R.I.P. Sony Walkman (Snr)
- 25 October 2010
- From the section Magazine
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.
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.