On Labor Day afternoon, I received the sad news from Gary Shapiro and Jeff Joseph of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) that Jack Wayman, former head of the group and founder of International CES, passed away on Saturday. He was 92.
A few of us found out that Jack was ill and in hospice care during the first few days of June. Those were usually the days, from the late 1960s until the mid-1990s, when the consumer electronics industry and media began to attend his creation, the Consumer Electronics Show.
Jack was more than the head of what is now the CEA, more than just the creator of what has become the largest technology convention in the world, International CES, which at one point was two shows: Summer CES in Chicago and Winter CES in Las Vegas.
Jack was the ringmaster of the CE industry — show promoter, salesman, lobbyist, dealmaker, media maestro — and so much more.
He helped create and expand the definition of what “consumer electronics” means, and with CES, built a big tent to include any and all companies and products that had anything to do with CE to come first to New York, later to Chicago and finally to Las Vegas to show their wares.
Through his work at CEA and the development of CES, Jack helped launch more companies, more technologies and more careers than anyone I’ve ever heard of. That’s why CE execs for generations have always held him with such admiration and respect for the ways he helped the industry and the people who work in it, many times in the media or behind the scenes.
I know he helped one career, namely mine. I first attended Winter CES in 1982, which I consider to be the beginning of my career in covering the CE industry.
I was attending for a monthly toy trade magazine and the big CE products for that industry back then were video games, children’s videocassettes and handheld games.
After that show my publisher wanted to start a quarterly publication called “Electronics For Kids,” and it was my first shot at being an editor. It was a one-person staff — yours truly — with a couple of freelancers.
At Winter CES I quickly found out who Jack Wayman was and how good it would be for my new quarterly to get an interview with him for our issue which would debut that June in Chicago.
I called his office to see about setting up an interview, and he acted like he knew me forever. Jack immediately said yes and added, “Why don’t we do it a half-hour before our Tavern On The Green party next week?”
For years, CEA had an informal cocktail party for the media, exhibitors and association staffers in New York to promote the Winter and Summer shows a few weeks before each event.
It was a warm late afternoon in April when Jack greeted me, took me outside to a table right near the glass atrium where the party was to begin, and I began to ask questions.
Well, established members of the CE press corps saw Jack, and came by to say hello and ask questions. Jack didn’t really know my publication, or who I was except I was covering the toy industry I guess, but he waved each one off saying, “Not now, can’t you see I’m being interviewed by Steve?” Jack made a commitment to give me a half-hour, and kept it and in the process made me feel like I was an established CE reporter. I’ll never forget it.
A couple of years later, I joined Home Furnishings Daily, and he congratulated me that I had joined such a good trade paper. Jack was everywhere. He was in the audience the first time I hosted an industry roundtable on the blank-tape category and complimented my meager effort, and, as always, had more than a couple of news tips.
By the time I joined TWICE in 1993, Jack was CEA’s media spokesman. I sometimes interviewed him about plans for media tours nationwide, and he was a fixture at CES and all CEA events.
When the 2000s rolled around, Jack may have had a more limited media spokesman schedule, but I’d see him several times a year and go up to him to shake hands and he’d give me his typical, “How you doin’ baby?” in what only can be described as a Southern-accented New York drawl.
Jack began to take pictures at various industry events around that time. In fact, when I received the ADL National Electronics & Appliance Industry’s Torch of Liberty award, there was Jack, taking video of yours truly and fellow honoree and his successor at CEA, Gary Shapiro.
Here he was, the “pied piper” of the CE industry, who helped create and promote it more than just about anyone else, being my personal videographer — and Gary’s — on that special night.
In late June, a few of us got an email from CEA with Jack’s cellphone number, inviting us call him. He’d pick up if he was able to talk, the instructions said. I got lucky because even though he was in pain, Jack took my call.
I didn’t know how to start off, but I mentioned to him that I was moving from my full-time role as editor in chief of TWICE to become editor at large and write some books. Jack typically got excited and said, “You know the centennial of the industry is coming up in 2017 and we need to write a book (his emphasis) about the industry!”
And he got on a roll. “It should be called ‘A Century of CE, Its People & Its Products.’ It should be a CEA book, but not written by Gary, or me … it should be written by multiple writers about the industry’s history!”
That book may be written at some point. But without Jack around, it is going to be a lot less fun to write. And any book about the CE industry will have to have more than a couple of chapters about this man.
Up until the end, Jack took still pictures at industry events and mailed them to me. I found a note attached to one of the pictures recently, with “Keep the Faith” in his handwriting.
Of course I will. We all have to because, as Gary said about him at his 90th birthday party in 2012, “very few industries have a Jack Wayman.”
We were lucky to have him for a long as we did. Rest in peace, old friend.