Gordon Smith addressed broadcast executives around the country Tuesday during NAB’s State Leadership Conference. The text of his remarks is below.
The president/CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters highlighted its lobbying efforts on issues such as allowing stations to “fairly negotiate” for their local news content with big tech companies; opposing proposals to alter the tax treatment of advertising expenses; and supporting legislation to reinstate the diversity tax certificate.
He recalled how difficult the early months of the pandemic were, when “our own world seemed like it was collapsing around us,” and his pride in how broadcasters responded. Smith also talked about his plan to retire from a full-time role, and praised his soon-to-be- successor, Curtis LeGeyt.
He spoke online during the virtual event (watch the video here). Acting Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel also addressed attendees and thanked broadcasters for their work in educating the public during the pandemic (watch here).
Here is the text of Smith’s remarks as provided by NAB:
As I was preparing for my remarks to you today, I thought back to the last time we were all together in person — February of 2020, for this very event. We were feeling victorious from several notable policy wins in 2019. We had ensured legislation permanently ending the perpetual cycle of STELAR, and we were well on our way to securing a majority of Congress as cosponsors of the Local Radio Freedom Act.
At that time, we were starting to hear stories about COVID-19, but we were still a few weeks away from seeing our world, as we knew it, come to a grinding halt.
And that’s why last year’s SLC has a special place in my heart. It was the last time we were together in person.
But then, as we all know too well, the pandemic creeped into our lives…like a dark fog that pervaded everything, pushing our businesses and industry to the brink of catastrophe, of survivability.
And, I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the narrative of broadcasters’ journey over the past year to a movie, a 1946 holiday classic, my family and I often watch over the holidays, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
I’m sure many of you have seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” starring Jimmy Stewart in the role of struggling businessman George Bailey. If you haven’t, it’s well worth your time watching, but here’s a quick summary.
George Bailey is a good man who sacrifices the dreams of his youth to take over his father’s struggling savings and loan business in the small town of Bedford Falls. But one Christmas Eve he becomes despondent over misplacing an $8,000 loan and the possible impact of that on his family and business. Things began to spiral out of his control and he faces arrest…and a taint on his reputation as an upstanding citizen.
He regrets some of the choices he has made in his life, but then his guardian angel shows him what his town would have looked like if had he never been born. Because of the choices he made throughout his life, he was rewarded with a loving family, great friends and strong ties to his community. And in the end, his community rallied around him and came up with the money to save his business. His community made everything right again.
I see the parallels of this movie to the beginning of 2020. Our legislative victories made us known as a force to be reckoned with on Capitol Hill.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, smashing our economics and livelihood…and just like George Bailey’s world, our own world seemed like it was collapsing around us.
And all of us at NAB felt the impact…all of our plans…our new building…if and when to hold our NAB Show…how to keep our staff safe… so much seemed to be out of our control.
We saw our members struggle to stay financially afloat. We felt their pain and empathized with the very difficult decisions they had to make.
But then, like the citizens of Bedford Falls, our members and our state broadcast associations rallied to work with us in support of our industry. While serving as a lifeline to our communities, we confronted the pandemic with strength and unity.
NAB focused its energy on fighting for much needed COVID-19 stimulus relief to help stations as they surmounted many challenges to continue their operations.
And local broadcasters across the country took on the mission of serving their communities with renewed energy to be there for their listeners and viewers during their greatest time of need.
Our industry overcame great financial obstacles to help our communities endure many difficult days, providing a source of comfort, hope and connection as we were required to distance ourselves from friends, family and colleagues.
Local stations have provided around-the-clock coverage on important COVID-19 updates, conducting in-depth reports and fighting misinformation to keep our communities safe.
As if a global pandemic was not enough, the summer brought increased turmoil for our nation, civil unrest and protests over social injustice and inequality, a fractious election, attacks on our democracy and on our First Amendment rights. Through it all, broadcasters were there to be the reassuring voice and to report the facts — they brought the stories taking place in cities across the country into our living rooms, despite the danger, they personally may have faced on the scene. Their resolve to bring truth to light could not be broken.
We ended last year with a major victory on Capitol Hill, ensuring COVID-19 stimulus relief for all broadcasters, including expansion of Paycheck Protection loans. And we secured regulatory relief, resulting in several extensions of deadlines, clarifications and exceptions to existing rules and policies that were beneficial to many stations.
And now, with the widespread deployment of the COVID-19 vaccine, local stations are sharing important information with America’s diverse and rural communities. Brighter days are certainly ahead of us and I can’t help but feel optimistic about what lies ahead for our industry and communities.
With local stations doing all that they can to encourage their communities to get vaccinated…the “life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands” as Winston Churchill once put it.
And if we can take a page out of George Bailey’s story…we can take comfort in the choices we have made to fulfill our mission as broadcasters and continue our work towards a winning path.
All of you are part of this brighter, better future for our industry. That is why we are immensely grateful for your participation in SLC. I know you’ve heard me say this before, but it bears repeating — each and every one of you can truly make a difference in our advocacy efforts.
As a former senator, I know how important it is for you to take your messages to members of Congress. And though you can’t meet with your legislators in person, what you say to your members, even virtually, still carries great weight.
You have all been in the trenches during this very difficult year…witnessing the challenges within your communities, while enduring financial difficulties and health concerns yourself. So, you are the ones who can really educate your representatives about the issues critical to your businesses.
Like George Bailey, all of you have at your core an overarching focus to serve the public good. I am grateful for the courage, conviction and commitment to making our world a better place every day.
And know this…your advocacy team at NAB is always hard at work to take on your fight so that you can always be there to support your communities.
We are sending a strong message to policymakers that we are focused on the issues that impact our industry.
That message includes garnering bipartisan support of the Local Radio Freedom Act, which opposes a performance tax on local stations and recognizes the critical role local radio plays in every community.
It includes urging legislators to cosponsor the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act to allow stations to fairly negotiate for their local news content as the overwhelming power of big tech threatens Americans’ access to quality journalism. We greatly appreciate Sen. Cantwell’s leadership on support for local journalism and look forward to working with her and others in Congress on this issue.
Our message also includes stopping proposals to alter the tax treatment of advertising expenses, including for specific types of products. This would ultimately make advertising more expensive for small businesses, threaten local jobs and have a devastating impact on local stations that rely on advertising revenue to survive — all during a post-pandemic economic recovery.
Finally, we are urging Congress to support legislation to reinstate the diversity tax certificate to ensure station owners are as diverse as the communities they serve. I enjoyed my conversation about this issue yesterday with Congressman G.K. Butterfield, who introduced this legislation in the House of Representatives.
You will hear more about our policy priorities during the Government Relations and Legal briefings later today, but I appreciate this opportunity to thank you for joining us today and for your willingness to help advocate our issues. Delivering a unified message to Capitol Hill is what makes us successful.
We can’t wait to reunite with you in person at NAB Show this October — as well as the Sales and Management Television Exchange and Radio Show all taking place in Las Vegas the same week.
There, we can continue to talk about the exciting future that lies before our industry and the opportunities we are prepared to seize.
Now, as you know, at the end of this year I plan to transition to an advisory role with NAB. It has been a tremendous honor and privilege to serve as president and CEO of this organization. But it’s time for me to spend more time with my grandchildren, return to my pea-picking roots in Oregon and continue to serve my church as a lay-minister. But this is not goodbye as we will still continue our work together for years to come.
I know that our industry will continue to achieve great success under the strong leadership of Curtis LeGeyt as the next NAB president and CEO. He is the right man for the job, and this is the right time for him to take the reins.
Working in the trenches with all of you these past 12 years, we have traversed the darkest valleys and reached the pinnacles of many victories.
All of you have made a profound effect on me, in my heart and soul. Just like you, my heart will always beat as a broadcaster. I will cherish the time we have spent together fighting battles for the sake of this great industry we all care so much about.
Indeed, it has been a wonderful life with all of you by my side.