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EAS, Localism Among Pilot’s D.C. Event Highlights

Broadcasters of tomorrow will still have today’s mission of public service, presenters say

Broadcast technology may be evolving constantly, but radio and television have a consistent goal of public service. That was a message to policymakers of a “Broadcast Innovations” event on Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington Wednesday, produced by Pilot, the recently renamed tech arm of the National Association of Broadcasters.

“Broadcasters are true public servants,” said emcee and News4 anchor Jim Handly, opening the program held at the Newseum’s Knight Center. “I’m proud to call myself a broadcaster.”

NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith then stepped up to the podium, recalling his time on the Senate Commerce Committee and his early introductions to the world of telecommunications. Smith said officials from mobile companies frequently dropped by with new and innovative devices and recalled being encouraged by then-Major Leader Tom DeLay to rely heavily on his BlackBerry. However, 9/11 and the 2011 earthquake both demonstrated the fragility of mobile networks. He realized that “broadcast transmission, though discovered long ago … was the lifeline of the American people.”

When Smith was home in Oregon and wished to address his constituents, he too turned to local television and radio to get his message out. “Everyone wants our content. Everyone wants our spectrum,” he said of broadcasters. “But no one else can do what we do: localism, live and free.”

During a presentation about the Olympics, Handly reported that 173 million Americans watched the games on broadcast television. NAB Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Sam Matheny then sat down with NBCUniversal’s Glen Reitmeier to discuss how the broadcaster handled Olympics coverage.

During a panel called “The New Broadcasters,” NextRadio President Paul Brenner told moderator Diana Marszalek that the NextRadio app and FM chip technology epitomize the broadcaster’s “live, local and free” motto. He emphasized its utility during disasters, getting out important information and distributing emergency alerts. Brenner said an October update to NextRadio will marry the app more closely with emergency alerting capabilities. He also said the FM chip provides a platform that can substitute for streaming at smaller stations that can no longer afford new Coyright Royalty Board rates.

Asked what he would want lawmakers to take away from the presentation, Brenner said those “inside the Beltway” need to think about the “legacy uses of broadcast technology” and also make it available to people.

Next up was Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., who was introduced by Smith as a former broadcaster who “has forgotten more about broadcasting than I’ll ever know.” Walden assured attendees that he is regular contact with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler regarding the spectrum repack and says he consistently advocates to mitigate the auction’s negative impact on broadcasters. He also said that he uses NewsOn — an app introduced in “The New Broadcasters” panel — to stay in touch with those at home, and he praised Jeff Smulyan’s efforts at Emmis with NextRadio and the FM chip. He took note that broadcast innovations touted at the conference were gaining traction without a federal mandate.

Walden offered this word of encouragement to broadcasters: “You all were both wireless and digital before it was really popular. You know how to do this.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) offered remarks, in which he highlighted the importance of local broadcasters and the NAB to the people of the state.

During a final panel titled “The Future of Localism,” CBS Radio Philadelphia’s Steve Butler discussed how stations in his cluster employ HD Radio multicasts to cover “hyper-local: news, features and events that might otherwise slip through the cracks. He cited a “Popecast” HD2 channel that broadcast during Pope Francis’ visit to Philadelphia as a prime example of how this technology can be utilized, noting that he was able to sell the channel to five advertisers, generating additional revenue with no extra cost. He also said the modern radio reporter knows that covering a story means shooting video, creating a podcast, writing an article and more.

The ATSC 3.0 standard was a theme throughout the event, with repeated emphasis put on the necessity of its FCC approval. After the panels and remarks concluded, attendees could get up-close-and-personal with some of the technology highlighted by the panelists including AWARN and NextRadio.

A reception offered access to one of the Newseum’s roof decks, which provided great views of the city — and a site for a drone demonstration, normally prohibited in the district. The NAB was granted special permission from the FAA to fly drones in a cage.

In addition to the demos, attendees had the opportunity for a photo and meet-and-greet with eight-time Olympic gold medalist Allison Schmitt, who spoke with Handly about her swimming career, Olympic memories and her passion for helping those with mental illness.