The Sony Walkman: 1979-2010

The Sony Walkman, a portable cassette-playing device that changed how we listened to music, has died. It was 31 years old. It is survived by the Sony Discman, which is getting close to drawing its last breath.

On October 25, 2010, the Sony Corporation announced that it had ceased production on the Sony Walkman.  I know what you’re thinking…that they stopped making the Walkman years ago, when CDs started overtaking the cassette tape in popularity.  But it was still being manufactured in Japan, and will continue to be manufactured, in a very limited capacity, in China.

When the Walkman first arrived on the scene in 1979, it retailed for around $200. But it was well worth it for someone like me who was really into music…although I didn’t buy one until the early 80’s, when the price had gone down considerably. It was so amazing to me that I could play cassettes wherever I wanted…while I was running, walking, or just lying around wherever I felt like lying around. Best of all, I could take it on an airplane, put on my headphones, and listen to whatever I wanted. Since this was a period when I really started to be a world traveller, my Walkman became a staple for me.  I’ll never forget making tapes for weeks before my first trip to England, knowing that I was going to be in the air for about 8 hours.

As you can see, another thing that the Walkman did for me was increase my cassette production. Ever since the days of recording 8-tracks, I had put together mix-tapes, and when I switched over to cassettes, the process became even easier (I could record songs without worrying about hearing the “ka-CHUNK” of switching tracks in the middle of a great tune). My mix-tapes had to follow a formula…most of the time. If I felt like early 60’s soul, I would put together an early 60’s soul tape. However, once I started working in radio, it was more fun to mix songs together, just like you would hear them on the radio, only without announcers and commercials. 

The other half of the fun was coming up with names for mix-tapes. My high-school friend Stosh was a master at this art. One of his mix-tape titles was “Dead Fly Cookies”, a take-off on the Rolling Stones album “Goats Head Soup”.  My all time favorite from Stosh was “Tunes So Hip Your Ears Will Flap Ecstatically!”  Soon after, I followed his lead and put together a live mix-tape, which featured some tracks from the live Rush album “All The World’s A Stage”.  I called my tape “All The World’s A Filch”, an affectionate term that we would use on each other all through high school. To this day, I can use it in context, but can’t really describe what it means.

I still have a wall of cassette tapes in my basement. They are all mix-tapes that I put together over the years. Most of the time that I worked in radio, I would just keep a blank tape at my desk, and whenever a new song came out that I liked, I would dub it to the cassette until it was full of new music. I like to think that the reason I keep all of these cassettes is that I put so much time and effort into making them. But they can also be a really cool time capsule. I opened up one of my Maxell XLIIS 90’s a couple of years ago, and found that I had typed a note on the inside label that the tape was made from a compact disc player…the first one I had ever seen. We had one at WWCT on loan from Team Electronics.  It retailed for around $2500.  In my note, it stated that the sound reproduction from the discs was “perfect”.

Eventually, my Walkman was replaced by a Discman, and eventually an MP3 player, and eventually, my IPod. I still have it in a drawer somewhere, and I’m sure that if I dropped 4 AA batteries into it, it would roar back to life. In fact, I may look for it this weekend and go through some of my cassettes downstairs.

Maybe I’ll even look for “All The World’s A Filch” and give it a listen.


About groovyrick

I live in a small town in Illinois with my wife and three kids. I am a part-time musician, part-time writer, and full-time dreamer.
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