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Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Sony Walkman

For Julien, who asked me to get off my butt and finish (start) a blog entry on the Sony Walkman… something I had planned to do some five years ago, but for whatever reason never thought about it again.

I remember the introduction of the Sony Walkman back in July of 1979… a portable stereo cassette tape player with earbuds that allowed you to take along your own music to listen to on the bus… though more often than not, annoy the sh!t out of your fellow transit riders as you either didn’t have the ear buds in deep enough allowing all sorts of hiss to come out into the real world, or you were the type of A$$ who simply liked his or her music damn loud enough that everyone on the bus could hear you listen the the def tones of The Bee Gees.  

Man… if you listened to Led Zeppelin or something, I could understand why you would NEED to have it super loud… but pap - even best-selling pap? C’mon.

It’s like nowadays those annoying loud bass lines being pumped out of some tiny tricked out car—and the guy's playing Drake or Justin Beiber or some non-heavy tuneage—just to put in a couple of Canadian references.

But I digress.

For all you kiddies and fogies who have an iPod or who have jammed your phone full of music that you probably illegally downloaded, you owe it all to the Sony Walkman… so take the time to give a head rising nod to it, accompanied by a ‘hey”.

What is a cassette tape? It’s a miniature reel-to-reel strip of magnetic tape that has, in this case, recorded music on it—a mix tape, perhaps to impress some woman you really like, or simply something that represents your life, starting with Locomotive Breath by Jethro Tull… maybe you should see someone about your depression.

After the music industry began to place pre-recorded music onto an 8-track, and then cassette tapes back in the mid-1960s, people were now able to import their own music into a car stereo system - until then, one had to listen to the plugged nose stylings of Wolfman Jack (a-ooooo, baby) or Casey Kasem (who did the original voice of Shaggy on Scooby Doo in the cartoons)—both of whom were famous DJs (disc-jockeys).

The cassette tape gained quick favor over the larger 8-track tape simply because it was more convenient to have in one’s car.

I never actually owned an 8-track tape. I had plenty of LP (long-play) records and 45RPM (revolutions per minute) singles, but when I turned 10 years-old, I began purchasing my own cassette tape recordings of music albums, including AC/DC’s Highway To Hell and Back In Black—perhaps two of my earliest purchases.

I didn’t have my own stereo system. but I did have a ghetto blaster tape player/radio.

After accumulating a near complete library of original Beatles albums and bootlegs on vinyl, I began to duplicate the effort on cassette tape… finally giving up and just making taped copies of the vinyl records.

While I didn’t have a car at the time - being too young… when the Sony Walkman TPS-L2 was released by the Sony Corporation on July 1, 1979… anyone who didn’t have a car now had their own portable music device.

The Walkman came in all the colors you loved, provided (to paraphrase Henry Ford) you liked silver-and-blue on every unit.

It was a lightweight 14-ounces, had big chunky buttons to operate the cassette deck, and came with two earphone holes so you AND a friend could hear you play the latest cacophony from Hawkwind.
Oh, and there was also a leather case.

All one needed were a pair of AA batteries.

Popular? Sure… Sony sold 200 million of the damn things.

How did it come to pass?

Well, legend has it that Ibuka Masaru (surname first), Sony’s co-founder, asked executive deputy president Ohga Norio (surname first) to design a stereo version (with headphone) of the big and bulky Sony TC-D5 cassette recorder he (Ibuka) lugged around to listen to music.

Ibuka brought in his creation to Sony chairman Morita Akio (surname first) saying (in Japanese): “Try this. Don’t you think a stereo cassette player that you can listen to while walking around is a good idea?”

Apparently the answer was “You bet your sweet bippy” or something similar in Japanese.

When the device was introduced (but not yet up for sale), it was known as the Stowaway in the United Kingdom, and as the Sound-About in the United States (probably the "Sound-Aboot in Canada)… but Sony realized that having different names in different countries for the device was not cost effective… and so, taking its cue from the Sony Pressman mono tape recorder that Sony founder Ibuka was tired of lugging around, the Walkman was born.

Released initially in Japan, the hopeful Sony Corp. thought they could sell 5,000 units a month with the right marketing push—but give the people something new and cool—presto!—50,000 units were sold in the first two months alone!

The TPS-L2 Sony Walkman debuted in North America in June of 1980. I still wasn’t old enough to drive.

By 1983, sales of cassette tape vinyl recordings outsold vinyl record albums.

Heck, Julien, in 1986, the word “Walkman” was placed into the Oxford English Dictionary.

Because you can’t have too much of a good thing, Sony keep putting out newer and newer version of the Walkman:
  • AM/FM receivers - I had one of these… it was a cassette-tape-looking device placed into the slot where one places a cassette tape, and now I can listen to the radio;
  • Bass boost - so people can hear deep thrummings coming from those horribly-fitting earbuds you have;
  • Auto-Reverse - ah yes… you’ve just listened to Side-A the record album on one side of the cassette deck… and rather than fast forward to the end of the tape, open the Walkman, flip the cassette and listen to Side-B… what if you want to listen to that same Side-A again? Auto-Reverse. Who cars if it sucks your batteries dry? You can just buy more… or use rechargeable batteries? I had a set eventually, or you could buy a… ;
  • Solar-Power - yup… you could recharge your Walkman with the near-infinite power of the sun. Sucks if you been working in a coal mine (and the power is) going down-down;
  • Water-resistant - this one is cool… you’re sitting in a chair floating in your pool… quietly listening to the In A Big Country album by Big Country. This version was called the Sport Walkman… a good idea, and probably better than the Watersports Walkman.
But… aside from me using my big clunky Walkman when I traveled 90 minutes each way on the subways and buses to get to University everyday, once I got a new car for my second-year of university torture, I never used the Walkman again.

As well… for Christmas of 1982, my dad bought me a CD-player… the death-knell of cassette tapes and vinyl record albums.

I now began to build another collection of music, including all the Beatles (again) on CD (compact disc). My third, if you are keeping count. The CD’s were crystal clean and had none of the burps and farts and hiss one got from vinyl, which invariably made its way onto the recorded tapes one made.

By 1983, Sony introduced the Sony Discman D-50 portable CD player.

Then later it released the MiniDisc, and even the MP3 player under the Walkman brand…

In fact… Sony continues to utilize the Walkman brand to sell MP3 players… and even still sells a few Walkman units that reportedly will play cassette tapes…. whatever those are.

Andrew “I sold almost all my CDs 10 years ago” Joseph
PS: The cassette tapes are also long gone—so I do get rid of things eventually… but I still have all my record albums on vinyl… many of those old beauts are worth something.


  1. The problems with the discman was that it would skip ever time you would walk, move or hit a bump in the car. They later came out with a shock resistant version but that would run out if the bumps kept persisting.

    Lots of happy memories with my Walkman or more so with my discman. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    1. You are welcome, my friend - thanks for participating!