Tuesday, February 3, 2009
When we heard about James Philips and his ghetto blaster collection we knew we had a story on our hands. He's amassed more than 50 boomboxes, circa late-70s to early-80s! Peep some pics of his favorite radios and read what boombox collecting is all about.
Sharp VZ- 2000
Thick: Tell us about some of the features of this boombox with the turntable in it.
James Philips: It's pretty crazy. It has a linear tracking, dual stylus turntable inside of it. What that means is that it has a stylus on both sides of the record, and it has auto-reverse feature. So, the dual styluses allow it to flip over a play the other side, without opening obviously.
T: Talk about this yellow sporty looking one that looks like it's the predecessor to Sony's Walkman line.
J: It's a Magnavox 8300. It's got a five-speaker system, so it's got two woofers, two tweeter to mid-ranges, and a sub-woofer. It's got a feature where you can move the sound around, so you can actually control the spatiality of the sound .It has two decks and a five band EQ as well. It has a big sports strap as well. It was meant as an original beachbox, one that you wouldn't be worried about. It was not water-proof but it was the first (boombox) with a beachy look. I'm not sure if it came out before the Sports Walkmans or not but it's very close, and much bigger than any of the sport Sony models.
T: What is rebadging?
J: Rebadging is when a company, usual in Asia, makes a chassis for a radio, boombox, ghetto blaster (whatever term you want to use) and they sell it to any company who wants them, but they maintain their intellectual property and re-sell the same chassis to other companies. So, what you end up seeing is, in different countries the same radio will be under a different name but it will be exactly the same radio.
T: What boombox did Radio Raheem rock in Do The Right Thing?
J: Well, that's a classic case of rebadging right there. It's the J1 Super Jumbo, sometimes it's called the Techsonic, sometimes it's called the Promax. I actually have both versions. They're exactly the same except for the nameplate. It is Huge, over 30” long and 17” tall!
T: What about this five-cassette changer boombox?
J: It's a Mitsubishi L-50 and it has a motorized tray that allows you to put five tapes in and close it up, and then you can select from the numbers. It works how a five-disc changer CD player would work.
T: Tell us about the trend of boomboxes with keyboards.
J: That was early 80s and I'm not sure what caused it. I've collected them all. I went after them as I have many friends who are DJ’s and who produce. I actually bought one for a friend of mine as a gift, he hasn’t seen it yet though, as its being fixed. What I like about it the keyboards, is that at that early stage you had portable studios, these radios had computer chips back then!. We think we are so capable with studio technology (now), but in actuality they had digital synths and a way to record, sure it's analog, but it's way back then. That was twenty-five years ago.
T: What are the couple that exist?
J: There's the Casio KS101, probably the most sophisticated one. They have built-in backbeat, so you can set a melody and tempo, and play music over top of it, and record that music. Pretty amazing tech. Another one is the Fisher SC 300. Both of these have detachable speakers as well, so you can take the speakers off or you can remove the keyboard in some way. The other one is the Sharp GF990 and it has a music processor that actually slides out of the base. You can make all your own sounds. Two of these radios have LCD screens on them in 1981!
T: Talk about Bang & Olufsen's one boombox.
J: Everybody that knows Bang & Olufsen, knows they're about forward-thinking design and high-end audio. But they focus much more on their design than on their actual audio quality. This little radio looks small and sleek. I think it looks like the kind of ghetto blaster you would've had if you were Mickey Rourke in 9 1/2 Weeks, like an 80s stock-broker living in NYC, the Upper-Eastside version of the ghetto blaster.
T: What are the two Holy Grail pieces when it comes to boombox collecting?
J: The JVC RCM90, it's the radio on the cover of LL Cool J's first album cover. When he said, “ I can't live without my radio,” that was the radio he couldn't live without. It's 26" long, 14" tall and weighs about twenty pounds...without batteries. It's a big powerful radio, 8" woofers, amazing bass response, and great sounding all the way up to 10. It has a two-motor Logic control deck, one of the first decks to use a computer chip in the mechanics to change the controls. It also has an 8-band radio, so like six different kinds of shortwave on top of AM and FM. The other one is called Conion C100F, but it's also a rebadge, so it's also called the Clairtone 7980, it's also called the Helix 4635. It's a big monster. The Conion has two cassette decks, a burglar alarm, 8" woofers as well, 30" long, 16" tall. It's mammoth, and looks amazing, most people love it and it stands out among the others I own. Those are the two warring radios. Basically, it's about loudness and the control of sound quality.
For me I have an Art History background and I currently teach Multimedia and Digital Art for SFU. I grew up in the 80’s but was quite young, so my older siblings and friends could afford the big radios, I could not. I began collecting recently and tracked down many of the ones I could not afford, but admired as a kid, and discovered many more that I think are amazing from either a design standpoint, or from a performance perspective. These radios all have amazing sound and have technology that looks forward to the point that all of them have RCA plugs for an MP3 player—technology they had no idea about back then! I plan to show my radios as art pieces in gallery very soon, so pay attention, you won’t want to miss a show like this!