By Holland Cooke
LAS VEGAS — Like so many of the big conferences only Las Vegas can host, this month’s NAB convention was canceled. But I went anyway. The trip turned into a mini-vacation, since my wife had taken a couple workdays off to join me here post-convention, and we had show tickets.
And what I am witnessing here is a profound glimpse into that New Normal we’ve been wondering about.
Humans are displaced
Nowhere in America got hit harder by the shutdown than ‘Vegas, a story that local radio’s Heidi Harris and John Schaffer helped me report on my TV show. Sin City’s last hurrah pre-pandemic was the January 2020 Consumer Electronics Show we covered, before The Strip went dark.
Back to the future: I was curious to see what I would find here nearly two years later. Las Vegas WOULD fix this…somehow. But how?
Dismayed by the way radio keeps cutting-back, I am impressed to see how – JUST as revenue abruptly tanked – Las Vegas invested so heavily, in hardware.
- Pre-pandemic convention trips began with a different, often wearying, hotel check-in experience. Long lines snaked around the lobby. As much as 15 minutes later, an affable smartly-uniformed desk clerk warmly welcomed you and moved briskly through a process that was personal/one-off. Now, they’re gone, and a row of kiosks gets you your keys and directions to the room in a fraction of the time. No touching.
- Dinner at The Palm was a convention staple. When the NAB lured so many of my clients to the same place, I’d round ‘em up for thick drinks and stiff steaks, spending enough that The Palm loyalty program bought me a free lobster every year on my birthday. Apparently that caught up with ‘em. The Palm restaurant is still there, but the company collapsed, selling-out to restaurant conglomerate Landry’s. Those career Palm servers – real characters — are gone; and last night’s young waitress, two months on the job, confided that she’s on Medicaid. “We’re not union, no benefits.”
- Casino acreage is wholly depopulated. Table games are scarce, replaced by huge curved-screen video slot machines. When you do find a live game, it’s higher-minimum than pre-pandemic; though fake blackjack and fake roulette and fake craps games are lower-entry. Felt tabletops are replaced by felt-tabletop-looking video screens. Rather than sitting around a traditional roulette wheel, players sit – apart from the dealer and each other – placing wagers on individual screens, while a virtual wheel spins. Zzz…
- Even management ranks are thinner. With fewer dealers and table players to surveille, fewer nosy pit bosses hover. Fewer waitresses still bring around free drinks, less often.
- Harrah’s big show is the late Whitney Houston’s concert HOLOGRAM.
This is not just a Las Vegas story
Because SO much money flows through this place, life here is the epitome – the on-steroids version – of life where we live, back in the real world. Every day, in dozens of ways, our listeners and advertisers are adapting.
As pleased as I was to see ‘Vegas rebounding, I found it less fun. Gone is that unwind at the end of a long convention day, sharing drinks around a blackjack table with happy strangers for an hour, high-fiving each other when someone hit 21. We were chatted-up by the dealer whose repartee now reminds me of the local DJs being automated out of work.
Even before you arrive, there’s buzzkill. Flight attendants politely nag about masks, passenger resistance fueled by the shameless media narrative. And coming from radio, this hit a nerve: In my youth, I was a DJ, a human who made a living playing recorded music. Today, most FM broadcast hours are automated. And pictured at right is the package from one of my inflight snacks…
Holland Cooke is the author of the acclaimed Ebook “Multiply Your Podcast Subscribers, Without Buying Clicks,” which he shamelessly describes as “required reading for serious podcasters,” available exclusively from Talkers books (click the banner on this page). He is a consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. And HC hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT America. Follow him on Twitter @HollandCooke