“ ‘Whaddaya mean, you’ve never been hang-gliding in headphones?’ To the Californian who recently delivered that crushing putdown while visiting London, the true Brit can now reply in the affirmative. This week, the Stowaway arrived in Britain, having already started crazes in Japan and America. Made by Sony and selling for around £99, it comprises lightweight headphones and a cassette machine the size of a small tranny which, as roller-skaters and parachutists have found, leaves the hands completely free. Consider the possibilities. ” [Source: On The Line, Evening Standard, April 24, 1980]
Update The no-frills Stowaway lacked a Dolby noise reduction system so in one bound it turned portable music into the pre-web equivalent of a rubbish P2P download direct to your ears. It has blessed public transport ever since. That summer, 1980, one of London’s rare Stowaways announced itself in the next seat to mine on a flight to St Tropez where for two weeks a then unknown British band called Spandau Ballet had brought the look and sound of Swinging London to the Papagayo nightclub. “Tss-tss-tss-tss” went the soundtrack to my trip from the next seat (with odd moments mercifully punctuated by the divine Chaka Khan’s “I wanna be naughty with you-oo-ooooo”).
In opposition to the Japanese-made name “Walkman”, invented for Sony’s home market, it was launched as the Soundabout in the US and as the Freestyle in Australia. Yet within three months, in the UK the Stowaway (cool, sexy name) had been rebranded the Walkman (dumb, dorky name). Somehow, the marketer’s S-curve inexplicably took sales to a million. By 1984 the price had plummeted to £30 and by 1986 the word Walkman was accepted into the Oxford English Dictionary