Amidst all the Michael Jackson news, a milestone passed almost unnoticed — the Sony Walkman turned 30 last week.
These days, everyone has a personal music device or seven. I’m pretty sure even my dog has an iPod Nano or two. But when Sony released the 14-ounce TPS-L2 on July 1, 1979, a series of complex cascading technological, economic and social events began. The Walkman not only changed the way we listened to music but the way we interact with each other. Look around: How many people do you see with ear buds right now? Before the Walkman, you wouldn’t have seen any.
Ten facts about the Walkman:
1. All personal music players owe their existence to opera. Masaru Ibuka, the co-founder of Sony, ordered that the company make a small cassette player with lightweight earphones so he could enjoy his favourite operas on his many trans-Pacific and trans-Asia flights.
2. The Walkman was based on a prototype called the Pressman.
3. At first, the Walkman was known as the Soundabout in North America and the Stowaway in the U.K. because Ibuka-san hated the name “Walkman.” But a screw-up in the marketing department resulted in all Soundabouts being promoted as Walkmans.
4. Original estimates were that it would sell 5,000 units a month. When it was introduced, demand was upwards of 25,000 a month. Total sales today? About 200 million.
5. The first Walkmans had two headphone jacks because no one at Sony could conceive of anyone not wanting to share their music with someone. Why would anyone want to walk around in a solitary bubble of music?
6. Sony endured a long legal battle with a German-Brazilian inventor named Andreas Pavel over his early ’70s device called the Stereobelt. They finally settled in 2004.
7. Although many other companies started making personal music devices, the Walkman became such a cultural touchstone that people referred to every such device regardless of manufacture as a “Walkman.” Kind of like Kleenex or Aspirin.
8. More than 300 personal CD players, MiniDisc units, digital players and even video players have all been marketed with the Walkman name.
9. The proper plural form of “Walkman” is “Walkman Personal Stereos.” Do not refer to two or more of them as “Walkmen.”
10. Sony still makes a cassette Walkman but it hasn’t been updated since 2002.