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Friday, July 25, 2014

Kent Audio Visual adapts to changing times, technology

By Joe Stumpe
Eagle correspondent

Like most companies approaching a 40th birthday, Kent Audio Visual has changed with the times.

Started as Kent Business Systems in 1973, the company initially handled devices such as Dictaphones and calculators.

Today it sells, rents, services and operates the latest audio visual equipment, with customers ranging from families throwing birthday parties to Intrust Bank Arena.

One example of the company’s versatility came during the Wichita Chamber of Commerce’s annual Honors Night celebration last month at Beech Activity Center.

Not only did Kent run the audio visual equipment it had earlier installed in the center, it also produced the video segments featuring the Chamber’s honorees.

Between handling projectors and big screens, microphones, mixing boards and an intercom system to keep everything coordinated, “You’re really putting a TV studio into a building for a day,” Kent general manager John Bazzelle said.

Kent has been owned since 1975 by Ron Bowring, whose son Dave is the sales manager. Ron Bowring has turned over most day-to-day operations to others, Bazzelle said, but “it’s still a family company and he’s extensively involved.”

The company’s push into more sophisticated technology began when it installed recording equipment in courtrooms across Kansas. For years, one of its hallmarks was acquiring the newest technology before other companies – sometimes including local TV stations – could get their hands on it.

“That’s getting tougher and tougher to do as technology becomes more inexpensive and readily available,” Bazzelle said.

Another big change is a reflection of changes in area companies: fewer big conferences and other events, largely as a result of the aviation industry’s shrinkage here.

Fortunately for Kent, that’s been offset by an increase in the number of small companies that use audio visual equipment. Most of Kent’s work is in Wichita and the surrounding area. Bowring was formerly an investor in the Dallas-based J&S Audio Visual, which operates in several states.

In addition to one-time events, Kent installs and services equipment that businesses use on a daily basis, often after companies find their own IT departments aren’t equipped to handle the job.

“They’ll say, ‘Our IT department put in a projector, and it doesn’t do what we want it to do,’ ” Bazzelle said. “We do a lot of retrofitting.”

Kent has contracts to provide in-house audio visual services for several local hotels. In March, Kent won a contract to provide technical services to SMG, which operates Intrust Bank Arena. In addition to maintaining 105 TV screens and in-house audio and video systems, such as the scoreboard used for the Wichita Thunder hockey team, Kent works with touring acts.

“Every show that comes in is a collaborative effort between the house and road crew,” Bazzelle said. “They need somebody who’s savvy enough to know what they need without having to ask for it.”

Showing again that Kent is able and willing to adapt to the circumstances and the times.

“It’s a great job,” Bazzelle said.

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