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Publication Date: 02/1/2010
Archive >  February 2010 Issue >  Tech-Op-Ed > 

The "Last" Winter CES
Walter Salm, Editor
It was a bitter, cold January, 1977 in New York; I had gone as far as I could with my monthly magazine, and was steeling myself for the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago, a fairly small show, held in the convention area of the Conrad Hilton Hotel. I needed to chill out after my frantic work schedule, so instead of flying, I boarded the Broadway Limited (Penn-Central, pre-Amtrak), ensconced myself in a roomette with a good book, and settled in for the 22-hour voyage. This was before notebook computers, and before cell phones, so I could really isolate, or so I thought. It wasn't about to happen; there were other technology journalists on the train, and I knew most of them. It was so cold that several water pipes on the train burst, so the dining car's dishwashing machine was inoperative. We ate from plasticware, as we watched the blizzard-like conditions on the other side of the windows.

My job at the CES: work as a reporter for the Show Daily, published by my employer, involving a horrendous rush of interviews on the Show floor, running back to our workroom in the hotel, writing at a frantic pace on a rented IBM typewriter, and hoping my byline would appear on Page One the next day. There were two annual CE Shows in those days — both in Chicago. The one in June was at McCormick Place, a time when it was usually uncomfortably warm — and this smaller post-Christmas show when it was typically quite cold. This particular January was colder than usual. Chicago's wind-chill was -65°F (-54°C), and fully one-half of the Conrad Hilton had no heat! I was lucky; my room was in the half where the heat was working. Standing in the lobby required wearing a heavy winter overcoat, and every time someone used the revolving door, a new blast of winter came into the building.

The show was poorly attended; I think the weather had a lot to do with it, and people there were more concerned about the cold than about the exhibits. The EIA Show Board had a serious meeting during that week, and I fully expected them to cancel any future editions of the January Show. I was surprised and pleased when they decided instead to move the Show to Las Vegas, and the rest is history. Today, the CE Show in January is the largest, most successful electronics trade show in the U.S., typically drawing over 250,000 visitors from all levels of electronics distribution and sales. It sprawls all over the Strip using all of the enormous Convention Center, and the convention areas of at least a half-dozen hotels. Somewhere along the way, the June Show was canceled, making the January Show even more important. It also acts as a replacement for the long-defunct Comdex computer shows which had been getting quite large over the years.

In those days, the CE Show, still a baby in Las Vegas, was part of my regular beat; you could actually park your car in the Convention Center's free parking lot! Now there is no parking lot; the space is all taken up by expanded Convention Center facilities, and the best way to travel to the Show is to leave the rental car at your hotel and use the monorail — the Las Vegas attempt to introduce effective mass transit. Four years ago, my 40-plus son convinced me that I should really get two press passes for the CES and we could work the show together. The show was far more than he had anticipated, and it wore him out. It wore me out, too, but I gleaned several stories and some photos that we used in subsequent issues of U.S. Tech.

Now that another huge CES is history, we have an idea of what to expect in the electronics marketplace for the coming year. After all, consumer electronics is the driving force for our industry, and this show is one of the engines that fuel its growth.  

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