In your recent article ‘Burning the Midnight Oil’ there is a quote from filmmaker Kieran Nikula: “It’s funny, I am reminded of old stories of guys skiing back in the day with small car batteries and car stereos so they could listen to music before small tape players. I have been reaching out to people and trying to remember where I caught wind of these savages.”
I am one of those old guys. In 1975 or 1976, as a young university student and avid skier, I bought an ‘Astraltune Stereopack’ from an ad in the back of a ski magazine. The last time I checked, I couldn’t find anything on the Internet about Astraltunes either, but prompted by Kieran’s comment, I tried again. It turns out someone else noticed that there was no written record of the product and took the time to create a detailed web page with a history of the Astraltune. Although there is also a Wikipedia article, it is not as thorough. Here are a couple of quotes from the article:
“So what exactly was the Astraltune Stereopack? On the company’s Trademark application, it is described as “a portable stereophonic tape deck, headphones and battery sold as a unit and mounted in a pack.” This description is pretty accurate. Basically, the Astraltune was an automotive-style stereo cassette deck, mounted in a hard plastic case along with an array of five General Electric NI-CAD rechargeable batteries.
The deck slid into a padded nylon pack, which had two shoulder straps and a waist strap and was meant to be worn against your chest. A Velcro flap covered the top of the pack, which, when opened, gave access to the cassette door, eject/fast-forward buttons, and the volume, tone and balance controls. The whole unit weighed in at about 3.5 pounds, and measures about 8 inches tall, 5 inches wide, and 3 inches thick. The batteries could power the unit for about 5 hours.
Remember that it wasn’t until 1979, three or four years later, that Sony came out with a much smaller, lighter and more polished product, the Sony Walkman, so the Astraltune was innovative and ahead of its time. The technology advanced and the Walkman gave way to iPods. iPods have given way to iPhone and Android phones with a much better version of the early Astraltune concept baked in. Instead of 10 songs per side on a cassette you had to flip, people walk around with instant access to thousands of songs on their phones.
I loved my Astraltune and used it for skiing, as well as at my summer job working on a golf course. My friends thought it was the coolest gadget and would regularly ask to try it on a run or two. I was moving around a lot at that time and I lost track of mine, but it was a great idea a little ahead of the technology.
Check out this link for a full description and photos. Www.justabuzz.com/astraltune.shtml.
From Douglas Alder