My First NAB Show: A Look at the Past

The calm before the storm. The curtains are just about to go up on the 1980 NAB Show.The calm before the storm. The curtains are just about to go up on the 1980 NAB Show.

None of us like to admit to getting long in the tooth, but my first NAB Show was the last time it was held in Washington, D.C. (For a number of years the show rotated between Chicago and D.C.) For those of you who weren’t there — at the last D.C. show, that is — the year was 1977, which marked the 55th show.

The city didn’t have a convention center back then, so the NAB event was spread over three hotels with shuttle buses connecting attendees with the exhibits and events. The thing was huge; at least from my prospective then. I’d seen my share of TV and radio gear before, but I was the proverbial kid in the candy store. I felt as if I’d died and gone straight to broadcast equipment heaven!

So what was NAB Show like almost 40 years ago? For starters, far and away the largest exhibitors were Ampex and RCA (who?), just as had been the case for a number of years. The really hot thing was a new videotape format: 1-inch.

Sony, which was beginning to make serious inroads in the broadcast equipment area, showcased their brand-new BVH- 1000 machine. Ampex took the wraps off their VPR-1. Bosch-Fernseh was there also with the BCN-50. The video being shown was in every way comparable (or better) to that produced by the industry standard 2-inch quadruplex machines being exhibited by Ampex and RCA, and there was gossip on the floor that quad’s days were numbered.

This was part of the scene at the 1947 NAB Show. TV was still in its infancy and an unproven quantity. Exhibitors such as RCA were trying to get some buy-in for the new medium with exhibits such as this one, which included a shiny new remote truck bound for Baltimore’s WBAL-TV.

This was part of the scene at the 1947 NAB Show. TV was still in its infancy and an unproven quantity. Exhibitors such as RCA were trying to get some buy-in for the new medium with exhibits such as this one, which included a shiny new remote truck bound for Baltimore’s WBAL-TV.

However, Ampex had announced an editing accessory for their newest quad, the AVR-2, which was quite prominent in their booth, and RCA was touting super-high-band operation for their TR-600A quad.

ENG was just getting a toe-hold, with a number of “compact portable color cameras” from the likes of Ikegami, Sony, JVC, Thomson- CSF and RCA. This was cutting-edge stuff, especially when compared to the big studio color cameras we’d been dealing with. However, by today’s standards, they would be called clunky and big. (Prices weren’t exactly cheap, with most selling for between $30K and $50K — between $117K and $195K in today’s money.)

Even though ENG was getting a lot of attention, Kodak was at the show touting their latest 16mm color film for newsgathering. It had an exposure index of 400 ASA and could be pushed to 1,600 in processing if needed to provide usable pictures with as little as five foot-candles of light.

The 1977 show was not all sweetness and light, though. The nearly 13,000 attendees completely swamped Washington hostelry, with a good number of people unable to get rooms anywhere in the area at any cost.

Luckily, the NAB had already scheduled the 1978 show for Las Vegas. After Vegas, it went on to play Dallas in 1979 and was held there for a number of years. I did all of the Dallas NABs and remember them as great shows held at a convention center that could accommodate everything under one roof.

Unfortunately (like the last D.C. show), the number of hotel rooms near the Dallas Convention Center were woefully inadequate to accommodate the number of attendees, so it took 30 minutes or longer on shuttle buses for most of us to reach accommodations in outlying hotels and motels.

Now, here we are in Las Vegas again (and have been for many years) with more than 100,000 attendees, plenty of hotel rooms, a greatly expanded show floor and conferences that evolve with the industry.

NAB Show is at the top of the list during the calendar year for broadcast-related events. It’s an opportunity to check out all the latest equipment and technologies; a chance to sit in on some really informative seminars. For many of us who have been attending the show for a number of years, it’s also an opportunity to meet with many, many old friends, some of whom have retired but still can’t get the coax and flashing lights out of our systems.