Mourning the Loss of Nextel and Its Push-to-Talk Feature for Event Staff

By Ted Kruckel June 4, 2012, 1:20 PM EDT

Photo: Courtesy of Motorola

Chirp! The announcement last week that Sprint would discontinue its Nextel service in June 2013 sent a shudder through me and other control freaks throughout the world.

When it launched, the genius of Nextel for event producers was its push-to-talk feature. No dialing. Not even speed dialing. You just pushed the button and you were heard. No more clunky walkie-talkies!

Thinking I was the only one who found the news of Nextel's demise astonishing and devastating, I got three calls from event pals who remembered its magic and wanted to grieve with friends.

Way before anyone tweeted, the Nextel chirp was the instant messager of its time, only with real voices.

You could change the groups: If you were stretched thin traveling with two colleagues—say in Aspen at the Food & Wine Festival—and you had only one colleague with you and 20 different events where you had to show up, schmooze media, or escort someone around (I did this for four years with then-publisher Julie McGowan, my good friend, who passed away in May), Nextel gave you the feeling that you could instantly stop and change and send someone on to the next gathering with the gift bags or whatever.

If you had a big team, Nextel was the throbbing heart of the whole operation. I had 10 or so employees for Oscar Week, and we had Cadillac, our sponsor, shuffling around celebrities to get them jewelry and free clothes—and the instant speed of Nextel was the secret. An endless day and night of zillions of chirps would go like this: Chirp! Where was Julia Robert's bracelet going? Chirp! Sting arriving a L'Hermitage Hotel, who has his laptop? Chirp! Sharon Stone on the way, hide the furs! But finally the Nextels would all go quiet around 2 a.m., like tired birds after a long day of scavenging for survival.

Then, after a few hours sleep, first one bird would peep alone at, say, 6:30 a.m.; then, a few minutes later, a reply. After 10 chirps or so, the whole team—regardless of their state of dishevelment from their previous night's behavior (best not to ask)—would have chimed in with their grumpy location, and the nonsense started all over again.

The chirp could not be ignored. Something about that sound stopped everyone in their tracks: the hand unit was to be paid attention to.

I don't remember all the signal problems that people talked about when the news came out, and Sprint is going to offer some sort of CDMA version of push-to-talk, but I can't see it taking off the way Nextel did. Nobody wants to actually talk to anyone anymore. Just text. Chirp! Sigh.

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