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Dan’s Big Guide to Las Vegas

Let Dan Slentz prepare you for the upcoming NAB Show in Las Vegas

Here we are, just days away from the 2019 NAB Show. As I’ve done each year, I build on all my other former NAB blogs to create a new “what you need to know for NAB.” For me, this is NAB #29, and I’m still excited about the show.

First thing to know is this looks to the last NAB Show with a Thursday exhibit day. Yes, after many years of a Monday through Thursday exhibit floor, they’ve moved to a Sunday through Wednesday show floor event. If you didn’t catch it, Paul McLane has written about this change.

There will still be the shuttle buses, overcharged-for-convention center food and drinks, and sore feet. After attending so many shows, I’m always very appreciative of the amount of work (and money) that manufacturers invest in this show (thus making it possible). This IS the BIG show for the U.S. broadcaster and many international broadcasters as well!

I enjoy seeing so many familiar faces and friends from the past (from engineers, old co-workers, to manufacturers), and making new friends is always welcomed too. If you are new to the NAB convention, I’d say the best part of the show is the contacts you make within the industry. Sure, you’ll learn a LOT about the “latest & greatest” gear, but one year later you’ll be learning about all the NEW “latest & greatest.” But the contacts and friends you make will be there year after year!

For me personally, I’m looking at both radio, and the upcoming 4K/UHD video systems as I’m in the process of a $3.5 million upgrade to all-4K at New World Center (for the New World Symphony). I’ll be running around, getting sore feet, but having great time in “nerd heaven”!

I’ve already been planning my show and need to point out for those who are returning that there are some changes which occurred last year worth recalling. Some of the events at the event rooms/ballrooms between the North Hall and the Westgate (AKA formerly the Las Vegas “Elvis” Hilton), have moved into a space in the North Hall, and it’s now called the Main Stage. That, in itself, was a major change.

Many of the radio equipment manufacturers are centralizing in the North Hall. The remainder of the North Hall building has a mix of media management, some TV gear manufacturers along with specialty pavilions like Sprockit, the Startup Loft and the Futures Park. With the main stage eating up a quarter chunk of the North Hall (where it was last year), it seems that many of the TV gear folks have moved over to the South Hall.  Unlike last year, expect South Hall to be full of manufacturers, and that’s both the upper and lower floors!

As I said, this is my 29th consecutive NAB Show and they’ve all been in Las Vegas since I started attending. There have been so many changes over the years. Vegas is constantly in transition, so new casinos and hotels are up, while some (many) that were in Vegas in 1990 have been demolished or (significantly) remodeled. Monte Carlo is now MGM Park and fully remodeled. There’s always so much to see … and Vegas is a “world” constantly in change.

The convention itself has changed in many ways. At one time, seeing a computer by itself or standalone software was more of a rarity. Solutions to broadcasting were nearly all based on hardware, so there were a lot of physical “products” and a lot of variety to how they appeared. Then there were things called “tape recorders” that were analog, and later on new “digital tape recorders” of both the audio and video variety. Radio used reel-to-reel models, turntables, EBS equipment (now, of course, EAS), in addition to these crazy things called “cart machines” full of fun parts like pinch rollers, capstans with problems like phase/azimuth issues. Ah, the “good old days”!

TV solutions were generally “bigger” while usually doing less and along the way there was a new thing that they were talking about called “High Definition TV.” Rumors were going around about radio maybe going digital and in 5.1. There was no word in 1990 about streaming radio because it was simply impossible to get any quality when you dialed up your provider at 14,400 bps and heard that familiar “answer and screeching” before the sound muted on the modem.

In the TV world, it was tubes, tubes and more tubes but now the talk is of 4K/UHD with 8K around the corner. Japan’s NHK started 2019 by showing a 70 mm transfer of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and HDR (High Dynamic Range) is now a thing.

Many years ago, the convention center could no longer hold the NAB Show, so they moved part of it to the Sands Convention Center. That required more “bus time” (and lost time) shuttling between the Sands and the convention center. Then the South Hall was added, and now we see SU and SL (South Upper and Lower) on our maps.

There’s now talk of a “subway” to run from the farthest end of the South Hall to the planned new addition across Paradise Road, in the parking lot where the old Landmark Hotel was and stretching over to the backlot of where the Riviera used to be.

We saw the addition of the monorail years ago and it has come to be a great way to get to the LVCC. If you are at a hotel on the east side of the strip where the monorail runs from the MGM up through the Westgate (or, for “old timers” the old Hilton) to the SLS or, for “old timers” the old Sahara). Still waiting and hoping that eventually Vegas loops both sides of The Strip with the monorail.

Over the years, many dignitaries and celebrities have come and gone to the show. I’ve “stumbled across” people like Gary “Radar” Burghoff to Sherman “George Jefferson” Hemsley. Many friends have passed away or moved on to other career fields. A lot of old engineers decided to “get out of the rat race,” while many others saw new opportunities in radio and TV. But the NAB convention remains a great time to learn and grow and a great time to catch up with old friends and make new friends!

So whether a new person to the NAB Show or an “old timer,” here’s a look at some new things around Vegas and some things worth knowing about the convention and Las Vegas. Stay tuned in the middle of the links for my list of things you should REALLY know about the convention. The list grows every year. If you’ve gone to the show less than, say, five times, it might be of real benefit to read this.

Firstly, if you’ve been to Las Vegas before, you know it’s a city constantly changing so it pays to do a little research on the new things. Here’s one link with “the Cliff’s Notes.” And here is more information.

Packing Your Suitcase

This is funny, but I had never seen “a good way to pack your suitcase” video before until I saw this one and thought it looked like a good way.

And here is another person using the same method (with the Benny Hill “Yackety Sax” background music).

Fly Healthy

Flying to Las Vegas (or anywhere) is always a little bit of an experience. From the friendly TSA agents wanting to make sure “everything is good,” to the “cattle car” (AKA flying coach in a plane). WebMD has some great advice for traveling to stay healthy while being cramped up next to the sneezing, hacking person and the crying baby.

Speaking of TSA Agents

From Business Insider, here are 12 tips that can get you through the airport a little faster.

Things I’ve Learned:

Now for this short pause from the links as I share “the secrets” to having a much better NAB convention (at least the things I’ve found over the past 28 years):

Wear Comfortable Shoes!

You will walk … and walk … and walk some more in Las Vegas. And everything looks a LOT closer to you than it really is! Especially if you are on The Strip and see a hotel or casino “just down the road.” Warning! It isn’t “just” down the road.

A couple of years ago I stayed downtown and thought “that’s an easy walk” to the convention center. Rookie mistake. It ISN’T!

Be Prepared for Peddlers and “Hawkers”

The good Las Vegas weather allows for a lot of people to solicit for money or push “cards” (I say cards because anyone who has been on The Strip know what these are … but for the most part, you probably do not want these cards!) I just say, “No thanks” and walk by. As for the peddlers or panhandlers, what I can tell you is what a friend told me who works feeding the poor and hungry. If you truly want to help, donate to organizations that help these people. Handing them money often supports “needs” other than food or housing.

Big City Safety

Be aware of your surroundings. There are lots of international travelers who are confused, lots of panhandlers, some “unstable” people and even some unscrupulous people in Las Vegas. Be aware of people around you, especially away from the convention center or on The Strip. Keep bags or purses with strap from one shoulder to your opposite side (making it harder to grab and run). Keep bags zipped up and close by.

Turn your wallet sideways in your back pocket or keep it in a front pocket. There are pickpockets in any big city and Las Vegas is no different. Keep track of credit cards and watch them around taxi drivers and people who might take them from your sight while scanning them. About 10 years ago a driver used an old mechanical machine claiming his electronic wouldn’t work and within hours my credit card was used in Louisiana — while I was still in Vegas!

Keep your senses and never let yourself partake of the partying aspect to the point where you no longer are in control (you’ll see plenty of people doing that). Don’t get me wrong that it’s dangerous and unsafe, but it is a big city with a lot of tourists and you just need to be aware.

Sign Up for “Players Clubs” and Rewards Programs

If you drop money in “one-armed bandits,” don’t do it unless you sign up for the casino rewards programs. I know many people are smart enough NOT to do this (I’m not one of them), but at least know you may potentially get some benefit from your losses. I usually get a free meal or a discounted/free room on my next visit.

Also, wherever you stay, don’t have to walk away an “unsatisfied customer.” If something is not up to your expectations or liking, they often will make it right (like a discount or free room on the next visit). This IS Vegas, and they are experts in the “hospitality business.” There are a lot of choices, and they prefer you stay with them.

One thing I repeat is avoid telling them “I’m here for the convention.” The reason is conventioneers spend less time and money on gambling, and that’s the customer they want! I don’t lie, but I say “I’m here with a lot of my friends all having a good time.” Okay, mildly stretching the truth, but it makes the casino/hotels more interested in making sure you’ll be back to THEIR casino/hotel next time.

Don’t Sit at a Bar and Let a Chatty Person of the Opposite Sex Sit Next to You and Become Your “Friend”

One year a nice enough lady spent 20 minutes next to me talking up a storm at Quark’s Bar at the old Star Trek Experience in the former Las Vegas Hilton (Yes, I’m a nerd). Had a nice enough time talking to her (this was before there was a Mrs. Slentz, of course). When I went to leave, I found out the bartender had dropped her tab onto mine (Yes, scammed!). Chalk this up to “live & learn.”

Spiffs & Floor Freebies

Companies used to give away a lot more of these things 20 years ago, but look around for these things and grab some for home, work, your significant other, or kids. My wife and daughters always have fun going through the “bags of goodies” on my return. (And thanks to the companies that still “find it in their hearts” to give away little trinkets.)

Show Planning

Prior to the show, many people (myself included) make appointments and plan to visit particular manufacturers on the “floor” of the massive Las Vegas Convention Center. It’s actually several “floors.” Look carefully at where they’re located. Schedule appointments or visit manufacturers who are close to each other on the floor. There’s nothing worse than doing this haphazardly where you have a 9 a.m. appointment in the North Hall, then a 10 a.m. in South Lower, then back to the North Hall at 11. You’ll get the point. (*See above “Wear Comfortable Shoes”)

Make Friends and Get to Know Manufacturers

I almost hate to have to say this, but this is the best opportunity to forge great relationships with the people on the floor selling the gear that you use or want to use. I can’t begin to count the number of friends I’ve made over the years. They’ll be lifesavers when you need help with gear or have questions, and some of the friendships will last many, many years (even as some manufacturer’s reps move to selling gear with other companies). Oh, and have sympathy for them since they’re on their feet the whole time and stuck in one place. For me (and those of us attending and not showing), the convention is a little less work and probably a lot more fun than it is for the good people working the booths.

Dress for the Day

Vegas nights can get cool. Just watch the weather forecast and be sure to keep in mind that you might be still out after dark and walking around. It gets cool in the desert at night. And I wouldn’t worry too much about rain. In my nearly 30 years, I think it’s only rained a little maybe on two days. And only one year was it actually cool (and windy!) most of the week. Otherwise the weather is great! Again … just do a little preplanning and check the weather before you start your day.

Oh … and between the constant air conditioning in the hotels and convention center, and the fact that you are in the desert, plan for dry skin and dry lips. Bring Chapstick and some sort of hand lotion. Many hotels provide a travel-size bottle of hand lotion as part of their bathroom offerings. Grab it and put it into your pocket when you leave the room in the morning. Vegas’ April weather generally runs in the upper 70s to low 80s, though the direct sun can be much warmer. At night it can get quite chilly with a temperature in the mid to upper 50s.

Be Prepared

If you were a Boy Scout or in the military, this may be second nature … If you do a lot of walking (after the show), there seems to be a lot of bees … so those with sting allergies shouldn’t forget their EpiPens, etc. And pack all the necessities like antacids, pain relievers, Band-Aids, etc. They can get expensive buying them at the convention center, in hotel gift shops or off of carts.

If You Aren’t Prepared

Know that anything you buy in the casinos or hotels is more expensive than a regular store, much less a store back home. There are drug stores on The Strip where you’ll find the things you’ve forgotten at a much better price than in hotels and casinos. Same thing with cash. Avoid the casino ATMs as the fees are terribly high. Use your “Boy/Girl Scout” skills and BE PREPARED!

So these things are just a few of the most basic tips I can provide to those new to the NAB Convention or Vegas. Have fun and enjoy a great show and wonderful learning opportunity!

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming …

Vegas Weather

After many trips to Las Vegas for the NAB Show, as previously mentioned, it’s generally pretty nice weather. If you’re coming from Ohio, it’s going to be a LOT nicer (probably), but coming from Miami, you’ll find similar temperatures but a major lack of any humidity. For the week of the NAB (4/6 through 4/11/19), the weather calls for highs in the mid to upper 70s (a little cooler on Saturday 4/6 at 73 degrees), with the nighttime chilling down to about 51 degrees. So heading out in the morning, it will be chilly. Then by the time you leave the Las Vegas Convention Center, expect it to be hot (81 degrees on Thursday 4/11). But if you’re attending an after-hours party, it can be chilly if “you’re hoofing it” after sunset. In the years I’ve been there, the most notable thing is the wind. It sometimes really picks up. And if it’s evening or the temps haven’t gone up, it cuts through you. As for rain, in 28 years and as previously mentioned, I only remember two days with some rain. You’re not very likely to get wet … but you never know. You really do need a medium to light jacket after sunset. Also keep in mind that the hotels and casinos sometimes run things on the cold side with their air conditioning. Keep this Accuweather link handy.

Vegas for the Solo Traveler

If you don’t happen to be traveling with co-workers or friends in Las Vegas, there are still a lot of options on things to do without being in a big group. Of course, there are a LOT of show opportunities to meet with other broadcasters and manufacturers so grab those opportunities when you can. But if you are looking for some things to do for the “solo traveler,” here are some ideas from Esquire.

Solo Safety

I’m originally from a small town in Ohio. Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to live in places like Madrid, Denver and now Miami, so I’m pretty aware of how to stay safe in big cities (though, to avoid jinxing myself, you still must always be aware of your surroundings). If you are traveling solo, take time to review this information of staying safe.

LOTS to Eat in Vegas

There are a lot of great places to eat in Sin City. From the all-u-can eat places in about every casino to the big names in cooking. I found a few worth mentioning. First, I’m not a big steak fan, but The Steak House in Circus Circus deserves mentioning. It’s been voted “the best steak in Vegas” for 30 years … and there’s a good reason. There wasn’t a scrap of steak left on the plate. Just incredible. Sure, Circus Circus isn’t the top destination for many, but you’re missing the best steak ever if you don’t visit The Steak House.

Further on down the strip, Aria has their buffet. As a big fan of Alaskan snow crab legs, I’ve got to mention that this place is beautiful and the food is awesome. As opposed to MGM, where they serve snow crabs on ice, Aria has them steamed hot with lots of butter. Delicious!

If you’ve ever watched “Hell’s Kitchen” on TV, you’ve seen Chef Gordon Ramsay. I discovered the Yorkshire ale batter fish & chips at his Pub & Grill inside of Caesar’s Palace is awesome and the service is really good! On the flip side, it’s on the expensive side at about $30.

And when I worked for Hubbard Broadcasting, Mr. Hubbard liked the Hash House A Go Go inside the Linq hotel and casino (formerly the Imperial Palace). If you’re hungry, bring a BIG appetite. I’m not kidding when I say I really think a family of four could easily eat the food delivered on just one plate. They call this “Twisted Farm Food.” Another awesome choice!

Old Vegas Pics
Here are some pics of the original Flamingo (a la Bugsy). This website, vintage Las Vegas has lots and lots of great photos from Vegas’ history (since most gets demolished).

Vegas Trivia

Las Vegas is certainly an interesting place. If you don’t have the ability to go to another planet, it’s probably the closest thing to being in another world. Here are a few websites with some interesting Vegas facts (note that a few are out-of-date on some information …).

34 Things First-Time Visitors Need To Know About Las Vegas

50 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Las Vegas

Vegas Legal

From Ladah Law in Las Vegas comes “The Best of the Best in Vegas.” It’s their round-up of places worth knowing or checking out. There is also a section half way down the page on the “Worst that Could Happen in Vegas” which shows some unfortunate accidents (where legal services were presumably needed). Keep in mind that this is a legal firm and it’s part of their business and note that this is not an endorsement for any company or business by myself, Radio World, or Future, Inc., but just provided as a story link since it contains some useful information. The “worst of” is an interesting combination of links to unfortunate events that happened in Vegas to individuals. In addition to events like the ones listed, there are other tragic stories like the MGM fire (now Bally’s Las Vegas) in 1980 and the terrible shooting last year during a concert. These should serve to remind you to be aware of your surroundings and know how to escape and what to do in the event of an emergency. Even as a young Airman in the U.S. Air Force in the mid-1980s, overseas we were taught to always be aware of our surroundings and have some sort of escape plan in the event of an emergency. Remember, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.”

And Finally … Shows, Shows, Shows!

Hey, “This is Vegas, baby!” There are so many excellent shows that you should really try to see one (or two). You can find show discounts, hit Vegas show “discount stands,” or show up at the box office just before showtime for better pricing.  ’ve seen everything from “Starlight Express,” “EFX Alive” (now “KA,” which I’ve also seen), “Zumanity,” “The Beatles Love” (STILL my all-time favorite).

This is not an endorsement of this or any company, but with most shows, if you get “last minute tickets” (and not from people standing on the street but at the box office or legit sellers), you can get substantial discounts for shows (as it’s better to sell a cheap seat than leave the seat empty). I work with a fellow who worked for Cirque du Soleil and has friends who work on “The Beatles Love” show. He’s the one who mentioned this particular ticket dealer as a good way to get discounted tickets (and I’ve ignored these ticket brokers for years … go figure!) My friend did say that it’s a little bit of a hassle as you still need to go to the box office even after you get the tickets through the broker, but he said “for the good 40% discount, it’s worth the extra little effort.” But like anything I find, I’d invite you to do your own research and check into these.

So, have fun, learn a lot, stay safe, and remember that the Vegas nickname is Lost Wages for a reason. Be smart about “dropping nickels in the ‘one-armed’ bandits”!

If you have any post-show info you think is worth passing along next year, please let me know. My email address is [email protected].

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