My radio, believe me, I like it loud
I'm the man with a box that can rock the crowd
Walkin' down the street, to the hardcore beat
While my JVC vibrates the concrete
I'm sorry if you can't understand
But I need a radio inside my hand
Don't mean to offend other citizens
But I kick my volume way past 10.
I Can’t Live Without My Radio—LL Cool J 1985
Back in 1985 when LLCoolJ released his debut album Radio, street culture in the US was alive with the sound of what was colloquially termed the “boombox” or ghettoblaster, depending on where you were from (In central Canada where I grew up, we called them BFR’s—big F*cking radios!). The cover of LL’s album reiterated the prominence of his hit single “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” by depicting a closeup of a JVC RC-M90, one of the biggest and best performing radio cassette players of its day.
Today, in this new millennium, 80’s culture has returned with a vengeance, and in light of this resurgence an interest in and around old school culture, so its no surprise that interest in boomboxes as cultural icons has resurfaced. Boomboxes these days adorn sneakers, T-shirts, shoulder bags, necklaces, and of course album covers and videos, from Armand Van Helden to Madonna.
I was moved to write about these radios as I collect them and have found a hobby bordering on obsession! I have learned as much as I can about them, taking them apart, as well as playing with them and using them in my everyday life. Sharp was a great innovator and is responsible for an amazing variety of radios, although I have a personal bias towards JVC, simply because in my youth JVC was the best brand available in my community, and I still feel a strong connection and nostalgia for their products. But what’s in a name? Many radios and indeed other electronics from this time were rebadged by rival companies, so you might see the same radio with 3 or 4 different names. There are many radios and many brands that are excellent for all sorts of reasons, I will try to give you some examples of what I consider technological or design innovations from back in the day.