05 June 2023

1980: The Sony Walkman Arrives In The UK As The Sony Stowaway: Wired For Sound...

Magazine advertisement for the Sony Stowaway personal stereo, launched in the UK in 1980. In 1981, it would be patented as the Sony Walkman. 

To say their new Stowaway gives you totally incredible sound for such an an amazingly small stereo is not Sony's style.

They say they are quite pleased with it.

This is Sony's new Stowaway, a stereo cassette player about the size of your hand.

You can be forgiven for wondering how pure stereo sound can emerge from a system so small. Sony says it's quite easy; but then they would. Apparently they took the circuitry, transistors, diodes and what-have-you from a larger cassette deck, and squeezed it into a few silicon chips.

Technically, it's rather impressive. Your Sony dealer or the chaps at Sony's Regent Street show-rooms in London, can blind you with Stowaway's sience if you're interested.

But the sound! Now there's something you can understand as soon as you slip on the hi-fi headphones (inevitably they are the smallest and lightest in the world.) Clip in a standard music cassette and you'll hear all the treble and bass your ears could desire. Should you want to share the magic with a friend you can always plug in a second set of 'phones.

The little masterpiece runs off batteries, so you can tuck it in your pocket and relax to the music of your choice when you're on a train, a plane, or the next time you're in a hotel room with a radio fixed to Voice of America. Or you can buy an adaptor to run it off the mains.

Listen to Stowaway for yourself, and you'll understand why Sony are so excited.

Sony Sowaway. 

The world's smallest stereo cassette player.
Note that the device has two earphone plug-in points. This fact was put to use by EastEnders story-liners in 1985, when Sharon Watts, in competition with her "friend" Michelle Fowler for the attentions of Kelvin Carpenter, shared her Walkman "magic" with him - and infuriated Michelle.

Invented by Sony in 1979 and first marketed in Japan in July 1979, the personal stereo was launched in the UK in 1980 - and was marketed as the Sony Stowaway. 1980 was also the American release year and I believe it had a different name there, too - The Soundabout!

A very early mention of the newly released Sony Stowaway (Walkman) in the UK Press - a competition in the Sunday People in July 1980.

In 1981, the personal stereo was patented here under Sony's original name - the Walkman, and we saw Cliff Richard making full use of one down at the roller disco in his video (or should that be "promo" in 1981 terminology?) for Wired For Sound.

The Ingersoll Soundaround pocket hi-fi also made a brief impact on the UK in 1981, and other copy-cat personal stereos were also arriving on the market.

Soon, the personal stereo would be everywhere....

From the Daily Mirror, 30/7/1981:

The Walkmen never walk alone... or skate alone... or even cycle alone...

They are the people who have hopped on an international craze and now roam the streets wired up to the earphones of Walkman stereo sets.

The Walkman - and its many similar, often cheaper copies - has become the skateboard of electronics. A craze that has astounded the experts - and made them rich.

But, unlike the skateboard, this one should run and run...

The demand shows no sign of slowing. Lasky's, one of Britain's biggest hi-fi dealers, say: "The demand is fantastic. Our shops just can't get enough."

To Akio Morita, Sony's co-founder and chairman, it was a machine to get the world dancing. He said: "My dream is to have Walkman parties in the jungles."

Could people there afford them? I couldn't, for some time.

Back to the article...

In Britain trade sources estimate that 100,000 personal hi-fi's were sold last year and that another 250,000 will sell this year at prices of around £50 to £125.

Most sets are fairly simple in today's technological terms - but already Japanese engineers are working on more sophisticated models.

Sony are already selling a tiny version in Japan and America which includes stereo FM radio - though there are no plans to market it here.

And as the boom gathers momentum even the sophisticated models will fall in price. Marketing experts are predicting Korean and Taiwanese versions at £15, while the uses of the Walkman continue to become even more wide-spread.

They've been seen being worn by bicycling barristers and by art gallery and museum browsers. Some teenagers even take them to discos - preferring their own music to that of the DJ.

And in America, Linda Moriarty of Illinois, regularly plays classical music, via her headphones, to her unborn child.

 "The baby definitely responds," she says.

A 1983 Tandy newspaper advertisement for personal stereos. If that's what they do to you, I'll give them a miss!
A magazine advertisement from November 1984 - the Walkman is now on sale at £29.95.

Post updated  05/06/23


Dave Mullen said...

I hadn't a clue they were That expensive!
I'm sure I still have one or two somewhere but the earlier models were poor even back then as i remember - tinny sound and tapes that would snarl up around the rollers inside and even snap.
But all of that was just part and parcel of the technology of the time, you accepted it.
Weird: Next to that walkman of mine is my personal CD player, both now extinct dinosaurs and no match whatsoever for my current preffered personal MP3 player!

Cat said...

Oh how I loved my Walkman! It was so cool, or whatever we said back then. Sturdy, too, and worked very well, so it must have been one of the later models.

Stewpot said...

This is a fabulous history of the Stowaway/Walkman inthe UK. I love the illustrations!