June 30, 2004 11:36 AM   Subscribe

The Walkman turns 25: the Sony Walkman hit the streets on July 1, 1979. History, photos and more at the Walkman Museum.
posted by turbodog (11 comments total)
all hail to the walkmen, whose lead singer quitting his $DAYJOB led to me being semi-gainfully employed... (thanks, ham!)

also, didn't some german sue sony in re the concept of the walkman....?
posted by dorian at 12:08 PM on June 30, 2004

The museum photos are great.

I used to have the Sony WM-3EX (top picture, far right). I have pictures of me as a kid with it. Looks like I have a mini-top-loading VCR strapped to my hip. That thing lasted me for YEARS.
posted by fizz-ed at 12:38 PM on June 30, 2004

I never had one of your actual Sony type Walkmen, just a knockoff, and one day while walking down the street innocently listening to Judas Preist, some numbnuts drove through a puddle, splashing water on me and shorting the damn thing out. Kinda put me off 'em for life.

Besides, the Walkmen (like it's spawn the iPod) is all about enclosing everybody in their little hermetically sealed cultural/media enviornment. I say we remember and revive the Ghetto Blaster instead. Much more communal, much more social, adevice that contraption was.
posted by jonmc at 12:44 PM on June 30, 2004

jonmc -- I know you're kidding about the ghetto blasters. The advent of the Walkman was a great event in the history of urban quality of life. Throughout the 1970s, ghetto blasters were getting bigger, and individuals thought NOTHING of carrying them on to the subway at full blast -- and you didn't want to say anything to these people, because anyone incredibly insensitive enough to carry a behemoth blaster into a crowded subway car is probably crazy enough to kill you on the spot without remorse or fear of consequences. Nowdays on the subway, you get a little walkman tweedling away with its little insect orchestra in someone's ear, and it can be annoying, but in comparison to what went before...
In any case, the ability of anyone to enclose him or herself in a "little hermetically sealed cultural/media environment" is one of the great achievements of western culture and the fulfillment of many centuries' work in the enhancement of individual identity and the private sphere. You cannot overstate the initial significance and novelty of the Walkman in both the personal and communal sphere. Imagine being able to listen to music anytime, anywhere, privately and without disturbing others -- up until the day the Walkman was released, this was an impossible dream on the level of rocket backpacks and TV wristwatches. Because of its ubiquity, we may forget how revolutionary and benign these little critters are, and how much they have enhanced our lives.
posted by Faze at 1:04 PM on June 30, 2004

jonmc -- I know you're kidding about the ghetto blasters.

Actually, I'm not, Faze. It made for nice impromptu sidewalk party atmosphere. And I'm willing to bet that plenty of peoples first exposure to hip-hop and other kinds of music was through a chance encounter with a boombox. Trust me, walking down a New York street is an experience definitely enhanced by loud musical accompaniment for atmosphere. The walkman/ipods just give give you streets and subwaycarloads of people in their own little experience tubes. Granted, they have their own private musical accompaniment to their urban experience, but that just points up how fragmented and anti-social we've become.
posted by jonmc at 1:17 PM on June 30, 2004

Then there's the long forgotten prehistoric ancestor of todays audio world: the transistor radio, rarely seen these days.

Although on saturday, I walked into an ATM and outside on the pavement was a dusty puke-smelling specimen of humanity lying face-down looking like he'd been there for days. Next to him stood a tiny transistor radio blaring a ballgame. Apparently the batteries outlasted him.
posted by jonmc at 1:21 PM on June 30, 2004

I have a 1984 Walkman. It's so fugly, and it weighs about 60 pounds. I bought it in 1986, when I was...still in the womb. I keep reminding myself to think of it as "vintage", not as laughably outdated and hideously ugly. It has a long black shoulder strap, so that you can sport it jauntily, like a cute little handbag. When you walk, it bangs rhythmically against your hip, causing welts and bruises. It's like carrying a weapon that's not concealed, only everyone wishes that you would conceal it, because it's so fugly.
posted by iconomy at 1:28 PM on June 30, 2004

nice impromptu sidewalk party atmosphere

True, although that's kind of an upside view of it. It can be kinda nice to walk onto a corner where someone has a nice beat playing next to them some steps, or something like that.

But the downside is the freakazoid who ambles around through crowds of people, turning this way and that with some ugly-ass skank spewing in a 10-foot radius around him. You hear it for 10 seconds, it annoys you, then it's gone.

I guess a big difference there is mobile/ambulatory versus stationary. The mobile boombox is almost as bad as the loud car stereo that passes you by (somewhat dependent on musical taste and quality of equipment).

Many people may have gotten their first exposure to hip-hop from the adjacent car at a stoplight, but I doubt many of those people enjoyed the experience or took up hip hop subsequently. If you gotta find it *that* way....
posted by scarabic at 1:28 PM on June 30, 2004

Besides, the Walkmen (like it's spawn the iPod) is all about enclosing everybody in their little hermetically sealed cultural/media enviornment.

You know originally Sony was worried about this, about accusations that they were making an anti-social device. So the original Walkman had dual output headphones and a "hotline" switch that let either party mute the audio for conversation. There were even lame adverts showing couples jogging together with the Walkman in the middle.

After a few years Sony realised that pretty much nobody was using this "feature" and removed it to shace a few bucks off the price.

Then again, Sony had rather doggedly copied the dual listener feature from the original portable audio inventor, Andreas Pavel, who patented the "Stereobelt" in 1977. Sony recently settled with Pavel for patent infringement. Pavel says he's going after the iPod next...

I think the closest modern-day analogue is in something like the Neuros portable audio player, which has built-in FM transmission. So you could, potentially, end up with several satellite listeners tuned to a single Neuros broadcaster.

I gather there's some lame creepy iPod analog version of this with "jacking" but to be honest this sounds more like somebody desperate to fill an iPod Story Quota than anything else.
posted by meehawl at 3:05 PM on June 30, 2004

i bought the very first sony walkman on the day they arrived in toronto, at the bay's downtown store, 1979. i loved it's shade of blue, how it was a brushed metallic, i loved how i could take my personal soundtrack with me everywhere i went, in that groovy vinyl shoulder holster :-D i just loved it so frikking much. being really small, it was actually kind of heavy for me to lug around and i'd get red marks on my shoulder. nowadays i wouldn't wear a discman or ipod in public; to save my life... i'm too scared to go around in big city traffic without all my senses focussed on being a vulnerable pedestrian.

You know originally Sony was worried about this, about accusations that they were making an anti-social device

i remember all kinds of editorials in magazines and newspapers condemning the walkman, which just flabbergasted me. i chalked it up to a generation gap and went on my merry walkman wearing way.
posted by t r a c y at 4:23 PM on June 30, 2004

They are making a new walkman to rival the iPod - but it only plays songs bought from Sony's online shop, so we can pretty much bury this one now.
posted by Orange Goblin at 4:43 AM on July 1, 2004

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