Original 1979 Sony Walkman TPS-L2
|Type||Portable media player|
|Lifespan||July 1, 1979 - October 25, 2010 (Compact Cassette Edition); Approximately 1979 (AM/FM radio); July 1, 1984 - present (all other editions)|
|Units sold||385 million (as of March 31, 2009)|
Walkman is a brand of portable media players manufactured by Sony. The original Walkman, released in 1979, was a portable cassette player that allowed people to listen to music of their choice on the move. Its popularity made "walkman" an unofficial term for personal stereos of any producer or brand.
By 2010, when production stopped, Sony had built about 200 million cassette-based Walkmans.
Sony continues to use the Walkman brand for most of its portable audio devices, including feature phones. Discman, Sony's portable CD player, was renamed the CD Walkman in 1997. Sony's line of digital audio players is known as Network Walkman.
Compact cassette was developed in 1963 by the Dutch electronics firm Philips. In the late 1960s, the introduction of prerecorded compact cassettes made it possible to listen to music on portable devices as well as on car stereos, though gramophone records remained the most popular format for home listening.
Sony cofounder Masaru Ibuka used Sony's bulky TC-D5 cassette recorder to listen to music while traveling for business. He asked executive deputy president Norio Ohga to design a playback-only stereo version optimized for headphone use. The first prototype was built from a modified Sony Pressman, a compact cassette recorder designed for journalists and released in 1977.
The metal-cased blue-and-silver Walkman TPS-L2, the world's first low-cost personal stereo, went on sale in Japan on July 1, 1979, and was sold for around ¥33,000 (or $150.00). Though Sony predicted it would sell about 5,000 units a month, it sold more than 30,000 in the first two months.
The Walkman was followed by a series of international releases; as overseas sales companies objected to the wasei-eigo name, it was sold under several names, including Soundabout in the United States, Freestyle in Australia and Sweden, and Stowaway in the UK. Eventually, in the early 1980s, Walkman caught on globally and Sony used the name worldwide. The TPS-L2 was introduced in the US in June 1980.
The 1980s was the decade of the intensive development of the Walkman lineup. In 1981 Sony released the second Walkman model, the WM-2, which was significantly smaller compared to the TPS-L2 thanks to "inverse" mounting of the power-operated magnetic head and soft-touch buttons. The first model with Dolby noise-reduction system appeared in 1982.  The first ultra-compact "cassette-size" Walkman was introduced in 1983. The first model with autoreverse was released in 1984. In 1986 Sony presented the first model outfitted with remote control.
By 1989, 10 years after the launch of the first model, Sony manufactured more than 50 million Walkmans. 100 million units were made by 1992, and 150 million units were made by 1995. By 1999, 20 years after the introduction of the first model, Sony sold 186 million cassette Walkmans.
The marketing of the Walkman helped introduce the idea of "Japanese-ness" into global culture, synonymous with miniaturization and high-technology. The "Walk-men" and "Walk-women" in advertisements were created to be the ideal reflections of the viewing audience.
A major component of the Walkman advertising campaign was personalization of the device. Prior to the Walkman, the common device for portable music was the portable radio, which could only offer listeners standard music broadcasts. Having the ability to customize a playlist was a new and exciting revolution in music consumption. Potential buyers had the opportunity to choose their perfect match in terms of mobile listening technology. The ability to play one's personal choice of music and listen privately was a huge selling point of the Walkman, especially amongst teens, who greatly contributed to its success. A diversity of features and styles suggested that there would be a product which was "the perfect choice" for each consumer. This method of marketing to an extremely expansive user-base while maintaining the idea that the product was made for each individual "[got] the best of all possible worlds--mass marketing and personal differentiation".
According to Time, the Walkman's "unprecedented combination of portability (it ran on two AA batteries) and privacy (it featured a headphone jack but no external speaker) made it the ideal product for thousands of consumers looking for a compact portable stereo that they could take with them anywhere".
The Walkman had a major influence on 1980s culture. In 1986, the word "Walkman" entered the Oxford English Dictionary. Millions used the Walkman during exercise, coinciding with the start of the aerobics craze. Between 1987 and 1997, the height of the Walkman's popularity, the number of people who said they walked for exercise increased by 30%. Other firms, including Aiwa, Panasonic and Toshiba, produced similar products, and in 1983 cassettes outsold vinyl for the first time.
In German-speaking countries, the use of "walkman" became generic, meaning a personal stereo of any make, to a degree that the Austrian Supreme Court of Justice ruled in 2002 that Sony could not prevent others from using the term "walkman" to describe similar goods. It is therefore an example of what marketing experts call the "genericide" of a brand.
Media related to Walkman at Wikimedia Commons