The 2010 Radio Show was an interesting event. I say interesting because it was not exactly like previous NAB Radio Shows. Now that the event is a joint effort with the RAB, the format has been adjusted somewhat.
The big changes
The convention was held in a hotel, not a convention center. The Radio Show has been held in hotels before (San Diego, Austin), but unfortunately, the Washington Grand Hyatt was not set up well to accommodate the convention events. Signage was not very good. When I arrived, I had no idea where to go. Once I found the registration desk (two floors below the lobby) I had to ask where the exhibit hall was located. The exhibits (called the Marketplace) were another floor down. And that was down a long escalator.
The session rooms were around the Marketplace. Four session rooms were supposed to be entered through the Marketplace. The idea was to draw attendees through the exhibits as they entered and exited sessions. The other sessions room was across from the Marketplace entrance.
The idea of drawing attendees through the Marketplace has merit, except those sessions were predominantly sales, management and programming sessions. Most of the attendees at these sessions had little interest in the exhibits and simply walked through.
The exhibits themselves were set on tabletops. No booths. Four tables were arranged in a box. The aisles between tables were no more than six feet wide. I think the intent was that exhibitors would stand behind their tables (inside the box) and attendees would stand in the aisles. In reality, most exhibitors stood in the aisles as well, which further crowded the space.
A big change for attendees is that the only way to get into any convention area you had to purchase a convention registration, which cost at least $450. I heard from some exhibitors that they had to purchase additional badges for their booth workers as well.
With no free exhibits-only passes, the organizers excluded most engineers from the region from attending. While the desire of the NAB and RAB was to attract a qualified audience, this move also excluded most regional engineers from dropping in for the day to see what equipment was being shown.
And there was little actual equipment being shown because of the table-top layout.
The cost for the exhibitors was also rather expensive when compared to other regional broadcast conferences. Some exhibitors told me their cost per square foot was higher than the spring NAB convention. And even if you consider the exhibit costs are not for space rental but for access to an audience, the number of technical and engineering attendees was so low that the cost per potential lead was excessively high. Many exhibitors sais they could have spent less to fly to a couple of cities in the area and host a private dinner for less. And by hosting the dinner they would have had an exclusive audience.
Another way to describe the economics of the convention: A regional convention at national convention rates.
Near the end of the convention, several attendees were invited share their views with representatives of the NAB and RAB. Honest opinions were given, and questions were raised about the sensibilities of continuing a fall NAB convention. The NAB said that this issue has been debated, and that the radio members continue to support the need for a radio-only event.
I agree that there are advantages to holding a radio-specific event. Radio is easily overshadowed at the spring convention, particularly with the NAB’s efforts to expand the convention into all areas of electronic media. And I can understand how the owners, sales, programming and station management personnel can support this. It’s important for the technical staff to be involved in these areas of station operations, but unfortunately, while a station finds it easy to pay for the station manager, sales manager and program director to attend, paying to send the engineer appears to be a low priority.
As the convention came to a close, it was noted that the NAB is very close to completing an agreement to hold the convention in Chicago in 2011 at the Grand Hyatt. Moving the convention to a new region has the advantage to attract new attendees, but unless some changes are made to encourage attendance and improve the opportunities for exhibitors, the fall Radio Show may continue its slow demise.