Wednesday, November 10, 2010


The Walkman, the Sony cassette device that forever changed music listening before becoming outdated by digital MP3 players and iPods, has died.

It was 31 years old.

Sony announced Oct. 25 that it has ceased production of the classic, cassette tape Walkman in Japan, effectively sounding the death knell of the once iconic, now obsolete device.

The Walkman is survived by its close relative the Discman (still clinging to life) and ironic music listeners who think using a Walkman in this day and age is charmingly out of touch.

It will continue to be produced in China and distributed in the U.S., Europe and some Asian countries. Digital Walkmans are also being made with models that display lyrics and have improved digital noise-canceling technology.

Still, if you’re looking to chisel a date in the Walkman’s tombstone, then Oct. 25, 2010, is as good as any.

For many, that it’s taken this long is surprising: “They were still making those?’’

Perhaps Oct. 23, 2001, the day the iPod was launched, is the better date of expiration.

But none of the success of Apple’s portable music players would have ever happened without the cassette Walkman. Some 220 million have been sold since the first model, the TPS-L2, debuted in July 1979. (It retailed for $200.) At the time, transistor radios were portable, but there was nothing widely available like the Walkman.

It was developed under the stewardship of Sony founders Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka. Morita insisted the device not be focused on recording but playback, a relatively odd notion at the time.

Originally called the “Soundabout” in the U.S., the Walkman was an immediate sensation and a revolution in music listening. Foremost, it was portable. Music no longer needed to be something that one experienced sitting in a room, but could be blasted on the bus, pumped while jogging on a beach or played softly while studying.

By turning the volume up, anyone could be tuned out. The detached teenager with foam earphones slouched in the back seat or bobbing his head in the elevator became an indelible image of the ’80s. (The first Walkman did have an orange “hot line” button to lower the music and increase the microphone so you could hear someone talking to you.)

Music, previously listened to in a room with shag carpeting and a stereo, was cast into the world, made a part of daily life. Pink Floyd could join a walk in the park; Public Enemy could soundtrack a commute.

More than portability, it fostered a personalization to music, a theme the iPod would also highlight in those early dancing silhouette ads. A big reason there’s so much nostalgia for the Walkman today is because it eliminated any separation from music. It felt like an appendage, which is perhaps why some (with questionable fashion instincts) clipped theirs to their belt.

The Walkman was also the father of the mixtape, an offspring that nearly trumps the progenitor. For the first time, music was something you could make yours by arranging it and swapping it.

For those young and unfamiliar with this process, making a mixtape typically entailed gathering songs by The Cure and Depeche Mode, labeling the tape with care and awkwardly giving it to a love interest.

The Walkman didn’t disappear so much as it was improved upon. Sony continues to use it as a brand, but the company long ago ceded hipness and style to Apple. The iPod will likely one day befall a similar fate, and another generation will gasp in joined wistfulness. When it comes to music and how we hear it, we’re all romantics.

I shall raise a glass to my dearly departed old friend, The Walkman!

(although I still have mine in a box in my closet-Sony made those things quite well!)



    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  2. I'm not sad. I never had a walkman. I've never liked listening to music through headphones. I like my music in my vehicle or in whatever room of the house I have my music playing. Sorry, if I'm listening to music whoever is around has to hear it as well.
    Don't have an Ipod either.

    Tossing It Out

  3. McDogg-

    I was surprised as well. You still see the portable CD players but I hadn't seen a casette player in eons.


    I guess it's our age difference. I got one the summer after high school and wore it out. My second one is the one that I still have-that thing is indestructible.

    I'm not a big headphone fan, either, and now I get to control the CD players in my world.

    You might say I am the master of my own audio destiny!


  4. Hello Mc. I've read your comments about the "Ganja" laws in South Africa, there are laws but as you can imagine they are not always strictly enforced which is cool or not according to your preference, personaly I'm still not sure why it is banned in the first place.
    As far as your post is concerned, I spend an inordinate amount of time walking (no car) and still have a cassette player that I use. Why should I lose all my tapes that I so enjoy just because it's no longer cool to use them? In the U.K. they publish a magazine called "Record Collector" and they now distribute repressings of what we called L.P.s or vinyls for the serious sound nut. cool hey! Who would have thunk of such a thing? Any way South Africa is a great place. God bless you my young friend. Geoff

  5. Hi, Geoff-

    I was raisded on LP's and cassettes, but got heavy into CD's (and even embraced digital) due to the improvements they offered in convenience.

    I understood why CD's took over as the primary format-no need to flip the record over after twenty minutes, easily portable, durable.

    I never dreamed that digital would threaten any music format, but saw the portability potential.

    Believe it or not, I still buy vinyl LP's from time to time, and records make up a good ten or fifteen percent of my collection.

    Re: Amercian laws. Sadly, Americans seem to think that the passing of new laws will take care of everything, and it has gotten ridiculous.

    We have a law that says it is illegal to text on a cellular phone while driving.

    We have a law that says the manufacturers of lawn movers must have a sign that says do not put your hand in front of the sharp blade while it is spinning.

    I would think that if both of those things are not intutitve, maybe it's okay to let Darwinism run its course.