For the broadcasting and content production community, the cancellation of the March 12 National Association of Broadcaster Show due to the global Coronavirus pandemic did not come as a surprise, even while they’ve been accustomed to making that yearly trip to Las Vegas. This is not the first time that the NAB, a major trade show, had been canceled.

It was in 1923 when the show convened for the first time, just less than three years after the beginning of the radio broadcast era. Since then, the show has managed to remain unscathed even during the “Great Depression” in 1930, and continued well after the United States entered World War II.

A closer look at the NAB Show history shows that there are little irregularities with their meeting dates and venues, with some meetings held as early as February and as late as November, in locales such as Cincinnati, San Francisco, St. Louis, Cleveland, and Chicago.

In 1944, when wartime contingencies forced manufacturing to focus on items needed for the war, it took a toll on many industries, including broadcast. Engineers who used to design transmitters and studio gear who were not drafted into military service began working on radar and military communications.

Vacuum tubes, transformers, and other electronic components became increasingly difficult to obtain as manufacturers prioritized assembling products for defense. The engineering and other departments of broadcast stations were severely understaffed due to the mass draft, which only exempted individuals that were too old or deemed physically unfit for military service.

By the end of the third full year of U.S. engagement in the war, with more and more people in Broadcasting involved in the war in one way or another, and the lack of innovations in the broadcasting field, it’s easy to speculate that attendance to the NAB Show was declining.


But the hardest blow that the NAB show had to take was the U.S government’s nationwide ban on meeting or other events attended by more than 50 persons who lived outside the locale where the meeting or event was held. The goal of the ban was to make sure there were enough hotel rooms, seats on trains and buses for the people from the military and defense industry.

The ban, which was issued by James F. Byrnes, the head of the Office of War Mobilization, was the lead story of the Broadcasting (now Broadcasting & Cable) magazine on their February 5, 1945 issue, four days after the ban took effect.

According to the report, the ban had come during a regional conference of NAB in Salt Lake City, where 68 people attended, so the ban was not really unexpected. In response to the ban and compliance to the government directive, J. Harold Ryan, then NAB President, released a statement to announce the cancellation of the NAB annual convention that usually took place during late spring and attended by over 1000 people.

The article that appeared on the Broadcasting magazine stated that the 1945 ban applied to all “trade shows, exhibits, conferences, assemblies, and conventions, including those of industrial, commercial, labor, fraternal, social, professional, religious, civic, [and] governmental organizations.”

Colonel J. Monroe Johnson, director of the government’s Office of Defense Transportation and chairman of the War Committee on Conventions, said of the ban “The yardstick used to measure the essentiality of any meeting is how the winning of the two wars we are now fighting will be impeded if the meeting in question were held to an attendance of 50 or canceled outright.”

In October of 1946, the NAB’s annual show resumed in full vigor with an attendance of 2,000. That time, along with the staple AM radio broadcasting show that the attendees have enjoyed in the show for many years, they also heard a lot of post-war information on FM and television.