armchair cultural observation since 1995

Eulogizing the boombox


Back in the day, you could take your music with you and play it loud, even if people didn’t want to hear it. Fifty 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.

For some reason, the first thing that popped into my mind while reading the NPR story excerpted above about boomboxes, was a memory of me in my suburban New Jersey bedroom in the early ’90s using my boombox to dub Vanilla Ice’s butchered-to-death version of “Satisfaction” from Eagle 106.

I had to make sure the dual cassette Sony was loud enough to record but not loud enough for my mom to hear, lest she hear lines like “I couldn’t take my eyes off the back of her pants” coming from the room of the president of the Junior High Methodist Youth Fellowship at church.

What’s the first boombox memory that pops into your mind?

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