Sony is discontinuing production of its iconic Walkman portable cassette players in Japan while outsourcing manufacturing to a Chinese company for export, according to media reports. The news, which spread quickly in the international press on Monday but was not on the company’s web site as of Monday afternoon, may be the beginning of the end for the Walkman as more consumers adopt digital music players.
Apple’s iPod and other MP3 players, such as Microsoft’s Zune, plus MP3-equipped cell phones, are no longer cost-prohibitive. They’re also more convenient than a Walkman, with no moving parts and the ability to store thousands of songs on a solid-state drive.
Pop Culture Favorite
When the Walkman first appeared in 1979, it was roughly the size of a paperback novel and worked with large earphones that wrapped around the user’s head. Modern versions are scarcely bigger than the cassette tape and use earbuds.
A Japanese answer to portable transistor radios or large cassette-playing “boom-boxes” Americans carried to take their favorite music with them, the sleek Walkman quickly became part of popular culture and was featured prominently in the poster for the 1984 Kevin Bacon movie Footloose. That film included a scene in which Bacon and Chris Penn danced to a Kenny Loggins song while listening to a Walkman with a dual-headphone jack.
In 1985’s Back To The Future, Michael J. Fox’s character brought a Walkman back in time to the 1950s and, pretending to be an alien, used it to scare his future father into asking his future mother for a date.
In addition to the different versions of the Walkman, Sony also produced the now-obsolete Watchman portable TV, the Scoopman tape recorder, and the Discman portable CD player. Sony stopped making most models of the Walkman in spring 2009, but hadn’t announced the end of the line until now.