When the Sony Walkman went on sale 30 years ago, it was shown off by a skateboarder to illustrate how the portable cassette-tape player delivered music on-the-go — a totally innovative idea back in 1979.

Today, Sony Corp. is struggling to reinvent itself and win back its reputation as a pioneer of razzle-dazzle gadgetry once exemplified in the Walkman, which yesterday had its 30th anniversary marked with a special display at Sony’s corporate archives.

The Japanese electronics and entertainment company lost 98.9 billion yen ($1.17 billion US) in the fiscal year ended March — its first annual loss in 14 years — and is expecting more red ink this year.

The manufacturer, which also makes Vaio personal computers and Cyber-shot cameras, hasn’t had a decisive hit like the Walkman for years, and has taken a battering in the portable music player market to Apple Inc.’s iPod.

Sony has sold 385 million Walkman machines worldwide in 30 years as it evolved from playing cassettes to compact discs then minidiscs — a smaller version of the CD — and finally digital files. Apple has sold more than 210 million iPod machines worldwide in eight years.

There is even some speculation in the Japanese media that Sony should drop the Walkman brand — a name associated with Sony’s rise from its humble beginnings in 1946 with just 20 employees to one of the first Japanese companies to successfully go global.

“The Walkman’s gap with the iPod has grown so definitive, it would be extremely difficult for Sony to catch up, even if it were to start from scratch to try to boost market share,” said Kazuharu Miura, analyst with Daiwa Institute of Research in Tokyo.