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TBT: When Music Went Mobile

Imagine it—before leaving home, you had to plan what album or mixed-tape you were going to carry with you all day long. You might have some room to carry one or two extras, but that was it. You were limited to listening all day to your one, two, or possibly three albums. There was not an endless supply of the world’s music at your fingertips, a stark contrast to what is available with our current-day devices.

The early standalone music players are relics, and many of the teens of today have never heard or seen these devices.

So, how did the generations that came before us carry their portable music? The answers may astound you.

The 8-Track Cartridge Player

Recorded music made the first step in greater mobility in 1965 when the Ford Motor Company offered 8-track cartridge players as an option in all its sports car Mustangs and Thunderbirds. Soon after, RCA Records began releasing its catalog on 8-tracks, and the other major record labels followed. Over the next two years, home 8-track players were introduced as a feature on many integrated home stereo systems. Unfortunately, the 8-track heyday was short-lived, however, as cassettes were introduced into the car stereo market shortly thereafter.

The Cassette Player

Have you ever heard of a mixed-tape? This device began that trend.

In 1981, the New York Times wrote that the cassette player was "the most eagerly wished-for of all gifts." The device allowed people to not only listen to recorded music but to easily make their own recordings, too. This gave birth to the mixed-tape era, in which people could record songs they heard on the radio.

The Boombox

Maybe one of the most visibly iconic music-listening devices, the boombox made its rise in the mid-1970s as a way to play tunes anywhere—and quite loudly. NPR reported that each boombox contained nearly "150 decibels of power-packed bass.” And thanks to those 150 decibels, major cities like New York introduced noise ordinances in the 1980s.

The wide use of boomboxes in urban communities led to it being coined a "ghetto blaster,” and many believe it was instrumental in the rise of hip-hop music.

The Sony Walkman

Watch any '80s movie and you are bound to spot it—typically clipped to the waistband of parachute pants. It's the Walkman.

This original portable music player was popular during the 1980s and dominated the music industry for decades. The first model sold only 3,000 units in its first month of release in 1979, but clever marketing on the streets of Tokyo saved the personal cassette player, and sales soared the very next month. Sony stopped producing new Walkmans in 2010 after a successful 30-year run.

The Discman

The Sony Discman was a portable CD player that took over from where the Walkman left off. Released to the masses in November 1984, the Discman was Sony's brand name for portable CD players. The first Discman’s brand name was changed to the CD Walkman.

The one drawback? The original discman did not like getting knocked or bumped and was a bit sensitive. Many reported that it was difficult to even walk and listen to a CD without it skipping and was certainly not something someone could bring with them on a run. So much for the name Walkman!



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