I’ve always been a fan of the boom box. The portable stereo, radio, eight track player, cassette player, CD player, or any combination of the above depending on which era it was. I was never a home stereo guy.

As a kid/teenager I used to drag my boom box along with me to lots of places. Mainly outside around the neighborhood to listen to music on a nice summer day as we played stickball or some other game. I also brought it with me to work during my high school years when I was a dishwasher and later on an assistant cook. I used to ride my bike to work so I’d strap my boom box onto my belt by its handle and it would hang off of my hip as I pedaled. Who would have thought that you could ride a bike so easily with a boom box?

I had a variety of different boxes (box is short for boom box “Bring your box” was the phrase) over the years and I liked most of them. But the early nineties was the end of the boom box era. I think the boom box’s demise was because of two things. The Walkman type music player that you listen to with headphones took over as the way most people listened to portable music and the decline of the cassette tape.

Both things are intertwined. First off it was usually one or two people in any given group who always brought the boom box everywhere. Everyone didn’t have one. It was a commitment. If two boom boxes where some place usually the better one was listened to. Guys would take turns and swap music in and out but it was generally obvious which boom box was the best and that’s the one you went with.

It was easy to swap music in and out of the boom box with cassette tapes. They were rugged. As long as you didn’t touch the magnetic tape on the bottom you could toss them around. The weren’t precious objects. When the compact disc came along you got better music fidelity but CDs, which were said to last forever, are pretty delicate. They have to be handled correctly. Swapping them back and forth wasn’t easy as you had to be fussy and some were inevitably fussier than others. A recipe for conflict.

And it wasn’t the guys with boom boxes, the music lovers, who first adopted CDs. It was the technology lovers and the rich kids. During my junior year of college (1986-87) I had a discussion with a couple of real music fans. CD players were still expensive and few people at my school had them. These two music fans were complaining that all the rich kids had expensive new stereos with CD players. They further observed that the music was totally wasted on these kids. All of them had thousand dollars stereos and two CDs. One of which was always Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. They both claimed they’d rather have lesser stereos and more music. One even claimed to have listened to his music through a telephone hand set that he rigged up. It was the only speaker he had at the time. He still enjoyed his music on it. That was a guy who loved his music.

If you were the boom box guy you had a lot of your music collection in the form of cassettes. Even if you made them yourself from your record collection. You didn’t want to have to switch over to a new format. That’s expensive. Plus it was over a decade before the average Joe could make his own mix CD. The boom box stuck around a little while because of the custom mix cassette tape. I saw guys on St. Marks’s Place in the Village (NYC) selling mix cassettes on the street as late as the mid 90’s. They were the last holdouts.

You can tell a product is going out of fashion because the companies that make them put less and less energy into their design and manufacture. Boxes from the early eighties were a sight to behold. All of the electronic companies had their best engineers and designers working on the boom boxes. There were some crazy nice music machines. But them all of those industrial designers moved over into the portable headphone driven CD machines. Boom boxes died. Or at least got mediocre and boring.

I listened to my music for years on my ugly, boring, crappy, Aiwa CD boom box. I never brought it anywhere since I stopped being a teenager so it’s portableness became pointless. I still don’t have a proper stereo setup. I have a receiver that a friend gave me and my speakers are from cast off boom box/shelf system stereos. That’s hooked up to my TV by I listen to most of my music on my Harmon Kardon computer speakers.

I, of course, have an iPod like everyone these days. I’ve been noticing a nice little boom box renaissance in all of the iPod compatible boom boxes that companies are making. Companies are putting their talent and technology into this new boom box type and have been making some impressive models. At least according to the reviews I’ve read. The iPod really make the world go ’round these days. I don’t have one of these boxes yet but I’m tempted. I want to relive my boom box glory days. “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen was a classic boom box song.