Friday, October 29, 2010

Sony stops Walkman production in Japan

The AP reports that Sony has stopped production of its iconic Walkman in Japan. It will still be produced in China.

Ah me, that takes me back. The BBC commemorated the Walkman's thirtieth anniversary in 2009 by giving one to a teenager in exchange for his writeup on using it in place of his contemporary digital music player for a week. He was surprised that anyone could have been content with such a device. I wrote this email to friends in response:
I want to smack that kid. "I can't imagine having to use such basic equipment every day." That device was a miracle! I'd like to show him the other options: a boom box (do they make those any more?), or a "portable" record player -- I seem to remember there was one in which the record stood vertically, and mostly out in the air, as the motor and needle were all encased in a box much smaller than the record itself. Maybe I hallucinated that one, or am confusing it with a record washer.

I could never afford a Walkman. My first player was a Sanyo knockoff, bright red plastic and one of the crappiest gadgets I've ever owned, but it got me through the first couple of years of college before I ponied up for a Panasonic boom box so I could entertain others (and not have to wear the lousy, head-pinching Sanyo headphones). One huge advantage of the Sanyo over the first Walkman, IIRC, was that the Sanyo had a radio -- the headphone cable acted as the antenna. When the batteries started getting low (the little red power light--probably incandescent--started to dim), I could switch to the radio and get a couple of hours more listening if I couldn't get to a power outlet.

(Here's how primitive the Sanyo was. Its radio tuner appeared to stop working for a time. It wasn't until I took the case apart that I discovered that the tuner dial was connected to the actual tuner--another biggish wheel--by a string and the string no longer had enough tension for the tuner dial to drag it along by friction. After that I had to leave the tuner on one station, unless I happened to be in the dorm where I could remove the case and move the string by hand. Digital tuner? What's that?)

After the Sanyo came a couple of Aiwas, more or less equivalent quality to the Sonys but cheaper because Aiwa didn't have the marketing overhead (rumor was that the Aiwas were actually made by Sony, but I wonder now if that was urban legend). I'm pretty sure I still have either the last Aiwa or whatever its successor was, along with a collection of now-dead rechargeable AAs.
I gave up on cassettes sometime in the 1990s (I stayed with them longer than most) and picked up a Discman for on-the-go listening. It didn't last long, Sony's quality control having gone down the drain by 1990. Only a few years after I bought its replacement, a sturdy Panasonic device, Apple came out with the iPod.

While the first iPod was another miracle, the feeling couldn't compare with the satisfaction and joy that crummy Sanyo brought me.

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