Photos from the Vault

Press play: How the boombox went from must-have technology to the antique store shelf

Dave Moore, a splicer for Pacific Bell, takes his listening pleasure with him on the job in this Nov. 13, 1989, photo. Earphones aren’t convenient under a hardhat, so Moore lugged his portable radio up 30 feet high and hung it from a convenient wire. He was working at the corner of Pismo and Santa Rosa Streets in San Luis Obispo.
Dave Moore, a splicer for Pacific Bell, takes his listening pleasure with him on the job in this Nov. 13, 1989, photo. Earphones aren’t convenient under a hardhat, so Moore lugged his portable radio up 30 feet high and hung it from a convenient wire. He was working at the corner of Pismo and Santa Rosa Streets in San Luis Obispo. The Tribune

Two things that aren’t seen often these days: A worker splicing copper cables and a boombox.

In the post-digital era, folks are more likely to connect with music via headphones, a streaming service and a bluetooth, cellphone or Wi-Fi signal.

Listeners can be insulated in an individualized world, songs unspooling based on preference-based input.

The boombox was the last roar of the analog era. It was likely to be tuned to a radio station or play a hand-assembled mixtape.

It was an unapologetic portable party loud enough to entertain or annoy everyone on the street corner or beach campfire ring.

Battery power untethered the unit, and the visual design included a handle, speakers and enough knobs and switches to put an airline cockpit to shame. Often the plastic was fashioned to look like chrome.

One unit even came with a motion detector alarm built in to deter thieves.

My first cars lacked tape decks or sometimes even a radio. An hours-long road trip required fresh batteries, a travel case of a dozen mix tapes and, of course, a boombox.

That boombox outlived several cars.

Some units have become collectors items.

The JVC RC-M90, featured on the cover of LL Cool J’s debut album, “Radio,” is highly sought after. One is currently listed on eBay for more than $3,000, including shipping.

Perhaps your earbuds will be just as valuable in 30 years.

David Middlecamp is a photographer for The Tribune. 805-781-7942, dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com, @DavidMiddlecamp
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