Life Before iPods: 26 Vintage Photographs Show the Heyday of Boombox in New York City From the 1980s
Those of us who lived in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s can testify to the very serious quality of life issues – graffiti covered subways, vandalism, garbage, crime, noise, drugs. The streets were minefields of dog poop just waiting for the next victim, those unfamiliar with the terrain or seasoned New Yorkers who had a momentary lapse of attention to the sidewalks. It was a very rough time and not the promised land at all.
One of the most annoying and dreadful elements of the late 1970s and 1980s was the boombox. This portable party machine could be cranked to deafening levels, even outdoors against the ambient din of the city. At times it felt like there was no escaping it, the ghetto blasters were everywhere to be found including spaces where one expected quiet enjoyment like parks. To make matters worse, the music played was very limited, typically disco or hip hop. You would not hear anything else, certainly not classical, country, blues or classic rock.
Boomboxes were heavy. It was a job to carry them all day. Some required as many as 20 D-cell batteries, which, allowing for continuous play and volumes, would only last the day. The cost of these batteries became major budgetary items for those who carried their boxes daily. They were essentially the Walkmans or iPods of their day, but as a broadcast device, they could hardly be considered personal audio players.
The 1990s was a turning point for the boombox culture, Walkman and other portable devices replaced them. However, people who preferred to listen to their music publicly with friends still used boombox. The following photos showcase the culture of boombox from the 1980s.