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Monday, October 25, 2010

What the Walkman took from us

Sony have announced that they're stopping production of the Walkman. They presumably think that having sold 220,000,000 units they would be pushing their luck carrying on. I can clearly remember my first encounter with the miracle that was the original Walkman. It was 1979 and I'd gone to Stewart Copeland's flat in Shepherd's Bush to interview him. The Police had just come back from Japan and he produced this blue house brick of a tape player and handed the spongy earphones to me. "Put these on," he said to me with the air of a man who'd been performing the same party trick with all kinds of people since his return. I can't remember what music it was playing but I can clearly recall my breath being taken away by the realisation that all this sound was emanating from such a small device. Compared to that one giant leap the move to the iPod was just a minor adjustment. The Walkman changed things so completely that I still don't think that we realise the full extent of its impact thirty years later. With its arrival music stopped being what it had primarily been since the dawn of time, which was a social thing.

17 comments:

  1. And the cost of them too - I remember drooling over one in our local electrical shop which looked like a ticket to the future with a £100 price tag (and this was 81). Although it was two years before mum and dad could afford a generic variant: Dixons 'Saisho' with fold-out mini speakers.

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  2. I drooled over the recording Walkman for songwriting demos, but ended up with the Panasonic equivalent because of the price.

    My entire teenage years were spent immersed in music via headphones, but that was only because of the shouting and banging if I tried to use speakers. I never did adjust to walking around with headphones on and I only use an iPod through the car stereo, but I know what you mean.

    There's a constant battle now in the classroom to deal with students who are apparently surgically connected to their earbuds.

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  3. I had a Bush version, which was budget and weak and the FFWD button broke very quickly. It always struck me as odd that you could only wind the tape forwards, not back, and this necessitated turning the tape over if you had gone past a particular track and wanted to hear it again.

    The only Sony model I owned was a yellow shower Walkman. I liked it, and it was durable, but the belt clip always struck me as a little unnecessary. I wasn't in the habit of wearing belts in the shower. Though to be honest, I'm not sure I ever wore the Walkman in the shower either.

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  4. If I catch you yakking at a concert (not suggesting for a moment that you would, of course) you'll get my tuppenceworth on music being a social occasion.

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  5. It's only looking back that I realise that we were really well off - I remember my dad bought himself both a Sony Walkman and a LED digital watch.

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  6. @Matthew - to be able to rewind the tape you'd need to get drive to the second spool, adding unecessary weight and expense. Hence FF only.

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  7. Travelling on public transport would also change forever. Tskchikka-tsk-chikka.

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  8. I think my ownership went Sanyo, Sony (with radio that I never used), Akai (introduced auto-reverse, ideal for us lazy types), Aiwa, Aiwa before switching to MD for portable listening (and also then back to Sony) then MP3 via my phone (again Sony but with Ericsson help).

    When I got my first paper rounds I knew I could do the Wednesday evening in 45 minutes dead but Thursday took over an hour which meant having to think if I listened to the other side of Weds then changed tape halfway round or make the swap before leaving.

    My brother and I also had a headphone doubler so we would wander around tied together but both getting perfect stereo.

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  9. Still using my two-decades-old Aiwa version for the radio as it's more reliable than my Iphone radio. Got a puzzled look from the security guard at the British Library yesterday who asked "can you still get tapes for that?"

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  10. Am I the only person who waited for the model with a built-in microphone, so I could get it tax-deductible as a replacement Dictaphone?

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  11. I can't remember details but I think it was originally called the Stowaway or the Soundaround (depending on different territories) and the people at Sony were not confident about it because it didn't have a microphone. At that stage they couldn't imagine why anyone would want a cassette player that didn't record.

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  12. Gonch Gardner in Grange Hill had a very snazzy model, given that he managed to bug the staff room with it and catch Gripper Stebson burgling the building at night. The idea of owning a personal stereo that had a REC function was anathema to me in the 1980s.

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  13. "Music For Stowaways" by the B.E.F.

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  14. C30,C60, C90, gone!

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  15. And I think a homemade mix tape on Walkman sounded better than iPod on shuffle. I used to get these basf cassettes that seemed to beef up the guitar sound nicely!

    Still, no matter how much Walkman/portable player changes things, I always find myself going back to my hifi. I am no audiophile but I know what my ears like. I think that younger generations may only know the portable device and at best an iPod dock. Bit sad.

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  16. @Backyardsix - I think your ears like stuff that reminds you of being younger. I wonder if today's teenagers when older will get demand filters to get that authentic MP3 sound as played through a mobile phone.

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  17. I owned one of the Bush Models which Matthew mentions too. It didn't last long as I had a habit of dropping it.

    The models I had up until the Sony one with a digital radio on it didn't have the rewind function on it neither. That one lasted a good few years and many nights on my evening paper round. It came in useful on a Saturday when I wanted to listen to the football!

    I've only just chucked my last one away the other week in a loft clear out

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