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
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
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
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
Got a Walkman memory? Share it with us in the comments.