On July 1, 1979, Sony unveiled its revolutionary new product – the Walkman. Before this time, the transistor radio was the only form of portable rocking-out. By the late 1970s, however, sound quality of home stereo equipment had improved, yet the radio had not. Sony’s new product would bring stereo-quality sound to those who wanted to dance their way to the disco/drive-in/comic store/roller rink. (Isn’t that what people did for fun in the late 70s? Who knows?)
How did this marvel come to be? Legendary Sony Chairman, Masaru Ibuka, was upset that he couldn’t listen to music on his big fancy private jet. (Boo hoo!) He asked one of his engineers to fashion something (for him… not us) so he could listen to his favorite Carpenter’s album during his cushy plane ride (just guessing… he doesn’t seem like a KISS fan. On second thought, he does look pretty angry…)
His designers delivered to him a tape recording system modified from a journalist’s tool, traditionally used to record in the field. This tape device became known as the portable audio cassette. More commonly referred to as, “that thing that my tape player likes to eat and spit out all chewed-up.”
Skeptics began asking, “Who would want a recorder that doesn’t record, and only plays back?” Ibuka responded, “Don’t you think a stereo cassette player that you can listen to while walking around is a good idea?” Yeah, it ended up being an alright idea I guess…
The first model was clunky, had earmuff-looking headphones and had the battery life of your dead aunt Ester. Regardless, this eventually product sold like hotcakes at a… Denny’s. You get the idea.
Nowadays, cassettes are good for skipping across a pond, propping open a door of a recently soiled porta-potty… and that’s pretty much it. However, this innovation paved the way for the easily scratched cousin of the cassette – the CD. Of course, this in turn encouraged the birth of the ever so easily pirated MP3. (If you follow the trail back far enough, Napster was Ibuka’s fault! He must have been wanting to download the KISS discography.)
The cassette format was highly distributed until the 1990s, when CD sales skyrocketed and tape decks in automobiles were beginning to disappear. Afterwards, mixes were no longer offered to high school crushes via cassette… the CD burner had taken over. Where is that, “I have been forgotten” mix for my friend Cassette?
Sony began to produce CD Walkmans (Walkmen? Walkmans?) in addition to their cassette product, which were eventually weened out. These were almost worse than the cassettes… at least the tape didn’t skip every time you farted.