Boomboxes provided the soundtrack to my life for much of the late 1970s and 80s. The streets of New York City, uptown, downtown, east side and west, were alive with the sound of music and everyone who had a blaster was a walking deejay. Unlike the anti-social Walkman, the boombox was all about sharing your mix. The bigger the blaster, the better.
Alexis Madrigal shares this interesting bit of info on the humble but mighty boom box via The Atlantic Monthly:
When we think about the great consumer electronics technologies of our time, the cellular phone probably springs to mind. If we go farther back, perhaps we’d pick the color television or the digital camera. But none of those products were adopted as fast by the American people as the boom box.
... Tarique Hossain included data from the Consumer Electronics Manufacturing Association on the “observed penetration rate at the end of the 7th year” for all the technologies listed above. Hossain’s data didn’t include the starting years for these seven-year periods, but I’m assuming they mark the introduction of the boom box in the mid-1970s. That would mean that by the early 1980s, more than 60 percent of American households owned some kind of portable cassette player with speakers attached to it.
It’s worth noting that all five of the fastest-adopted technologies were for the consumption of entertainment not communication or production of media.”
Here’s a fun documentary on the history of the boombox. For a more detailed history of ghetto blasters check out The Boombox Museum here. It’s amazingly comprehensive with tons of photos.
Before there were iPods, or even CDs, and around the time cassettes let break dancers move the party to a cardboard dance floor on the sidewalk, there were boomboxes. It’s been 20 years since the devices disappeared from the streets. It’s high time to press rewind on this aspect of America’s musical history.
Back in the day, you could take your music with you and play it loud, even if people didn’t want to hear it. 150 decibels of power-packed bass blasted out on street corners from New York City to Topeka. Starting in the mid-‘70s, boomboxes were available everywhere, and they weren’t too expensive. Young inner-city kids lugged them around, and kids in the suburbs kept them in their cars.
They weren’t just portable tape players with the speakers built in. You could record off the radio, and most had double cassette decks, so if you were walking down the street and you heard something you liked, you could go up to the kid and ask to dub a copy.
They were called boomboxes, or ghetto blasters. But to most of the young kids in New York City, they were just a box.