My history with portable music is a long one, predominantly since my generation saw the evolution of such a music player in the Walkman.
When I was about 8, I got my first tape player. It was a brown Fisher-Price mono cassette player with big buttons and it came with its own cassette, encouraging you to “Record Your World of Sounds” on Side 2. My sis and I would record skits on tape and make plop-plop jokes. Toilets flushing would also be a favourite. We’d kill ourselves laughing listening to that…oh man. But I digress…
I’d also use the Fisher-Price tape player to listen to music. One of the first cassettes I ever got was the Mini-Pops. Much to the chagrin of everyone in my household, including my sis who was three years older, I would listen to that cassette constantly. Unfortunately, the player had no headphones jack, so everyone got to listen to “Green Door,” “Stupid Cupid” and “Baggy Trousers” on repeat, through a tinny mono speaker. Soon thereafter, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Lionel Richie’s “Can’t Slow Down” were given to me as gifts…along with my first real ghetto blaster. But, this method of listening to music could only sustain the peace in my household for so long. My sis and I would often fight for airtime. We had developed similar musical tastes as we got older, and we each had our own ghetto blasters we could listen to music with. But it was the advent of the personal portable cassette player that got me wanting one of those Yellow Walkmen that all the cool kids were getting.
Before I continue, “Walkman” is being used as any personal portable cassette player here. There were several companies in the 80s that were manufacturing these – Sanyo, Panasonic, and of course, Sony – but where I’m from, it was ALL Walkman.
In around 1984, my sis and I wanted a Sony Walkman for Christmas. The bright yellow portable device was something every school kid wanted, but that only the rich kids could afford. Luckily for us, we were a bit spoiled by my aunt, who had disposable income (no kids, no husband), but who was also reasonable with the finances. She bought us each a portable cassette player that year, but we didn’t get a Sony Walkman. Our first was a Sanyo Sportster AM/FM portable cassette player.
Let me tell you about the Sportster if you’ve never seen one; the thing was a BEAST! It took 4 AA batteries, and man, that thing ate batteries for breakfast! We were always running to the store searching for fresh Duracels! There was nothing fancy about this player – there were buttons for play, stop, rewind and fast forward…there was a radio. No auto-reverse.
Here’s something sexy: this Walkman came with its own removable protective vinyl sheath that had straps so you could transport your personal portable cassette player over-the-shoulder like a purse. This was so you could do sports with it, like jog. But why would you want to? The thing was so damn heavy…and hefty! I remember my sis and I would joke around with it by trying to fit it in our pants pockets, and our pants would sag down as we walked around. I remember wrecking a pair of pants doing this exact thing, and catching my Mom’s ire. That Walkman weighed a ton!
I wouldn’t say this player wasn’t without problems. The headphone jack constantly had a bad connection to my headphones, which often caused the music to only come out of one ear (admittedly, this could have had a lot to do with the earphones…that’s another blogpost!). The Sanyo Sportster remained in my life until Christmas 1988. It is unfathomable to me today that I lasted with it for at least four years, from road trips to Florida, to an exchange trip to France. Overall it wasn’t bad for a kid who just wanted to listen to her Duran Duran and INXS cassettes.
It was Christmas 1988 when I was able to retire my Sanyo Sportster and move up to something lighter with more features. I had a friend who had gotten a JVC portable cassette player, and that thing was funky – one battery, light touch controls, AUTO-REVERSE! And that thing was so small, you could fit it in your pocket. I wanted one the instant I saw one. So, I approached my aunt about this sensitive topic, and she complied. (She was / is so good to me. Really, I was very lucky. ox). We drove over to Bianco’s in New Sudbury and she bought me the JVC CX-57K portable cassette player as a gift. It was expensive to buy, but I got one, and I was SO HAPPY with it…for about a year right at the point when the warranty wore off…and it wound up being one of the most frustrating and expensive piece-of-shit electronics I ever owned.
For all intents, this player had EVERYTHING you could want. But, there were some flaws in its design. Using only one battery meant I was changing them them out frequently. If the battery was dying, you would know it. The player would ssssllooowww dowwwwn the pllllaaayyybaaaaakkk. At this point, I was listening to old skool New Order, so the warped and disturbing sound of the playback didn’t bother me as much, but more upbeat songs from bands like INXS was certainly noticed. If a cassette was wound too tightly, it would not play in the JVC, completely stopping its playback, which would then prompt the auto-reverse feature to kick in. Sooner or later, I could not play a single cassette all the way through without it getting caught in this quandary of flipping from side A to side B; That drove me crazy! It was returned to JVC three times to be fixed, never really fixing the problem. In all, repairs to the player cost $200 over 4 years. Sooner or later, the JVC player quit working altogether.
In 1992, my Step-Dad surprised me with a legit Sony Walkman that he got on the cheap from a sale at Bianco’s. This one, I have to say was my FAVOURITE portable cassette player EVER. It had all the elements of my JVC CX-57K, but it actually WORKED!! The Sony Walkman WM-FX50. Lightweight, the size of a cassette, auto-reverse, and only one battery. It also had Mega Bass technology. It was a sturdy little player that never screwed up. I could fit it in my pocket, exercise with it, even listen to the radio on the go. It was great…until Spring 1996 when I left it in a bathroom stall at University College at Western University. Five minutes after I realized what I had done, I returned to find it gone. I hope whoever got it enjoyed my Smiths mix. 😦
My next Sony Walkman was acquired later in 1996, soon after I lost my favourite Walkman, and I believe this was a gift from my sister. Things came full-circle as I finally got the Sports Walkman I always wanted. It looked very similar to the ubiquitous bright yellow Walkman we are all familiar with, only this time, mine was dark green. I’ve been looking online for a picture of it, with little success, almost making me believe I dreamt it. The dark green is so the Walkman is the same colour as a turtle – my favourite animal, so I know green Walkmans existed. Anyway, it was a sturdy bugger – a little heftier than my past Walkman, but still got the job done. Sadly, it broke a few years later when my husband took it for a run on the treadmill; he dropped it and it hit the wall behind him shattering the device in a million pieces. Weather-proof, not shatter-proof!
Years pass, and my desire for cassette players waned in a large way. Pretty much any player I owned capable of playing cassettes broke. I had no ghetto blaster any more, and no Walkman. However, this has not been a problem for me, as I have moved on to CDs and MP3. My preferred device is an old iPod Touch that Apple abandoned a few years ago, but it still works. It’s lightweight, fits in my pocket, and it’s not like I have to carry anything else with me to listen to music. It’s pretty amazing how far these devices have come. Here I had this big heavy brick in the Sanyo Sportster that I used to listen to cassettes, and it was supposed to be the most portable player! Now I have an iTouch that weighs 88 grams.
Last Christmas, my father-in-law found an old Panasonic Walkman at a rummage sale and gave it to me. It was in great condition, and still worked! I couldn’t believe how excited I was to have a Walkman back in my life! Amazing how this medium often caused me so much frustration – in the cassette itself, and the portable player I was using that would often break down. Although I only have about a dozen cassettes left from my old collection, it was still cool to pop an old tape into the Panasonic and listen to those old recordings my sis and I made over 30 years ago – toilet flushes and all. Even though I have moved on to a different platform, I still allow that wave of nostalgia wash over me from time to time…fresh batteries on stand-by.