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Big Music Feature

Blaster Master

Landis Expandis can't live without his radios

Sam Holden

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Blaster Master Landis Expandis can't live without his radios | By Lee Gardner

By Lee Gardner | Posted 7/14/2010

Landis Expandis' living room is, in many ways, like any other Govans rowhouse front room--big window, low ceiling, wood floors. True, the walls are painted eggplant and basil, and there's an orange velvet "pimp throne" in the corner instead of a couch. But what really sets the place apart is the wall of boomboxes. Three shelving units hold up to six strata of vintage portable radio/cassette decks, often two boxes deep, and those aren't all of the 22 or so boxes Expandis, ne McCord, owns.

The boomboxes are the only obvious visual clues that its resident is into music, which is kind of odd. After all, McCord is the drummer/frontman for omni-funk-rock unit the All Mighty Senators, a contender for the longest-running band in Baltimore, as well as one of the DJs behind Joe Squared's Tuesday night party Dig.

Gangly legs stretched out beneath the computer desk in the corner of the room, a tall sugarloaf of afro rising through the visor wrapped around his brow, McCord explains that his obsession with accumulating boomboxes is only about a year and a half old, but its roots go deep.

"Hard to say when it got started," he says, dry but voluble, during a recent weekday interview. "I had one in high school and loved it. And then the Walkman came out, and then after that people were listening to music internally. And then I couldn't find them anywhere. I still wanted one."

About a year and a half ago, he continues, "I discovered two things. I discovered eBay, and I discovered how to get them at the thrift store. You go to a thrift store now, you're not going to see one, because there was somebody there at 10, and he bought the beautiful ones.

"I basically race people to the electronics department in the morning to get [boxes like] that Lasonic," he says, pointing out a big gray and silver box with black speaker grilles and what seems like dozens of knobs. "On eBay right now, that would be $300. I got it for $39."

McCord offers a brief tour of some of the highlights of the wall. "This one sounds great," he says, gesturing to a black Ken-Tech on a top shelf, "but I wouldn't carry it to a park and sit it down. But then this one, the Lasonic, this is for, like, booming something. This is a '70s box."

Turns out there are boomboxes for all occasions. "When I'm going out and it's a nice day, I'm like, well, it's a boombox day," McCord says. "So I'll stop here and, well, what do I want to carry?"

He picks up a small, unassuming-looking single-speaker box and lifts the strap attached to each end of the top of the box. "If I'm doing things, if I'm going to Kinko's and I want my hands free, this is pretty light and it sounds pretty good."

But then there are boxes whose appeal transcends functionality. He pulls a black Lasonic from the corner, fires up a driving funk tune, and as the beat pumps the speakers, little bursts of lavender pulse at the corners of the box. "Purple flashing disco lights," he points out.

"You see one like that, you're like, 'I gotta get that one. And then that's my last one,'" he says. "And then you see another one, and you're like, 'I gotta get that one . . . and then that's my last one.'

"When I got this Lasonic, I immediately sold two of my best boxes. It was like, This is too much boombox. I shouldn't have too much. I felt like I didn't deserve to get that for what I got it for, so let's get rid of some. But I kept going. So I probably haven't stopped."

As is often the case in this web-connected age, what might be considered a unique eccentricity is in fact catered to and supported by an online community of hundreds of fellow enthusiasts. At boomboxery.com, where McCord logs in as "Old school Scott," fans trade repair tips, compile boombox lore, and post photographs of their latest vintage finds.

The heyday of the classic boombox is but a mere 30 years in the past, but the advent of the CD and, most especially, the personal listening device--from the Walkman on up to today's iPod--made it a relic. Not for McCord. "These aren't retro to me," he says. "To me this is just a cool, cool thing. It's always been cool."

Indeed, if you happen to see him out with one of his boxes, like as not he isn't blasting a cassette tape. "From '80 to '85, [boombox manufacturers] created every input and output that you'd need," he notes. "So you can hook up new technology to this old technology."

McCord customizes many of his boxes with a little patch of Velcro to attach, say, an iPod Shuffle, which he plugs in and plays through the old speakers. He also shows off a Japanese memory card reader shaped like a cassette tape and designed to play through cassette players (another eBay score). Not that there's anything wrong with cassette tapes, such as the copy of Run-DMC's King of Rock that peeks from a shelf. While most music collectors root around thrift stores looking for vintage vinyl, McCord has much less competition at the bargain cassette bins.

"Cassettes are still the most used music storage in the world--but not here," he says. "In East Africa where it's sandy, laser devices simply won't work. They still make boomboxes in China and ship them there. I'd love to have one of those."

McCord sounds almost wistful about the idea of places where boomboxes still outnumber iPods. As far as he's concerned, something else was lost when the boombox was relegated to the technological scrapheap along with the Victrola and the 8-track tape player.

"When I first tried the personal listening device, I was like, Oh wow, this is really cool, you hear the music inside your mind--that would be nice for inside the house, just chillin' out," he says. "But I couldn't image walking down the street having something going on in here and cutting off one of my main senses. I never really understood that."

He tells a story about spotting two school-aged kids on the street trying to have a conversation while one wore earbuds, an exchange full of unnecessarily raised voices and misunderstandings. He worries that the personal listening device is further atomizing and isolating us, and his championing of the boombox is, in part, a one-man campaign for coming together via bumping tunes in public.

"I've always been into the sharing of music," he says. "It represents to me what still is human. Like, I'm gonna share music with someone else. Since the beginning of humans, it's been important, and now it's becoming not important anymore."

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Big Music Issue 2010 (7/14/2010)

Might Don't Make It (7/14/2010)
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Brand of Outsiders (7/14/2010)
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