This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Sony Walkman, a portable stereo cassette player that enabled people to listen to music on the go.
On July 1, 1979, the Walkman hit stores creating a cultural touchstone and the rise of lightweight headphones.
Though the Walkman had many different names at its launch (it was called Soundabout in the US and Stowaway in England, for example), the name "Walkman" stuck after tourists traveling to Japan returned home to the US with the players dubbing them Walkmans rather than Soundabouts. Further proof that Walkman became a household name was when the word Walkman was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 1986.
The Walkman was heavily marketed before it appeared in stores. Celebrities endorsed the product and journalists were among the first to test the player. Despite Sony's marketing approach, the public was very critical of the portable tape player, suggesting no one would purchase it because of its inability to record. Retailers, too, were hesitant to carry the product in their stores.
But they had nothing to worry about. By August 1979 , the Sony Walkman had sold all of its 30,000 units – precisely one month after it hit stores. And by 1983, within four years of the Walkman's launch, audio-cassette sales hit 237 million units surpassing LPs for the first time.
Trading in an iPod for a Walkman
To commemorate the invention of the portable music player, one teen, Scott Campbell, of Aberdeen, Scotland, swapped his iPod for a clunky Sony Walkman for a week. The results of this cultural experiment, documented in this BBC News article, were rather amusing – and unfortunately for him, just down right embarrassing:
"When I wore it walking down the street or going into shops, I got strange looks, a mixture of surprise and curiosity, that made me a little embarrassed," he wrote. "As I boarded the school bus, where I live in Aberdeenshire, I was greeted with laughter. One boy said: 'No-one uses them any more.' Another said: 'Groovy.' Yet another one quipped: 'That would be hard to lose.' "
True, the Sony Walkman is a brick compared to the sleek iPod, and it won't fit in one's pocket as easily as the iPod Shuffle or the iPod Nano. Instead, there's a convenient belt clip, which 13-year-old Campbell somewhat appreciates until he mentions that "the weight of the unit is enough to haul down a low-slung pair of combats."
But with new features, came new challenges. It took Campbell three days to figure out how to switch tapes in his player and learn that there was another side to the cassette tape in the first place. Such are the lessons of Walkman 101.
As he continued his review of the "grandfather of the MP3 player," he did find one advantage to listening to music on a Walkman: Two headphone jacks which allowed him to share music with friends – something its zippy counterpart, the iPod, lacks.