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Publication Date: 03/1/2012
Archive >  March 2012 Issue >  Tech-Op-Ed > 

Trade Shows: You've Got to Love Them
Walter Salm, Editor
Trade Shows. They are a driving force behind the industries they represent, and have a lot of advantages, not the least of which is to get out of the office for a few days. I've been going to them for many, many years. At some of those shows, I walked past the publications offices where I observed groups of harried-looking journalists, working feverishly to publish a trade show daily. A daily? I had to wonder what type of mentality it required to work on such a publication. It didn't take me too long to find out.

The company I worked for in the mid-1970s published among other things, show dailies for the two annual Consumer Electronics Shows in Chicago. And there I was in the midst of it, interviewing manufacturers of CB radios and car stereo systems, which were both growing at a frenetic pace.

All too soon, I was presented with the "opportunity" to do my own show daily for the brand-new Personal Communications Show in Las Vegas. The year was 1976. The whole country had gone crazy for CB radios, and here I was editor-in-chief for the PC-76 Show Daily, a high-gloss, 4-color tabloid. "PC" had not yet made it into the vocabulary as "personal computer" nor was it a "printed circuit". In 1976, it was "Personal Communications". The problem: there was not a decent 5-color rotary printing press available in all of Las Vegas (1976 population: 145,000). So we found a quality printer near the airport in Los Angeles.

We had a highly experienced staff and set up shop in a large room off the main convention floor — electric typewriters for all of us "reporters", two IBM composing machines that looked like overgrown Selectric typewriters, and two expert typesetters. Oh and a refrigerator filled with food for everyone to keep writers from wandering off before deadline time. At the ready was our art director and his staff, geared up to paste up mechanicals. Our resident photographer set up a darkroom in the bathroom of his hotel room in the Hilton. It was really tight quarters when his roommate had to take a shower.

Each day, I would run out of the Convention Center (it was a lot smaller in those days, and I was a lot younger) with a large flat box under my arm that contained the finished mechanicals, would jump into my waiting getaway car driven by one of our staffers, and head for the airport. There was no airport security in those days, and I literally ran down the corridors to catch the 4:00 p.m. Western Airlines flight for LAX, arriving out of breath and panting just as they were about to close the door. At 5:00 p.m. I was met at LAX by the printer's shop foreman who drove me (and my big flat box) to the printing plant nearby. This was a high quality printing plant, experienced in large press runs of monthlies like Playboy, Esquire, etc. They had absolutely no concept of the urgency of a show daily. They learned. And so did we.

What I do at trade shows these days is a lot less flamboyant, the technology is much more sophisticated, but my days are just as harried. There just don't seem to be enough hours in the day to see all the people that I would like to, or that I have to. At the larger shows, I have a major helper, a rented electric scooter. This is in deference to creeping arthritis and a healed but still balky right knee that I broke in Florida in January of last year. A big advantage of the scooter: I can get from one meeting to another in the exhibit hall very quickly, but have to be careful about collecting speeding tickets. It also makes it a lot easier to carry dozens of copies of U.S. Tech's show issue. And towards the end of the day, I still feel fairly fresh (as fresh as I can feel at my age!) without feeling ready to collapse.

Even though they wear me out, trade shows are forever energizing for me. There was the time that I was accompanied by a particular lady friend (it was 1972 or 73 and I was between marriages) to a trade show — the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) held in a Washington, DC hotel. I was Managing Editor of Broadcast Management Engineering. My lady friend commented that when I walked through the entry door, it was as though I had been shot out of a cannon. Whoosh! I was off and running. I had many things and people to see. That part hasn't changed for me. I still have many people and new things to see. It helps to keep me young. And I'm always afraid that I might miss something.  

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