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Remembering the sweet old Sony Walkman

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The portable cassette player, ‘the Walkman’ was introduced by Sony on July 1, 1979. When the Walkman was introduced, it sold a total of 200 million sets and created waves in the music recording industry and how people experienced music. It wasn’t a revolution in terms of technology, as the magnetic cassette technology was there since 1963, as the Philips company had created it already for it to be used by journalists and secretaries.

Sony had already experimented with portable cassette recorders quite successfully, but it was only in the late 1960s, with the introduction of pre-recorded music tapes, when a whole new market was thrown open for further experimentation. Outside homes, people did use compact tapes suitable for car stereos that gave them the freedom to listen to music while on the move.

On July 1, 1979, Sony Walkman TPS-L2, a blue-silver portable cassette player with big buttons, headphone and a leather case, weighing about 14 ounces, entered the market. It had two earphone jacks so that two people could listen at the same time. The combination of portability and privacy made it an instant hit with the masses.

The story behind the creation of the Walkman is interesting. Sony’s co-founder, Masaru Ibuka, while on his business trips, carried the bulky Sony’s TC-D5 cassette recorder to listen to music. He asked the Executive Deputy President to design something with a playback only option that could be used with headphones. The result was the Walkman. In the US, it was called the ’Sound-About’ and as the ‘Stowaway’ in the UK. But marketing it with different uncopyrighted names in the various countries proved expensive. Finally, Sony decided on the name ‘Walkman’.

Aiming to sell about 5,000 units in a month, Sony sold almost 50,000 in the first two months. In 1986, the word Walkman was printed in the Oxford Dictionary. Interestingly, the launch of the Walkman coincided with the popularity of the aerobics. The 1980s was truly the decade of the Walkman.

Other interesting creations on July 1 world over are:

1909: Thomas Alva Edison begins commercial manufacturing of his new ‘A’ type alkaline storage batteries.

1979: The first X-ray of the entire body was taken in Rochester, New York.


Text by Tasneem Dhinojwala

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