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Sex and the city walkmen

The journalists sex and the city walkmen never experienced anything like it, and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Packed into buses headed for Yoyogi Park near Sony’s headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, they knew the electronics giant was excited about a product launch set for July 1, 1979. But what had been handed to them after boarding was confusing. It was a blue-accented device, made mostly of metal and roughly 6 inches long by 3.

Inside was a standard audio cassette. It could be held in one hand, clipped to a belt, or—more awkwardly—hung around the neck. A pair of compact, foam-encased headphones trailed from the unit to the user’s ears, where it emitted a surprisingly rich stereo sound. But it had no recording feature like Sony’s Pressman, which media members had used for years to document conversations.

And the scene at Yoyogi Park was odd: Dozens of Sony staffers were riding tandem bicycles, skateboarding, and swaying while bystanders looked on, baffled. The assembled media members took in the presentation, returned to the bus, and shrugged. Sony had anticipated a need and profited handsomely. But while the company became synonymous with the Walkman, there’s a one asterisk to their story—they didn’t actually invent it. Portable listening devices were, of course, nothing new.

Transistor radios grew popular in the 1950s by shrinking components to allow for a pocket-sized listening experience. The drawback was that the user was limited to picking up broadcast stations and whatever playlist the programming director preferred. They were also tinny, the earbuds laughably weak next to proper stereo systems. Masaru Ibuka’s teenage years were decades in the rear-view mirror, but he identified with their passion for music.

A co-founder of Sony, Ibuka was disappointed he couldn’t bring a cassette player with him on long, transatlantic plane rides. Akio Morita, Ibuka’s partner, agreed, and the two set a deadline: They wanted a product ready for the start of summer vacation on July 1, a marketing opportunity for people exercising or relaxing outdoors. Under a time crunch, Kozo Ohsone, Shizuo Takashino and other developers took their Pressman—a bulky recorder meant for a niche market—and removed the recording mechanism, adding a lightweight pair of headphones and a stereo amplifier. Morita took their modified Pressman home and listened to it. It was exactly what he and Ibuka wanted, with one exception: His wife was annoyed at the isolating nature of the device.



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