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Off the Beaten Path: Times Have Changed Since 1981

Raise your hand if you remember these goodies!

The year 1981 was a good one. Besides graduating from high school, it marked the end of my first year working part-time in commercial radio at WJER.

Back then, we used Schafer automation systems, reel to reels, carousel cart machines, cart decks and turntables. We had EBS alerts (not EAS). The only competition for ears was other radio stations and a few Walkman portable cassette players. TV only had a relatively few satellite channels to compete with. And on pop radio, we were hearing Kim Carnes, Rick Springfield, Hall & Oates and others.

That year, 37 years ago, the NAB held its convention where it is this year, in Las Vegas. But the location may be one of the few things that remain about the same. This page features some of the pics from manufacturers promoting their “new” gear for NAB Show ’81.

That year, there were about 450 exhibitors (compared to 1,700 this year); and you had 32 “floor hours” to peruse the halls which included a much smaller South Hall, East Hall and North Hall (no “Central Hall” by name).

Vincent Wasilewski was president of the National Association of Broadcasters — and Bob Hope was the guest for the Wednesday luncheon.

Questions broadcasters were asking themselves in 1981 included:

· What does radio need to do to compete in the market of the future?

· What will pay TV and growing cable abilities do to impact local TV?

· How will satellite distribution affect local news?

· How will new technology impact radio and TV stations?

· What will be the FCC and the government’s positions on 9 kHz, AM stereo, DBS, and low-power television?

We know some of the answers but are asking all sorts of new questions, with new names like IP, internet and streaming now in the mix.

As we reflect back on these past decades, it’s amazing to consider the changes in radio, ownership and the NAB Show itself.

The North Hall was pretty much all radio back then. Manufacturers included Harris, Comark, Broadcast Electronics, as well as Pacific Recorders, Russco, Micro-Trak and Capital Magnetics.

Here’s a list of some other companies exhibiting in the North Hall in 1981. How many have you heard of? How many are still in business?

AEG Telefunken, Allied Tower, Ampro/Scully, Arrakis, Audiotronics, Autogram, Belar, Bogner, CCA, Century 21, Computer Concepts, Comrex, Continental Electronics, CSI, IGM Communications, International Tapetronics (ITC), Lexicon, Logitek, LPB, Marti, McCurdy Radio, MCI, McMartin, Nagra Recorders, Nortronics, Orban Associates, Potomac Instruments, ProCart, QEI, Ramko Research, Shively, Sintronic, Studer Revox, TFT, UMC Electronics, US Tape, Varian, Versa Count, and Wilkinson

As our industry continues its evolution, gear will change, as will competition and even future group owners.