Adventures In Tech: The Walkman's amazing origins
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Adventures In Tech: The Walkman's amazing origins

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Sony's groundbreaking Walkman was actually a slightly tweaked version of an existing Sony device -- we reveal all in the latest episode of Adventures in Tech!

Some legendary gadgets require huge leap forward, some amazing new techs that opens up a world of possibilities, but the Sony's Walkman, all the pieces were already there. This is the story about Sony, put them together. In inventing the world's famous Walkman, Sony became the first company to recognize the power of portable personal music. But by the time that recognition occurred, the first Walkman was already on sale. Meet the Sony TCM-100 voice recorder, also known as the Pressman. This unassuming device was aimed at reporters and its primary function was to record audio onto a cassette tape. Of course, once sound was recorded, you could also listen to that tape back. In his book Made in Japan, Sony's then- chairman Akio Morita describes seeing his colleague using a Sony voice recorder to listen to music, using a pair of chunky headphones. It dawned on him that by removing the key feature of that product, they could create something much more exciting, an ingenious moment of discovery that we've been unable to replicate. Sony's engineers stripped the Pressman down, teaching the recording circuits and speaker and replacing them with a stereo amplifier. An extra headphone port was added so two people could listen at once, and the Pressman's "Record" button became the Hotline, a button-activated microphone for speaking to your listening partner. Finally, Sony crafted a set of extremely light miniature headphones and the first Walkman was ready. According to Morita, there was doubt within Sony as to whether the Walkman gamble would pay off. But when it hit Japan in the summer of 1979, the TPS-L2 proved a massive success. Sony sold its entire stock of 30,000 units in two months, boosting the gadget's popularity by hiring young couples to walk around Tokyo listening to the Walkman and presumably looking trendy. A nice idea that I suspect would work less well in cold, unfriendly London. Oh, this is called the Sony walk. Oh, yeah, sure, I'm sorry, man. Walkman eventually became the product's global name, but it was originally called the Soundabout in the US and in the UK, it was the Stowaway, which makes it sound like it's gonna hide in a grog barrel and eat all your ship's biscuits. The TPS-L2 was built by removing features from an existing product, but with this second Walkman, Sony got a flex design muscle. The WM2 was much smaller. Thanks to some reorganized components and control buttons positioned on the front of the device. The dual-volume controls from the first Walkman were ditched as was the Hotline button. But as a bonus, you did get this dual key belt clip. The WM2 became the most popular cassette playing Walkman ever, cementing Sony as the king of mobile music and paving the way for many weird and wonderful Walkman to come. During the Walkman's life span, Sony brought us toughened waterproof models, solar-powered players, and the royal version of it as a gift to Princess Diana. Eventually, the Walkman got its recording powers back as well as radio capabilities. Despite an onslaught of rival devices, Sony remained the king of portable tunes. Ten years later, Walkman sales hit 50 million, in 1992 they hit 100 million, with dozens and dozens of different models available. The Walkman spawned the Discman, then MiniDiscs and MP3s, before it was eventually crushed by Apple's iPod. The Walkman changed the way we enjoyed music, but Sony's Akio Morita later said he didn't believe any amount of market research could have predicted the Walkman's success. You could call it a lucky break, but maybe the lesson here is that fresh, exciting tech can come from anywhere, even something that's already been invented. What are your Walkman memories? Let me know and check by next time for another Adventure in Tech.

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