A Tradeshow Icon: Remembering CEA’s Jack Wayman

Wayman, who died earlier this month at 92, was the person who did the most to spearhead the modern Consumer Electronics Show, one of the world's most celebrated tradeshows. Here's his story.

There was nothing quite like the Consumer Electronics Show when it started more than 45 years ago.

CES, which has been the forum for the first appearances of technologies we now take for granted—the VCR, the DVD, the Xbox, and the camcorder all made their debuts there over the years—is now the kind of event that can take over the news cycle for weeks after the annual show closes.

The man who put the idea into action, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) founder and longtime CEO Jack Wayman, was there for much of it, even appearing at the show in Las Vegas with much of his extended family earlier this year. Wayman, who died September 2 at the age of 92, was one of the key figures in the rise of the tradeshow as a massive, industry-scoping event.

Jack’s contributions to our association and our industry are numerous and momentous. We stand on his shoulders.

A few ways that his impact was felt in the world of associations and tradeshows:

How CEA got its start: Wayman, who fought in Europe during World War II and spent time at RCA before joining the association trade, spent more than half a century with electronics trade groups. He started with the Electronic Industries Association (EIA) in 1963, serving as the lead figure for its consumer electronics policy. Early on, Wayman successfully fought a lingering rumor that TV radiation caused house fires. “We found that the firemen would come into homes all over the country and they’d blame the TV,” he told Variety. “[Meanwhile,] you had guys smoking in bed.” CEA launched as a spinoff of the now-defunct EIA and went independent in 1999.

The show that started a legacy: In 1967, Wayman helped launch the first edition of the Home Entertainment Show, renamed the Consumer Electronics Show in 1970. He attended the event nearly every year. The show evolved over time, starting with just 100 exhibitors and 17,000 attendees when it debuted and expanding to 3,600 exhibitors and 160,000 attendees this year. CES has outlasted much of its competition, holding its own against the Electronic Entertainment Expo and big-scale product announcements from companies such as Apple. Even as its scale expanded, the event remained relatively short in duration. “Everybody used to ask, ‘Why can’t the show be a full week?’” Wayman recalled in a 2012 article for CEA’s i3 magazine. “I said, ‘Because everybody has to go home and make a living, and fish, guests, and tradeshows smell after four days.'”

A career-defining fight: As The New York Times notes, Wayman played a key role in keeping home videotaping legal, often going toe to toe with his counterpart at the Motion Picture Association of America, Jack Valenti. “Our mission was to take the case to the Supreme Court, but we wanted to delay it until we sold enough VCRs so we had grassroots support from our dealers and consumers,” he told i3. “‘Don’t take away my VCR!’ That was our mantra.” The electronics industry famously won the VCR fight in a 1984 Supreme Court case. Wayman gave the industry a strong public face, doing as many as 500 interviews per year and helping to coin the term “consumer electronics,” which eventually became part of the front-facing name of the group.

“The consumer electronics industry has lost a legend, and, more personally, I have lost a great friend and mentor,” current CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro—the man who replaced Wayman—said in a statement earlier this month. “Jack’s contributions to our association and our industry are numerous and momentous. We stand on his shoulders.”

The association has set up a memorial page in Wayman’s honor.

Jack Wayman, right, shown with current CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro. (YouTube screenshot)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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