The technology behind the Sony Walkman – a portable personal device for listening to cassettes – might never have developed without Sony Chairman Akio Morita. Seeking to silence the blasting stereos of his children he asked his development team for something that would let the kids rock out without deafening dad.
Working from a model developed by Sony founder Masuru Ibuka, model TPS-L2 rolled off the assembly line a year later – the first Sony Walkman was unveiled on 1 July 1979.
The Walkman was revolutionary, turning people into movie stars, living their lives to a rock soundtrack – Fitness freaks could now jog around listening to Sheena Easton bang on about taking the morning train.
The first Walkmans (Walkmen?) had two headphone sockets so friends could share the music – they later they got rid of the extra socket – but it was still a significant leap from the old AM radio with the ‘hearing aid’ ear-piece.
Two things impressed people; How small the tape deck was and how good the sound quality was. Radio and tape Walkmans were released and later came sport and waterproof versions. Half tool, half fashion accessory, the Walkman was an instant hit.
The portable cassette player virtually changed the listening habits of a generation and was probably single-handedly responsible for the tremendous boom in cassette sales during the early half of the 1980s.
Second-hand music and “Walkman overspill” also became a way of life on public transport.
By 1982, Time magazine was hailing the Walkman as the gadget of the year.
By 1984, Sony had cranked out 10 million, which climbed to 30 million by 1987.
Within the decade, there were more than 50 million – about half of them worn in the United States.
The term “Walkman” eventually became synonymous with any headphone radio or cassette player – including something in the UK called ‘Chegger’s Jogger’ (pictured) which bore the face of Keith Chegwin, presenter of BBC TVs Cheggers Plays Pop – now there’s a very scary thought!
Launched in 1992, Sony’s MiniDisc player/recorder was the first serious successor to the Walkman, but the format never really took off.
Digital music soon took over with MP3 players like Apple’s iPod allowing users to store thousands of songs in a device smaller than a Walkman. The Walkman brand lived on until 2015 when Sony replaced the Walkman app on its own branded smartphones with an app simply called ‘Music’.
These days, most music fans wither store songs on their smartphones or stream music over the internet through services like Spotify.
The Sony Corporation in America originally maintained that the word ‘Walkman’ was not proper English and unsuitable for their market.
The Walkman was therefore initially known in the US as the Soundabout. In the UK it was known as the Stowaway and in Sweden as the Freestyle. Sony ultimately put its foot down and insisted the name ‘Walkman’ be used worldwide.