Personal Stereo & Walkman History
Discussing the beginnings of the walkman probably requires a brief look at the audio scene in the ’70s. The audio industry was enjoying success in the growing home stereo market, and the implementation of the transistor for a portable AM band receiver created a pocket radio “boom” in the ’60s which continued well into the ’70s. “Boomboxes” or battery-powered one-piece stereo systems were growing in popularity near the turn of the decade, with sound eminating through two or more loudspeakers. Consumers appreciated the ability to listen to high fidelity sound without being confined to sitting near a home stereo system. Pocket-sized micro and mini-cassette players were also successfully sold by companies like Panasonic, Toshiba and Olympus.
So, was the development of a “personal” stereo system an obvious step in the evolution of audio? Shu Ueyama of Sony cites that this invention was purely accidental. Organizational changes were taking place at Sony in 1979 and the tape recorder division was pressed to market something soon, or risk consolidation. They came up with a small cassette player capable of stereo playback. The invention was born from a tweaked Pressman (Sony’s monaural portable cassette recorder) and a pair of headphones.
Sony chairman and founder Akio Morita heard of the invention and was eager to market it. The final design of the TPS-L2, the personal stereo cassette player was completed on March 24, 1979. Sony then formulated a unique marketing campaign to sell the contraption. But first, what to call it?
The name needed to present the idea of portability, so they considered Stereo Walky. Unfortunately, Toshiba was already using the “Walky” name for their portable radio line. The new product was a descendant of the Pressman so Walkman was proposed next. Senior staff responded to this name with doubts, as it sounded like a Japanse phrase clumsily made English. The name would fly in Japan but the product would be marketed in the US as the Sound-About and in the UK as the Stowaway.
Again, senior staff thought twice about the naming conventions–globally marketing a product with regional labels would prove costly, so Walkman was ambivalently accepted as the name of this new personal stereo system. […]