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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 July, 2004, 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK
The music you could take anywhere
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Sony TPSL2 Walkman
The Sony TPSL2 Walkman ushered in a new way of listening to music
It is small. It is expensive. And it will change the way the world listens to music.

No, not a description of the gadget-du-jour iPod, but what could have been a tagline for its prehistoric predecessor - the Sony Walkman.

The venerable cassette player that its creators said you could take anywhere has marked its 25th year. In that time, many millions have been sold around the world.

A half-decade before CDs ushered in a digital age of music, Walkmans became an iconic object whose influence went far beyond their ability to play cassette tapes in the great outdoors or on the move.

Their effect is being felt today in the shape of the Discman - the portable CD player that updated the Walkman's go-anywhere capability.

It also led to the new breed of even-smaller digital music players which Sony has belatedly entered into with its iPod rival, the NW-HD1, unveiled on Thursday.

The Walkman was rolled out on 1 July 1979 by Sony, after its design had been championed by Sony's Japanese co-founder Akio Morita.

He had noticed young people's insatiable desire for music morning, noon and night - and that they would listen in cars or take heavy tape players with them to enjoy it.

Differing names

Sony was already working the portable stereo system that became dubbed the "ghetto blaster", but Mr Morita believed there was a huge market for something much smaller.

Sony's tape player division had designed a device, the TPS-L2, which was simple and robust. Mr Morita immediately saw huge potential.

The only problem was what to call it. Sony initially had different names for the player in different territories - everything from the Sound About in the US to Stowaway in the UK.

Stereo Walky was also suggested - but electronics rivals Toshiba had already taken the name for their brand of portable radios.

Walkman
The Walkman's arrival led to a raft of imitations

Walkman had been suggested but Sony in Japan were afraid the name might sound too much like a bad translation of a Japanese phrase into English. But in the end, to give the player a universal name, it was chosen.

Within two years two dozen companies were making rivals for Sony's portable system - one which cost US$200. As the years followed, cheaper and more disposable versions followed.

Earlier this year, Sony's famous design was the subject of a court battle, with the company paying several million euros to a German inventor, Andreas Pavel, who said he had invented the machine in 1977.

Alex Pell, the deputy editor of technology magazine Stuff, said the Walkman changed the way people related to music.

'Defining youth culture'

"Young people interact with music much more personally than they do with films or picture-taking," he said. "The Walkman gave them a way of experiencing music on their own terms."

He said that the Walkman also allowed people who could not afford expensive stereo systems a way to enjoy music. Another factor was that "the entry was so cheap. There was a wide range, with differing sound quality, but they all used the same kind of tape.

"Sony deserve great credit. The Walkman helped create the defining youth culture of the late 20th century," he said.

Walkman NW-HD1
The latest Walkman takes the name into the digital age

Technology and design writer Liz Bailey echoed the Walkman's importance.

"The iPod may be beautiful and sexy but it was the Sony Walkman that paved the way for the iPod's iconic success.," she said.

"The Walkman's design utterly changed the way we view electronic media - without it we might never have had the minidisc or the MP3, much less the digital camera, the handheld personal organiser or the mobile phone.

"But what the Walkman really changed was the culture of music: you could now listen to what was effectively the soundtrack of your own life, starring you as yourself," she said.

The launch of the new Sony digital player could herald the second age of the Walkman, she said. Sony, which has left it rather late to take on the likes of the iPod, must certainly be hoping so.




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