Ah the memories of sitting outside listening to crackling radio stations and jamming out with friends. Boomboxes were first introduced in the 1970s and then exploded into being one of the most popular electronics in the 1980s as being able to take music with you became the highlight of many social meet-ups.
Boombox is a colloquial term used to describe a portable tape and FM transistor radio that had speakers and a carry handle. The term was also swapped out frequently with Ghettoblaster, the brand of boombox from Sony that was one of the most popular during its heyday. It has now become a brand in its own right. But how did it all start?
History of the Boombox
The original boombox was developed by Philips, the same company who created the audio cassette. This was a radiorecorder produced in 1966 which was innovative in allowing anyone to record radio onto a cassette tape in their own home without the need for microphones or a separate device.
While the quality of the recordings were terribly poor many other companies realized how important this technology was and swiftly started researching the technology.
By the early 1970’s their compact size made them a much more desirable choice than large floor radios and the cheap price of Japanese technology made them more accessible. This innovative time led to them being made in different sizes and shapes and was swiftly snapped up by the American market.
Many young metropolitans jumped on the idea of being able to take their music to go and share the sound without being confined to headphones. These early concepts were a combination of home stereo and portable cassette player with almost all having radio tuners built in.
The popularity of the boombox soared into the 1980s and soon had jacks which allowed microphones and turntables to be hooked up making the boombox more flexible.
The most popular factor for most youth was the better bass that these portable units had great bass, giving the music of the time a thumping beat that helped foster a party atmosphere wherever they were. The popular need for heavier and louder bass meant boxes evolved to be bigger and flashier as a boombox became a status symbol.
In the early 90s the boombox began to shrink, the advent of CD technology meant that users now wanted to listen to disks and bumping bass would jog the CD. Boxes became smaller again and more portable and new innovative metal housings were created to try and counteract the vibration from the bass.
Today many boomboxes have a design nod to the boxy square models of yesteryear. The biggest difference is that the classic cassette tape deck is usually missing, deemed unnecessary thanks to digital technology.
Bluetooth means that most boomboxes are really just wireless speakers, though there are plenty that include FM radios, most expect users to use a digital radio service instead or digital media on their device.
Other features might include being waterproof and having rechargeable batteries that can last for days. The sound quality has also improved drastically thanks to digital media and speaker technology.
The Boombox Design
Despite the advances in technology the basic boombox design has remained the same. Two or more loudspeakers with an amp and a radio tuner inside a case with a handle.
Most have AC options in addition to batteries but the option to pick up and go is essential. Some will also have high and low frequency speakers as well as equalizers and adjusters to maximize the quality of the sound.
The boombox has become a popular icon that has transcended decades, children are now listening to devices that are similar in shape to the originals yet feature massive jumps in technology.
Much of the reason for this continuous popularity is the feature of the boombox in popular culture. The boombox was originally linked to urban culture thanks to Black and Hispanic musicians using them primarily and many cities lashed out and banned them in public.
Many popular bands like the Beastie Boys and The Clash helped keep this popularity going by featuring them in their music and lyrics. The first mentions of boomboxes were in 1985 with songs from LL Cool J and within a couple of years KLF communications used the boombox as its logo. By 1995 the boombox had made it into the music video with Daft Punk but they wouldn’t be seen again for over a decade until their resurgence at the end of the 2000s.
Boomboxes were a huge part of film culture and this shows just how much they were a part of daily life for the 1980’s. Fame, Flashdance,The Living Daylights, and The Wild Life were some of the most notable, however, even kids today can recognize the iconic scene from Say Anything where John Cusack holds a boombox above his head to serenade Ione Skye.
In the 90s the boombox started to decline in popularity, since they were mostly banned in public personal music players became the norm and carrying around such a large item was simply impractical. Within 10 years the boombox would become nothing more than a relic from the 1980s until it became cool and retro again in the late 2000s.
Today’s boomboxes are much the same as they were in the 1990s, the biggest addition for most people is the option for connecting wirelessly over Bluetooth or NFC, though having USB ports and SD interfaces are also fairly common. You can still purchase portable stereos at any electronics store, though they may not take as much of the sales area as they once did.
The boombox may never have quite the popularity that it once did but it’s still there and without the technology created by this we would not have many of the wireless speakers we enjoy today.
The new generation of boomboxes are smaller and less flashy but the quality of sound is far superior to that of their predecessors. A boombox is still a convenient tool for getting more sound for your music without having to shell out hundreds on a home stereo system.