as a kid, so I snagged ’em both!

      This was what I had as a kid:

      My first encounter with Ferric Chloride… Ouch… I bought the wrong kind of board (not copper clad), and used a pie pan sitting on top of a VCR… Oops! As bad as you can imagine it… Worse!

      Once I got passed the errors of youthful ignorance (and replaced the VCR), I found myself quite proficient at making PCBs. When I got into high school, I miniaturized the assigned PC board project in physics class to 1/3 size. I started making small robots, etching my own boards for them. My most ambitious hand made PC board to date has to be the boards for my Quadrapod robot. I designed a sequencer and a selector to command the motions of 8 motors to make a 4 legged robot walk using 9 states/gaits (Stop, Fwd, Rev, RotateR, RotateL, FwdR, FwdL, RevR, RevL), based on 5 inputs (Stop, Forward, Reverse, Left, and Right)… And it was all done with just fifteen 74HCxx chips. I designed it during a single college era all-nighter, and promptly forgot how the circuit worked the next morning. It took me THREE days to decipher all the details of it’s operation! Once I’d confirmed that it did indeed work as intended, I did the board layout. Took 2 days to do the layout. Basically, a day per board, for the two boards. I will probably never design and build anything so quickly ever again in my life! LOL

      Here’s the schematic that emerged from a single all-nighter:

      And these are the two boards that were made to implement it:

      Pardon the 1998 era images. I originally made them with dial-up in mind.

      And yeah… These days, i find myself wire-wrapping ebay modules together. The abundant use of pin headers actually really makes wire-wrap a nice alternative to PCBs when dealing with those modules. Of course, just a couple months ago, i FINALLY learned KiCAD, so now I have a chance to do PC boards at a whole new level! This is my first “professional” board, built for my employer:

      Definitely have some good memories with kits and projects, and home made stuff… These days, I’m working on a Kerbal Space Program instrument/control panel. I’ll definitely be having a few PCBs made professionally for it!

        1. I was either too young to take notice of them, or the fact that we lived in a VERY small town (under 4000 population) maybe meant that they just never stocked them. Even that 200-in-one kit I had, was purchased from the Radio Shack a town over. The local Shack was literally just the easten side of the local phone company’s office.

    2. My answer to melting the case with the soldering iron, was to grab the tube of “Liquid Solder”!
      I think the “liquid Solder” was more akin to vinyl pool patching adhesive with some silver paint mixed into it.
      Nope. Didn’t work very well.
      Ended up with a lot of untrimmed & tightly twisted leads on a few things. :/
      Until I got better with my hot iron & and prepping skills.

      X^D Come to think of it, that damned plastic “solder”
      may have left some latent foundation for my dislike of wrongly named stuff. x^D

  2. A radio and TV shop in the town I went to tech school was a RS dealer, and never carried everything RS had to offer. Closer to home the Radio shack dealer and eventually a corporate store was a 50 mile round trip. I have no recollection of these kit, however I did put together the regenerative SW receiver kit they sold.

    1. I think I had the same SW receiver kit you mention – still have it in fact, I shudder when I look at the awful solder joints. Used it to listen to ‘illegal’ CB in the early 80s in the UK. And of course, the Russian Woodpecker all over the band.

        1. You think if need be, ever, one could make their own lead solder? Get some lead from a nearby church roof, and melt it with the rubbish mostly-tin stuff they sell, over a kitchen cooker? Should be possible right? As it is there’s still proper lead stuff in some small shops left.

  3. I don’t remember the perfboard kits, but I had the 160-in-one wooden boxed breadboard kit, and the 300-in-one plastic boxed breadboard kit. These were the kits having components mounted with spring terminals for connections. I also had a few other kits such as the crystal radio and the microcomputer trainer which taught assembly language (great predecessor to arduino!).

    1. Same here. It took several Christmases to get it. Even then I got some shitty Tree of Knowledge(Elenco) kit where you had to build the pots,var caps, and populate the breadboard with connectors underneath. Totally sucked and taught nothing useful. My dad, on the tail end of a Xmas hangover, beat me pretty good and made me sit there and completely build out (incorrectly) the kit parts and then when the first project didn’t work, I got yelled at some more. The absolute best part was that most of my “Santa” stuff was returned since I balked at the shitty kit. A little traumatic to the point that if I see those kits in a thrift store these days, I buy them and throw them in the f-ing trash so no other kid will have to go thru that kind of disappointment and abuse.
      Now, on the other hand, the spring kit you mention was easy to do and loads of fun. A buddy of mine had one (where I got the idea) and we built an FM radio and listened to Dr Demento while flipping thru Mad magazines and nerding out. Completely different experience lol. I guess my only gripe with the springy kits were that current and signal flow were hard to visualize. Still miles better than handing a kid a breadboard with no instruction and telling em to go for it lol.

      1. Sorry about your shitty dad. As it is I’ll sympathise over that garbage kit though. How fucking cheap do you have to be, to ship a kit for kids where they have to put the metal clips into the breadboard themselves!? The IC holder (the deluxe version!) was 2 rubber strips against a plastic cutout. And yes you had to make the variable cap and resistor yourself. I didn’t know you could even buy carbon tracks separately. The variable cap was a sheet of mylar with punch out sections, and some thin copper sheet, also punched out. You interleaved them yourself. No idea how accurate that made it, since of course the thing never frigging worked properly. Utter, utter, bastards.

        The company that made them were based on a kibbutz in Israel. Not a very virtuous one, ripping off kids. Even the plastic was cheap plastic!

        1. My memory popped up again, and combined with Google, it was Kibbutz Yas’ur. Who eventually went out of business. Good. Not just because it was built on stolen land.

          They’ve reopened the place, I might go over and poison some of their orange trees as payback.

  4. Had one of their kits with the components that attached with springs when I was growing up – it may still be at my parents’ house.

    I knew Radio Shack’s new direction was not going to work when they made that commercial where they sent the ’80s packing in a DeLorean. Well executed, except totally the wrong message. The trouble is, the ’80s was when Radio Shack actually knew what they were doing. The commercial should have showed them bringing the ’80s back in Magnum’s Ferrari.

    1. I had one too. Spent a lot of time not really understanding anything about it because my parents couldn’t explain anything in the damn thing. Actually, no one My family knew in the whole damn town knew Jack Schitt about these kind of electronics. The Radio Shack in town was a franchisee and had maybe a small section dedicated over to the ideal. The rest of the store was just overpriced video games ($70 for SNES Castlevania IV!), VCR repair and video rentals. Pure garbage.

      I had that spring kit for about six months before it disappeared one day. When I asked about it, turns out they borrowed it from a friend who lived in the city who collected that stuff and he was pissed. Apparently because I popped the ultra rare red bulb (wrong voltage) and my mom tried to repair a corner of the box with duct tape before returning it (still does that to this day). They refused to entertain the notion to get me one of my own. I guess they were too expensive. :/

      I eventually finangled another one years later when I worked at a Radio Shack and found one of the kits in their junk room. Where stuff goes to hide when the store can’t sell it but RS HQ won’t let them write it off. This was 2000 or so. That kit was stolen from me less than a year later when my ex left me. Go figure…

      1. Those kits were pretty useless, the book didn’t really tell you much about what was going on. It was more just following recipes. It wasn’t written from a didactic point of view, far as I remember.

        They were also, of course, HORRIBLY over-priced. A couple of quid’s components on some cardboard, for 30 or 40 quid.

        Actually a bright kid would’ve been better off with a really good book, some breadboard, and some appropriate components. Of course that requires someone who knows what they’re doing to supply all that.

  5. Having spent 5 years as a RS manager, those that did not work there will never understand how bad it got. I left when my boss told me that “we are no longer concerned about profitability, only shareholder confidence. ”

    When I asked “Doesn’t shareholder confidence go up with our profitability? ” His response was “Not anymore.”

    I lined up an interview the next day, and was gone the day after that.

    1. Cknopp. For what it’s worth, Some of us customers TRULY did appreciate a good store Manager.
      Early 80’s. I was building a serious stereo in my truck.
      (and no, not a thud&boom-mobile)
      My local Manager came to know me (& my receipt info) on sight.
      Things like that are why I felt a bit sad to see the Shack go under.
      Too bad I wasn’t still spending money on things they sold.
      Hobbies just shifted with age and lifes other needs.

  6. If people are interested in the P-Box or Science Fair kits being re-introduced then it would be worth contacting Tandy Corporation at Tandy Corporation acquired lots of rights and trademarks from the old RadioShack and are continuing in the hobbyist line that RadioShack abandoned.

      1. Those exact same kits are available branded by all sorts of companies. Just a case of varying the print on the cardboard, and maybe the transfers on the front panel. Dunno if they’re still made, do people still give birth to geeks?

  7. I had the goofy light kit shown but there were two alternate ways to wire the capacitors to the neons. The picture shows them wired for random blinking. I did it the other way with the capacitors mounted sideways and wired for marquee sequential blinking. Good times…

  8. Huh, I’d heard these things call “foo counters”. But the only thing I’m finding to corroborate that is one usenet post repeated three times on stackoverflow and this:,150766.0.html

    1. Big Clive has something similar in his “Things to make and do” section. A few neon relaxation oscillators wired up in parallel I think. Interesting what you can do with neons without needing transistors.

    2. Sorry to double-post. Seems silly the version in the ad can’t be turned off, and just dies irreparably after a year. OTOH that’s some decent battery life!

      Apparently when 90V batteries used to be common for tube radios, people made stuff like these. “Magic” Alex, a Greek chancer who got into John Lennon’s influence, built him one of these. While claiming it was his own invention of course. Lennon gave him shitloads of money to invent UFOs and all sorts of other bullshit Alex plied him with. None of which were quite ready, at any given time.

      I read about the Nothing Box in a Lennon biography when I was young, it always puzzled me how it might work. Til I saw the first of these neon thing circuits, and it struck me.

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