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The Sony Walkman: Music on the move
by Asa Butcher
2009-07-01 08:04:25
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Are you ready for a dose of nostalgia that might eat your cassettes? Cassettes, for those readers raised during the age of iPod, were one of the methods us older folk used to listen to music and thanks to an innovation launched by Sony thirty years ago today we could finally enjoy our favourite tunes while on the move. Oh yes, on July 1st 1979 the original blue-and-silver Sony Walkman model TPS-L2 went on sale in Japan giving teenagers a new way to ignore their parents.

Considering I was only six months-old on that date I won't be reminiscing about the launch, so instead how about fast-forwarding (Walkman humour there!) to my thirteenth birthday and my very first Sony Walkman, which was an unexpected gift from Mum and Dad – they probably wanted me to stop using their funky yellow version. I guess on that day I wasn't only introduced to the world of Sony Walkman, but also the expensive world of AA batteries because that beast went through them faster than water through a sieve.

You could probably make it through the two sides of a C60 audio cassette (that's an hour's worth of music) before the batteries began to wane, although the eventual arrival of rechargeable batteries saved me a small fortune in pocket money and stopped me from “borrowing” the batteries from my parents' TV remote control. If I remember correctly, there was an outlet to allow you to plug it into the mains supply, but since a power adapter didn't come with the machine I never managed to find one sold on our local high street – this was in the days before eBay and online stores!

When you look at the iPod and other mp3 players on the market today and then compare it to the brick that was the Sony Walkman you can't help but wonder how we managed to cart it around, plus the extra batteries and cassettes. It was solid and could stand up to a great deal of abuse, violence and general clumsiness, although I can state from personal experience that they don't like being dropped into canals even if they were playing the latest album by Wet Wet Wet.

The Sony Walkman was one of the integral parts of my teenage years and it certainly saved me from going insane on one family walking holiday and finally allowed me to escape from Dad's “Driving Rock” cassettes and listen to my own music on the car journeys – to be fair, most of my mix tapes did consist of songs from Dad's vinyl collection! I was mocked by my family for tunelessly singing while under headphones to my Headlines and Deadlines – The Hits of a-ha cassette and brutally punished for my poor performance of The Bluebells "Young at Heart" from Now That's What I Call Music! 24 double cassette album – oh yes, I remember the albums!

The price of nostalgia is that we often remember the past or pieces of technology, such as the Sony Walkman, with a selective memory deciding to omit the not-so-great parts. Thinking back now to when I pressed Play there would be a constant hiss, the SuperBass switch really wasn't that super and I am sure the Treble slider was purely ornamental. I do know that the volume was loud enough to caress my ear-drums and treat strangers around me to a muffled, tinny taste of my music – they are lucky I didn't have the SuperBass activated... or did I?

As the years and tape rolled on and more of my favourite mix tapes were digested through too much fast-forwarding and rewinding I was left with only one option: “borrow” my younger brother's brand new Sony CD Walkman. It was a sad end for my Sony Walkman, but technology moves on and I really couldn't be bothered to record yet another Beatles compilation cassette... anyway, upon their return from Singapore Mum and Dad presented me with a new device called a Sony MiniDisc Player and a whole new world of fun began, such as typing the name of every song and then accidentally erasing the entire disc!

Today I own an Apple iPod that contains over 10,000 songs, which is an insane amount of music if you had to fit them on to cassettes – even on C90 Long Play. I don't have to worry about buying batteries, it isn't heavier than a hard cover book and I can even play Solitare on it! God knows what my daughters will be using in thirty years and whether they will be looking back at the quaint Apple iPod with the same nostalgic musings I have for the Sony Walkman, but I just hope they show some respect for technology's elders because without them we wouldn't have the devices of today.

Happy 30th birthday, Sony Walkman!

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