40 Years Ago: The 1st Sony Walkman Went On Sale Before smartphones, iPods or iTunes, there was the Sony Walkman, which went on sale four decades ago. More than 400 million have been sold over the years.
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40 Years Ago: The 1st Sony Walkman Went On Sale

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40 Years Ago: The 1st Sony Walkman Went On Sale

40 Years Ago: The 1st Sony Walkman Went On Sale

40 Years Ago: The 1st Sony Walkman Went On Sale

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/737535442/737535443" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Before smartphones, iPods or iTunes, there was the Sony Walkman, which went on sale four decades ago. More than 400 million have been sold over the years.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Before iPods, before iPhones, there was the Sony Walkman, a little cassette player that revolutionized music. NPR's Brian Jarboe has this appreciation as it turns 40.

BRIAN JARBOE, BYLINE: I remember the afternoon I first heard a Walkman. It was the summer of 1979. I was 8 years old, standing on the lawn of my parents' house in suburban Houston. My next-door neighbor Alex, who was about two years older than me, came up and said, check this out. You have to listen to this. He pulled the Walkman from his pocket, let me put on the small, wiry headphones with a soft, foam cover and hit play.

(SOUNDBITE OF VAN HALEN'S "ERUPTION")

JARBOE: It was "Eruption" by Van Halen. My heart started racing. I couldn't believe it. It was like listening to a concert on my own front yard. And it led to a lifelong love of playing guitar.

(SOUNDBITE OF VAN HALEN'S "ERUPTION")

JARBOE: I had to have one. I pestered my parents, worked odd jobs and eventually scraped the money together. It seemed like I wasn't the only one; many of my friends were doing the exact same thing. The Walkman became the thing to have at school.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE")

THE POLICE: (Singing) Just a castaway, an island lost at sea, oh.

JARBOE: Over the next few years, I would buy blank cassettes and furiously record all of my favorite songs off the radio on my brother's stereo, always seeming to miss the first second or so at the top of each song. Once I had a good tape playing, the magic would happen - going for a bike ride, mowing the yard, car rides with my parents, sitting in a quiet spot at recess with my friends, sharing our favorite tunes off this amazing little device.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEAP TRICK'S "DREAM POLICE")

JARBOE: I used the Walkman so much that I ran through a few of them over the years.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DREAM POLICE")

CHEAP TRICK: (Singing) The dream police, they live inside of my head.

(SOUNDBITE OF CASSETTE REWINDING)

JARBOE: When a fast-forward or rewind button would break, I'd use a pencil or a Bic pen to crank the tape back to hear that song again.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DREAM POLICE")

CHEAP TRICK: (Singing) The dream police, they live inside of my head.

JARBOE: Soon came the Walkmans with AM-FM radios built in. And not too long after that, CD players came into the picture. But I still love those old cassettes I recorded back then, and I still have most of them. I break them out from time to time. I love to hear the audio from long-gone Texas radio stations. It really yanks me back to that hot summer day when I was exposed to the first glimpse of technology that changed the game.

INSKEEP: Brian Jarboe on NPR News.

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