Letter to the editor on “Burning the Midnight Oil”

A 1978 ad for the music player. Photo http://www.justabuzz.com/astraltune.shtml

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




  1. April the 12th, 2017
    -Mel Rothenburger has induced me to share this story about the old days and the things that we formally lost, even though they were not always the days of plenty concerning technology. Enjoy the immense amount of high jinx and laughter in the following ‘moment in history.’ One, where, even good ol’ Mel would find the sort of chuckles every ‘sports-action’ kid wouldn’t dream of being noticed by…

    -True story: I’m in Grade 5 and this teacher sort doesn’t like me, as he had a bad way of just not taking to certain students, so in order to refresh the academic relationship I find out he is in charge of the track and field for the School ‘Participaction Day,’ whereby you get the day off in school to attend the entire school’s outdoor events.
    -I go to this guy Gord -whom is almost brittle thin; lippy; brash, yet can run like nobody’s business in sprints and 400; I had found out they need a long distance guy of 1600 (four times the average track) and so I convince him that because I live quite a way’s away from the school that I run the distance quite often and am up for par for the task of fitting the teacher’s roster (he’s been trying to get someone for that spot for some time…).
    -So Gord hustles me over to see McTeach during recess and explains in more detail than I would even have bothered why I am candidate ‘numero uno’ for the long distance ‘lung shaft’ department and…I get the job; although… ‘Teach’ there looks kinda skeptical as I am much ‘poundier’ than Gord and I only play on defense in the official school soccer team for my grade. [Gord had this look too when I was exclaiming my running to and fro from the house to school -like, “What kid would run to get to school” look. !]
    -Two day’s later on the Friday Event day I get my track number -put it on- and I feel constantly like I gotta pee (twitchy), because I know (“for sure SURE”) that I can’t imagine what this is going to be like, but hey, ‘good graces and all’ maybe it won’t be that bad.
    McTeach is there; I line up with the rest, jockeying for the front with the rest of the sweatin’-fartin’ crew and the whistle goes off.
    I bolt out onto the course with the others and as we get to the first corner I feel one of my lungs -sort of- feel like it has spit out of my chest cavity and I quite literally gasp for non-existent air and just fall over (again I’m twitchy, but for a different reason). McTeach and some others come bolting over and I’m looking at the sky, heaving: “Are you Ok; are you ok?” They then pull me up and I’m still winded; hands on my knees…but moreso so I won’t have to look at McTeach and the fact that Gord also has appeared!
    Gord, being now exasperated, starts frantically exclaiming that “he said he could do this; he said he could this,” whereby, I take off the number, throw it down and and turn and walk away -not looking back as Gord is going on and on with McTeach. I didn’t see McTeach’s reaction.
    -McTeach, on another occasion, had me kick out of school for a day on some other ‘charge’ [minor]… Yet I know it was about trying to take on a task suited for some brittle looking kid that looked like he could outrace a gazelle in a forty. He also hd me transferred me over to the other grade five teacher, whom was pretty cool…so I guess it worked out in the end.

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