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Joe Bocchiaro: AV Living Legends #48

Published: April 29, 2024
Photo courtesy: Joe Bocchiaro

Commercial Integrator’s #AVLivingLegends initiative is meant to celebrate and honor our industry’s biggest contributors. With this series, we hope to spotlight the difference-makers and world-changers who move among us. This week, CI celebrates Joseph (Joe) Bocchiaro III, PhD, CTS-D, CTS-I, CStd, ISF-C as the 48th inductee in this ongoing series.

After nine years as a principal consultant with NV5 Engineering & Technology, Bocchiaro entered retirement from a lifelong career in the audiovisual/building technologies industry. He has worked in the technology side of building design and systems integration for more 30 years, primarily with audiovisual/IT systems. Bocchiaro was also VP of standards and industry innovations for InfoComm International (now AVIXA). All this helps explain why he is, indeed, the perfect choice for Commercial Integrator’s #AVLivingLegends series.

In this exclusive interview, Bocchiaro offers a detailed recollection of his journey in the AV industry and expresses his gratitude for all the mentors he encountered along the way. Enjoy this in-depth conversation with Joe Bocchiaro!

And if you’d like to read even more coverage relating to our #AVLivingLegends, like Joe Bocchiaro, check out our hub page. It includes direct links to every living legend!

Commercial Integrator: What motivated you to join the commercial AV industry?

Joe Bocchiaro: Like many people, I was not aware that there was such a thing as the “AV Industry.” I had grown up running tape recorders and film, slide and filmstrip projectors in grammar school. I studied piano and clarinet, made audio tapes and movies, had a photography darkroom, and loved media and the technology. In high school, I was an actor and the photo editor of the newspaper and yearbook. At University of Rochester, I studied Electro-Optics, Film and Music, and became a SMPTE member. After some years working in the laser and optical sciences industries, I went back to grad school and studied Media Studies at The New School for Social Research. I loved the intersection of art and technology, but did not know where it would lead me.

After graduation, at an industry trade show, I met George Snell from New Jersey, who built large-venue overhead projectors and did systems integration in New York City. He told me about the AV industry, and I was intrigued. This was in 1986, and we did not have a lot of AV tech in those days besides sound systems and analog visual presentations. Charles Rodriguez of AV Services hired me as his senior engineer to replace Bill Fitzsimmons, who had started FSR with Charlie and Jan Sandri. And that’s how the whirlwind began — hundreds of AV systems for a spectrum of clients. Charlie and Bill’s biggest client was IBM, and I was needed for my expertise with computers and computer graphics. I felt like I was a part of something big and growing, and was drawn into a lifetime of imagination and innovation.

Commercial Integrator: What has kept you motivated and engaged in the decades that followed?

Joe Bocchiaro: I have often told people that unless you thrive on chaos and change, you should not be in the AV industry! We all know this — we are constantly evolving our own technologies while adopting others. We adapt to the visions of artists and architects, develop higher quality formats and hone our capabilities. I have enjoyed this rapid evolution and am happy to have been a part in shaping it, particularly the AV/IT convergence. I realized early on that AV is not just about the cool tech and shiny toys; it is about being a part of the A/E/C (architectural/engineering/construction) industry.

My early involvement in corporate training and higher-education projects led me to a deep dive into the psychology of teaching and learning. I pursued my PhD in Educational Technology while working on fascinating projects in this arena, where I truly wanted to utilize AV technologies to help my clients realize their objectives. It has always been about my clients and their aspirations — collaborating with brilliant people to develop excellent venues. This openness to change led me to pioneering projects in AV for boardrooms, courtrooms, trading floors, houses of worship and higher education.

Commercial Integrator: Reflect on your role as both a mentee early in your career and as a mentor later in your career. Who helped shape the trajectory of your professional life? How have you tried to help shape others’ careers?

Joe Bocchiaro: I was fortunate to have a mother who was a school teacher, religious education coordinator, and later, a principal who needed help with audiovisual tech. She drew me into helping with all the AV stuff, including developing original content. My father was a “hi-fi buff” who built Heathkits and had all sorts of hobbyist equipment. He loved big band music and introduced me to jazz and classical music. He played piano for fun and sent me to piano and clarinet lessons. My uncle Leo was a botanist who introduced me to high-quality photography, as he was always photographing nature and creating high-quality prints.

In high school, I had an innovative English teacher team that included my dear friend Fr. Paul Naumann, who introduced me to “multimedia” and was my drama coach/director. A turning point was in college was when I started as a dual Electrical Engineering / Music major. In Freshman Year, I studied under Rudolph Kingslake and Richard Gollin. Dr. Kingslake introduced me to the engineering principals behind optical instruments, and Dr. Gollin got me excited about cinematology and cinematography. I ended up changing both of my majors because of them!

My transition from graduate school to the AV industry was through Sherry Leibowitz of JP Morgan’s corporate television studio, and Paul Levinson with his startup company CONNECT-ED. FSR’s Bill Fitzsimmons spent many hours with me in his electronics lab as we developed the components needed to realize the vision of IBM’s Harold Horowitz and the IBM ATC: Advanced Technology Classroom. Hal would become a great mentor, who encouraged me to pursue my PhD in Educational Technology. Later on, Sam George of SG&A and Steve Rausch of Walsh-Lowe guided me through the transition from AV integrator to AV consultant.

Finally, I would not be where I am today without the support of Pete Weiss, David Silverman, and Dan Ferrisi, formerly of Sound & Communications journal, who encouraged me to write features and columns that they published through almost 30 years. Through the years, I have had the privilege of mentoring countless people in the AV field, and as a Scoutmaster and music director. I wouldn’t know where to begin to name them all, and I have always tried to impart encouragement and wisdom along the way.

Commercial Integrator: What’s the most memorable story/anecdote of your career in commercial AV?

Joe Bocchiaro: There are so many stories! A most gratifying day was in Korea, where I had worked for three months in Seoul on the Samsung headquarters as the AV project manager. I had worked with my team to try to think through every possible scenario of what we might encounter, and what tools and equipment we would need there. We had one chance to pack everything for the $17M project into a shipping container. One item was a Milwaukee Supersawzall. In the U.S, we would never need this as electricians would use these tools. However, it was critical for our Korean project, and when I used it to cut conduits, I had a fascinated audience of Korean electricians. When we finished the project, I gifted it to Han, the Head Electrician, who had never seen one before and was very appreciative!

It is so gratifying to build bridges across cultures. We had worked together for months and were never able to communicate very well due to the language difference, but the language of AV and construction got us through!

Commercial Integrator: What has been your greatest professional accomplishment to date?

Joe Bocchiaro: I had been an AV integrator and an AV consultant for 18 years, and was elected Chair of the ICAT Council, the “Independent Consultants in AV Technology” group within InfoComm International (now AVIXA). This was a board position, which allowed me the opportunity to provide leadership for some very meaningful organizational initiatives. During this time, I was recruited to the InfoComm staff by Terry Freisenborg as a senior instructor.

After about two years, the board decided to start an Audiovisual Standards program. Randy Lemke, then the executive director, tapped me to lead this. It was a very exciting time, and I knew nothing about standards, like most AV pros then. Within one year, after extensive research, networking, outreach, and organization, I was able to establish InfoComm as an Accredited ANSI Standards Developer (ASD). I started with a small group of volunteers, and later with my wonderful staff, this grew to over 750 people in eight years, contributing to a myriad of standards topics. This program has blossomed and continued, and I am proud of the impact it has had on our industry and our status as a credible profession.

The opportunity to collaborate with affiliated professions such as architecture, lighting, security, intelligent buildings, live events and others is especially gratifying. The opportunities to contribute to the built environment sustainability movement continues to be rewarding, as I am still teaching these topics at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

Commercial Integrator: What has been your biggest professional regret to date?

Joe Bocchiaro: My AV journey took me to 17 countries on six continents. Wherever I went, I tried to spend an extra day or two to sightsee or visit family. It was a great joy to meet people from around the world on bus day trips or city walks. My regret is that I didn’t do even more of this; for instance, when in China I could have stayed longer to see the Great Wall, or when in India, to see the Taj Mahal. I thought that I would be back again some day as I travelled so much, but it was never enough. I had to get back to work and family.

My advice is to make the best of every business trip; make it an adventure. You might not pass that way again.

Commercial Integrator: What’s the best advice or pearl of wisdom you either received during your career or came to realize on your own?

Joe Bocchiaro: John O’Brien, of Montclair State University, attended a seminar of mine at an InfoComm conference while I was an AV Consultant. I didn’t know him, but he introduced himself later that evening. He said that he had really enjoyed the class, thought that I was a good instructor, and suggested that I should do more teaching. Besides being incredibly flattered, it got me to thinking, and I realized that I did really enjoy teaching. Soon thereafter, Melissa Taggert of InfoComm encouraged me to join the staff as an instructor. John and I became friends, and he became a super volunteer in the InfoComm Standards community.

John’s life-changing encouragement to pursue what I had yet to realize within me led to the second half of my career in the AV industry, which blended design, management and mentorship of countless people. So my advice is always be open to new opportunities to expand your horizons — you never know what direction this could take you to!


Would you also like to nominate a peer or colleague — or perhaps yourself!  in this #AVLivingLegends series just like Joe Bocchiaro? If so, just email Dan Ferrisi, group editor, commercial and security, Emerald, at dan.ferrisi@emeraldx.com.

Posted in: Insights

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