The first big assignment on my first “real” job, as assistant editor of High Fidelity Trade News was to cover the 1970 Consumer Electronics Show at the Hilton Hotel in New York City. I was expected to wander around the show and ask what’s new, take some pictures, shake some hands, and kiss the behinds of the advertisers who made my glamorous $115-per-week job possible.
As a “trade magazine” that offered free subscriptions to hi-fi dealers, our only source of revenue was advertising from the companies that made hi-fi equipment, so it was vital that every actual and potential advertiser was given the impression that they were VERY IMPORTANT to us.
The real boss of the magazine was not the editor or publisher, but Ken the ad manager; and he directed a steady stream of reporters, editors and photographers to the booths, press conferences and “hospitality suites” of each company.
We had an intense rivalry with another trade publication, Audio Times; and it was important to provide more editorial coverage of important advertisers than they did—or at least create the appearance of doing so.
Our editorial staff actually consisted of Jay the editor and me, and a couple of freelancers who would write for anyone for a nickel or a dime per word.
For important events, we were augmented by shills. At one press conference we had two real editorial people, plus the production manager making believe he was a reporter, and an ad guy making believe he was a photographer. He flashed his strobe light at dramatic moments, but there was no film in his camera.
There was a lot going on in electronics in 1970.
Cassettes were challenging both 8-track and open-reel tapes. Open-reel monochrome video tape recorders were being marketed for home use, and several companies had battery-powered portables. Pre-recorded video was starting. Direct-drive and linear-tracking turntables were attracting attention. Different varieties of Quadraphonic Sound were competing for market share. Speakers were shaped like end tables, conga drums, human ears and sculpture stands.
The faceplates of audio components were shifting from silver to black. The Feds were trying to stop companies from exaggerating the number of watts coming out of amplifiers. “Console” stereos were being replaced by “compacts.” Detroit’s car radios could now be augmented or replaced with higher technology and more power. Answering machines were starting to be sold, instead of just rented by the phone companies. “Solid State” was the hot label that appeared on TVs and even lipstick.
There was a social shift along with the changes in tech-nology. This was the era when electronics makers first noticed the “youth market.” Hippies who once were thrown out of stores were now invited to spend big bucks on audio gear. Stereo equipment ads talked about rock instead of Bach.
I had invited my college buddy Dave to see CES with me. He wore a press pass, carried a camera, and acted like he belonged there. We spent about eight hours cruising the show floor, over and over and over again, with little rest and no food.
When the show closed at 5 p.m., the action shifted upstairs in the Hilton or across the street to the Hotel Americana, where the manufacturers welcomed retailers, journalists and even competitors to their hospitality suites.
In most cases, a hospitality suite was an ordinary hotel room, with the bed put in the bathtub so products could be displayed in the center of the bedroom, and a well-stocked bar.
Dave and I worked our way from one end of the Hilton to the other, and one end of the Americana to the other, stopping in dozens of suites and drinking in each one. By 10 p.m. Dave and I had probably walked 10 miles, drunk three gallons of liquor, and eaten two shrimp, a pretzel and a celery stalk.
We could barely stand up, but we were commanded to go to a party where some industry biggee was celebrating the launch of a hi-fi store franchise chain, in another hotel near the Hilton.
This event called for still more hand-shaking and strobe-flashing, a lot more drinking, and maybe a little more celery, pretzels and shrimp. I don’t remember what happened during the next few hours, but the editor said I spent some time sitting in the lobby of the hotel, embarrassing our company by reciting fake Japanese poetry, and one guy reported that I tried to crawl up Fifth Avenue, towing my camera case behind me.
I do remember waking up in a strange bedroom, with no knowledge of where I was or how I got there. The phone next to the bed had familiar letters and numbers on it, so I figured there was a pretty good chance I was in a friendly country.
After a while, my spinning head slowed down enough so I could stand up, and I noticed a door at the end of my bedroom. I walked out, and discovered I was in a hospitality suite belonging to Pickering, the phonograph cartridge company. I found another door. It led to another bedroom, and Dave was in there, starting to wake up.
Dave told me that Tom, the Pickering sales manager, had rescued us from somewhere, taken us out to eat at BrewBurger, and then got us upstairs in the Hilton and put us to bed.
It was now about 6:30 a.m. Going home was out of the question, and I had to be at my desk at 8:30. I threw some water in my face, left the hotel, and started walking, taking a very long route from 56th Street to 45th Street, and getting a little bit more sober with each step I took.
I got to work on time, and managed to type a few pages. I later ran into Tom from Pickering, and Dave called me on the phone, and we reviewed the night’s activities.
Tom said I was too drunk to walk to BrewBurger, so he and Dave had gone to eat without me. But Dave insisted that I was at the restaurant with him, when I was really in bed.