The NAB deserves credit for bringing the fall Radio Show to Philadelphia. Folks in the Middle Atlantic and Northeast say it’s about time; they’ve not had a major radio convention in their backyards for more than a decade.
Now those managers should put their feet where their mouths are and go to the show. Unfortunately the attendance trend has been discouraging, no matter where the event has been held.
Turnout has been on the decline – from 7,680 in San Francisco in 2000, to 5,227 in New Orleans the next year, to 3,983 in Seattle in 2002. (These figures include everyone, not just fully paid registrants.)
That was a drop of 48 percent in the span of two years. Indeed, the high point of 2000 was an exception; setting that year aside, attendance has been dropping since at least 1997.
A spokesman last year said NAB was pleased with the 2002 turnout given the economy, post-9/11 travel concerns and the demise of the X-Stream component of the show. We suspect, however, that no one inside NAB is happy about this trend.
Radio World certainly is not, for we believe radio deserves its own convention. Yet market forces are relentless; and this trend is a direct consequence of consolidation, in our view. One owner with 100 stations will not invest the same time and money in sending his or her people to conventions as 50 or 100 separate owners would have.
Recall also that the NAB board last winter instructed its staff to look into partnerships and other ways to improve the show experience. Officials at NAB know why people come to this convention: networking is a top priority, as well as learning about the effects of current issues on their jobs and businesses, new products and conference topics.
We wish for more fresh content for technical attendees. Still, the exhibits are always worthwhile. NAB’s tweaks to the session and exhibit floor system should help generate traffic. Big-name executives and talk radio talent will be a draw.
(We find it amusing that Infinity and ABC/Disney are no longer NAB members, yet these groups will allow the likes of Joel Hollander and Sean Hannity to take part as panelists.)
The fall Radio Show can and should remain a part of our radio landscape. As we’ve stated before, the expectations for what constitutes a successful show must be reset. A session — heavy event with 10 — by-10 booths and a few thousand attendees is still a useful convention. And we are happy to hear one NAB radio executive say, “It is imperative to us that the NAB Radio Show continues to succeed.”
But radio managers must still make a point of supporting it. At some point, the falling numbers and the presumably increasing cost will force NAB to ask, “Is this really worth it?”