It’s hard to believe it’s been 30 years since portable music made its big splash, but it was on this day in 1979 that Sony unleashed the Walkman on the world – setting in motion changes that would fundamentally alter the way the music industry works.
A portable cassette player might seem commonplace, even quaint, these days, but it was revolutionary at the time. Previously, music could only be enjoyed on a home stereo system or in a car. The Walkman set it free.
That freedom came at a cost, though. The first Walkman sold for $200. That’s just shy of $600 in today’s economy.
The system’s headphones became an iconic look throughout the 1980s. Competitors quickly began churning out similar products, but none had the cachet (or staying power) of Sony’s product.
The original Walkman, the TPS-L2, was something of a giant by today’s standards, weighing in at 14 ounces and covered with clunky buttons and a leather case. Originally dubbed the “SoundAbout” in the U.S., it came with an orange “hotline” button allowing users to fade the volume to the background so they could hear people talking to them and a second earphone jack, so they could share their music.
No one – including Sony executives – expected too much from the device saleswise. But that skepticism vanished less than two months after launch, when initial projections were blown away.
It was, in fact, the Walkman that marked the beginning of the end for vinyl records. By the mid-80s, cassettes were outselling albums. The entry of the CD in 1985 sealed the format’s fate.
Over the years, Sony has evolved the Walkman lineup, morphing it into everything from a portable CD player to a MiniDisc player to the MP3/multimedia player it is today. All along, though, the company has continued to make a cassette-only model.
There’s something kind of refreshing about that. Too many companies innovate to the point of forgetting their heritage. Whatever Sony’s faults today (and, to be certain, those are plentiful), you have to respect it for honoring the original product that made it a true leader in the music market.
Of course, these days, the Walkman plays second fiddle to the iPod and the music industry has changed dramatically, but on today’s anniversary, it’s worth saluting the gadget that got us all to where we are today.
Got a Walkman memory? Share it with us in the comments.