NAB Shows of Days Gone By

This weekend I’m traveling by car to perhaps my 33rd NAB Show. I say perhaps because I’ve been going since 1983 but missed a couple and lost count.

At the 1983 convention in Las Vegas, I was less “kid in a candy store” and more “deer in the headlights.” I didn’t know how to dress–everyone in those days wore coats and ties. And I didn’t know how to behave–I ranted to Microtime about visible ringing on their video framestore product output instead of just discussing it calmly with their support department.

Jack Williams
Jack Williams with the new ABX mixer at the 1984 NAB Convention

All of the exhibitors in 1983 fit into what is now known as the Central Hall. In the front part of the hall as you entered were the two largest exhibitors, RCA and Ampex. Right behind them was up-and-coming Sony, showing their excellent 1″ reel-to-reel videotape machines, portable ENG cameras and U-matic cassette decks for both field and studio applications. JVC, the Japan Victor Company, coincidentally the company RCA Victor started in Japan, occupies the booth space RCA occupied in 1983.

The next year, 1984, was my hands down favorite. I had joined Pacific Recorders & Engineering (later called Pacific Research & Engineering, then purchased by Harris and folded into the GatesAir spinoff), so arrived as an exhibitor. Company owner Jack Williams and the product engineers had designed and built the ABX mixer that introduced a multi-track production room capability into the lineup, and it was a really well-designed system.

Jack borrowed from his old buddies at Capitol Records a tape full of multitrack masters of Beach Boy songs to demonstrate the multitrack capabilities of the mixer. We set-up a fully-functioning studio, with big JBL speakers and an MCI 8-track tape deck. I was in charge of the demo studio wiring design and checkout.

During final tests, Jack noticed the speakers were out-of-phase. We checked the wiring, tracing all of the wires involved until we suspected the problem might be with the speakers themselves. Jack took a D-cell battery and wired to the terminals of one of the JBL speakers to see which way the woofer moved. Sure enough, one of the speakers moved forward and the other rearward, so one was wired wrong at the factory. No problem–we just reversed the input leads on one and the system was ready.

Jack loved to treat his installation, engineering, and sales crews with big dinners at Battista’s Hole-in-the-Wall, a fun Italian bistro down the street. An accordion player would circulate while we feasted on pasta, pizza, and wine. Many of us were young and would stay up late giving our money to the local casinos.

Jack was a determined competitor. He and I arrived Monday morning at 6:30 AM and we went to the booths of Auditronics and ITC to see what they were showing. gingerly lifting any fabric covering the new products to take a photo or two and see if there were any new features.

During exhibition hours, we would play Beach Boy cuts, bringing up separately different voices and instruments while watching the eyes of those watching to see if they figured out that we had the 8-track master. We entertained the top radio executives from ABC, CBS, Greater Media, and RKO, whose mouths gaped as they figured out the improbability of what was happening.

I still marvel at the technological leaps I see every year–we’ve come so far. But I love most catching up with old friends, colleagues, and vendors, including each and every one of you.

I hope to see Jack and his wife Ellyn again this year.