28 January, 2006


Those simple initials mark the annual haj that I’ve embarked on for over 30 tears now (I think I’ve missed 4 or 5 over the years) and right now about evenly split between ‘Exhibitor’ and ‘guest’.

NAB and it’s international cousins IBC and Communications Asia are where the software, hardware and services are sold to the folks who sell you everything you see or hear on your TV or radio.

The National Association of Broadcasters annual convention has recovered from the post 9/11 slump and last year was once again well above the100,000 attendees mark. While it does not have the pure marketing hype of, say a CES (Consumer Electronics Show) or Comdex the amount of hardware (more often than not these days it’s a black box in a rack) is truly impressive

As an Exhibitor, I’ve usually been the technical lead on booth and depending on who I was working for a the time can become an all consuming time suck starting after New Years and cumulating at the strike of show in late march or April with the final few days before the show opens reaching 26 hour days, and if all goes well it’s finished the night before it opens.

There have been times when it did not go well.

Once the show opens, if I’m an Exhibitor, I’m usually the first one in and the last one out each day and in between answering technical questions and meetings.

As a guest, the schedule is one of my choosing, however the times when I’m not on the exhibit side I’m walking the show as a Chief Engineer or systems integrator, and it’s a big show to walk and at times the entire show is not long enough to see everything I wanted to see – in either instance I’m on my feet all day and talking all day.

Various NAB’s over the years have made indelible memories

- after seeking special dispensation from the over master of the conference I came in at 3:30 the morning before the show opened. I had been working for an innovative silicon valley company that had recently been acquired by one of those military industrial conglomerates that we were warned of so may years ago – needless to say there was a steady hemorrhage of experienced people but I digress - other than to note that said conglomerate at the time could provide everything from the cameras and microphones to towers, transmitters and dishes and everything in between. I had the largest dish in the parking lot, the latest in 1” video tape machines and rolled tape on the launch of maiden flight of the space shuttle. When it landed on the last day of the show the entire convention center came to a standstill as everyone crowded around any booth that had a feed then spontaneous applause and cheering when wheel stop was announced – I still have the original tapes.

- There was the classic time some bum (literally, he just walked in from the street -although I’ll be the first to admit that in a crowd of broadcast engineers he did not stand out) walked up to the podium where President Regan was accepting a large glass award, snatched it out of his hands and proceeded to smash it before the Secret Service tacked him.

- the year the two students went on their rampage in Columbine every bit of ENG gear and truck disappeared

- or years later when our government barbecued 80 some of it’s citizens (admittedly probably not the best neighbors but there was no justifiable reason for what happened) mostly woman and children (stepping down from soapbox)

- the last year NAB was in Atlanta was interesting as there was a Grateful Dead concert at the same time. Made for some interesting interactions between the suits and Jerry’s kids - but after 4 days of being panhandled going to and from the Omni center and finding a large psychedelic sticker on the windshield of the rent a car finally prompted me to put in a Doors tape and smoke the tires as all the tie dyed scattered. There was also a somewhat amusing interactions with some of the locals the first day, I stopped to ask for directions at a gas station. Dealing with someone who looked like an extra from Deliverance (I could swear I heard Dueling Banjos in the distance) complete with missing teeth and one strap holding up his coveralls and obviously not too happy dealing with a suited Yankee but his directions as strange as they were actually worked, as I commented to the guys in the car “…I don’t think they surrendered”

- or the deja vu moment when I realize I’m looking at the Texas school book depository and the grassy knoll driving back to the hotel

NAB started first in Washington DC but even then was so large there were several venues and getting back and forth between them was interesting. The last year in Chicago (late ‘70’s) there was some union problems, when I came in to turn on the booth, things started arcing and sparking, someone had shorted several power cords and poured soda into some of the machines – that was the last year for the windy city. But mostly it’s been in Los Vegas.

Having spent an average of two weeks a year there over the last 20 plus years it is astounding how this most improbable of places has grown. However, as I don’t gamble, don’t have time for the few shows I’d like to see and having witnessed the ‘ladies of the night’ going home after a hard days night by the cruel harsh light of the desert’s dawn there is surprisingly little to do there. At least the food and drink has made vast improvements, for a long time it was “bud, coors and gallo” and endless buffets – all serving the same bland food catering to middle America.

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