R.I.P. Sony Walkman (Snr)

Hi-Fi World writer Tim Jarman shows-off his Walkman collection

Sony Walkman (Senior) has reached the end of side two. Its batteries have run out. The rewind button is broken.

Lovers of music overlaid with hissing have reacted with sadness to news that Sony has ceased production of its celebrated portable cassette-playing audio device. It is survived by its neater, slicker, more junior MP3 descendant.

But the Walkman will be fondly remembered as the contraption which transformed listening to music from an activity conducted principally in one's own living room, perhaps with glass of brandy in hand, to a means of irritating other people on public transport.

"Chk. Chk. Chk. Chk. Chk. Chk. Chk. Chk. Chk. Chk."

That was how it sounded when you sat next to a foam-headphoned user on the bus, overlaid with the faint but recognisable vocal inflections of Pat Benatar.

Friends of Sony Walkman may have predicted its demise when digital technology offered a more compact alternative, one which did not depend on carrying on one's person a supply of cassettes and a biro in order to conduct remedial tape-spooling.

But following its birth in 1979, an astonishing 220 million units were sold - testament to the device's status as a 1980s icon no less memorable than shoulder pads, Filofaxes and David Bowie starting to produce rubbish albums.

Start Quote

Audio cassettes were not, in fact, the medium of the future but a cumbersome, chewing-up-prone source of much annoyance”

End Quote

Tailor-made for that decade's widespread aspiration for conspicuous, miniaturised consumerism, the Walkman meant no user needed to get home to listen to that latest Johnny Hates Jazz long-player.

Joggers could motivate themselves with the assistance of the Rocky theme.

Bored teenagers could pretend they lived somewhere edgier than suburban Chichester by soundtracking their walk to school with The Guns of Brixton.

Alas, technological progress and the dawn of the CD meant the decade was barely complete before the general public started to recognise that audio cassettes were not, in fact, the medium of the future but a cumbersome, chewing-up-prone source of much annoyance.

CD and MP3 versions of the Walkman will remain in production, but it is via the ubiquity of the music played on Apple iPods leaking beyond their users' headphones into the earshot of other public transport users that its spirit truly lives on.

No flowers.

Below is a selection of your comments.

Rest in peace, Sony Walkman. I still have you and your clones, as I have thousands of songs and spoken words trapped on cassette, which may or may not make it to the digital era. I will miss the rewind button. The back button just isn't quite the same.

Kenneth Udut, Naples, Florida, USA

I can still picture people with that thin silver band across their head and what looked like orange marshmallows stuffed in their ears. It was a time when you could spot a prat from half a mile away.

Jason, Herts, UK

R.I.P indeed - and to buying bulk packets of AA batteries to power one's portable music.

Hazel, Bakewell

*Sigh* I knew you well, but will rock on with your cassette-less counterpart. Long Live the Walkman (jr)!

Ray Dube, Saint-Hubert, Quebec, Canada

At age 62, I have seen the advent of many new technology introductions. The Sony Walkman surely is one of those devises that enhanced our lives. I purchased the second one sold in Houston about 12 years ago, I'm not exactly sure, but I still have it and play music on it almost every weekend and it has never given me a problem other than the battery. My hat is off to the demise of a great device that was a beacon to man's ingenuity. Thanks for the opportunity to express my appreciation of a great device.

Dave E, Stafford, Texas

Very witty comment about Bowie's "rubbish" albums being a cornerstone of the 80s, and an excellent eulogy to this beloved but annoying device. I never really considered how the portability of music has really affected the average person's psyche - the walkman was just the beginning of this adventure.

bengoshi, Georgia, USA

Has technology really progressed so much? I still use the Rocky theme on my ipod touch when running!

Dan, Carlisle, UK

I have a 20 years old Sony Walkman that still works just fine. Where as I am currently on my fourth iPod, after the previous third died just after the warranty passed.

Daniel, Virginia, USA

Farewell old Walkman. Your tape chewing days have passed. Press stop and eject.

M H Crosby, Manchester, UK

The digital age may prove to be superior to the age of tape but today I mourn the passing of a skill which is no longer of need - pressing the FF button down slightly, so you could hear the song going fast and then releasing it once the tape was quiet in the knowledge the next track had been reached.

Stephen, Glasgow, UK

The CD walkman is surely next on the chopping block. In a few years we'll be explaining to children that before the internet music used to come on a disc called a CD.

Doug, Chicago, IL, USA

The Walkman may be dead, but its cassette tapes stretch on. Aanndd oooonnnnnnn.

Dean Ayres, London, UK

Presumably not spinning in its grave.

Greg, Abu Dhabi

More on This Story

In today's Magazine

Features

  • John CurticeScotland decides

    Referendum race 'may have got tighter'


  • RihannaCloud caution

    After celebrity leaks, what can you do to safeguard your photos?


  • Cesc FabregasFair price?

    Have some football clubs overpaid for their new players?


  • Woman and hairdryerBlow back

    Would banning high-power appliances actually save energy?


  • Rack of lambFavourite feast

    Is the UK unusually fond of lamb and potatoes?


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.