McLane on: A Remarkably Different Mood at the Show

Judging by comments I've heard from many quarters while I walked the floor here in Las Vegas, radio engineers will have more money to spend this year on their RF and studio plants.

By all accounts, the cap-ex situation for engineers and managers over the past year and a half has been severe, but 2010 is looking much better.

Not that money spigots are stuck wide open; big companies with big debts, in particular, are still likely to be stingy this year (I heard from one reliable vendor source that the cutback in cap-ex spending at Clear Channel in particular is breathtaking, even while CC has managed to cut dealer markup on many of the products it is buying to low single digits).

Yet, the next day, I talked to a high-level engineering exec at another top-five radio group, and he told me that budgets were “back to normal” as of January, and there are quite a lot of RF projects in the pipe. The outlook could change as the year goes along, of course; but at his group, projects are definitely getting the green light right now.

Meanwhile, all across the NAB Show floor, manufacturers were smiling about their first quarter performance and about what they’re hearing from broadcast customers. “Upbeat.” “Much improved.” “Turned a corner.” These are phrases many vendors used to describe not only convention attendance but their business outlook for 2010. (Attendance is estimated at 88,000, up around 6%. I do keep myself at arm’s length from NAB’s unaudited convention attendance numbers, and anyway the radio portion of the gathering is always much smaller; but the reported delta in attendance feels right, and unquestionably the radio floor was busier.) The move to the Central Hall also was great for radio, making us feel like we’re part of the show.

Again, I caution that everything is relative — as financial analysts like to say, our industry has weak comps to compare against right now — but man, the tone among people I talk to is so much more positive than a year ago, and indeed in recent memory.

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