40 years ago today, the Sony Walkman appeared and turned is all into headphone-wearing zombies

[This was my weekly column for GlobalNews.ca. – AC]

Sony co-founder Masaru Ibuka enjoyed listening to music while travelling on business, especially during those long trans-Asia and transpacific flights. He started by using a modified version of the company’s TC-D5 cassette recorder, but ultimately found it to be too bulky.

That’s when he asked Norio Ohga, Sony’s executive deputy president, to come up with something a little more user-friendly. He then handed the project off to Kozo Ohsone, the general manager of Sony’s tape recorder business.

After prototyping with a mono-only unit released in 1977 called the Pressman, attention turned to an even greater challenge: good-sounding headphones that were also lightweight and could fit into a large pocket.

his was easier said than done. Forty years ago, headphones were heavy, clunky things that you used for private, solitary listening at home. Consumer hi-fi headphones made their debut in the 1950s but were heavy brutes. My first pair, an ugly beige set from Koss with a long, coiled cord, weighed close to five pounds. I was always conscious of that tonnage on my head. Could Sony come up with something anyone could wear that wouldn’t leave a divot in their skulls?

On June 22, 1979, the new device, the TPS-L2, was previewed for journalists at a Tokyo theme park. Riffing on the name “Pressman,” the new unit was a playback-only thing the “Walkman.” The public got it on July 1.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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