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LeGeyt Raises the Volume on Radio

Association leader talks with Radio World about his first year on the job

As Curtis LeGeyt completes his first year as president and CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters, he and his members are assessing the policy implications from the 2022 midterms, preparing to defend against additional music royalty costs and worried about another FCC regulatory fee increase. 

LeGeyt’s first 12 months on the job saw the radio and television industry emerge from a pandemic while navigating a quickly evolving media environment. LeGeyt sets the edge for the group’s advocacy priorities on Capitol Hill. Observers say his deep knowledge of how lobbying works in Washington has made for a smooth transition from his predecessor Gordon Smith.

“The most striking thing to me in this first year,” LeGeyt said, “is the degree to which policymakers are very focused on the state of our industry. They understand the value broadcasters provide to communities. How important what broadcasters offer stands in contrast to what happens in the rest of the media landscape and in particular social media.”

He added: “Broadcast issues are not partisan. We have champions on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate.” 

LeGeyt, 44, was NAB’s chief operating officer for several years and its executive VP for government relations from 2015 to 2020. Prior to joining NAB in 2011, he was senior counsel to then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy. He and his wife Kacey reside in Washington; they have three children, Caitlin (10), Jack (8) and Desmond (5).

Radio World interviewed him in November.

Radio World: What do you see as NAB’s most important actions regarding broadcast radio in the year since you took the top job?

Curtis LeGeyt: There are a few things. We started the year with so much disruption with this Congress and what happened on Jan. 6 (2021). Being able to overcome that polarizing environment and still be able to attract a majority of lawmakers in the House and then another nearly 30 in the Senate, on both sides of the aisle, to come together in support of the Local Radio Freedom Act opposing any new royalty on local radio is a significant accomplishment. 

Then the work at the FCC to reduce their initial regulatory fee increase — which saw nearly 100 members of Congress write to the FCC to oppose the fee increase — was a significant win for local broadcasters. I’m sure that issue will be near the top to our efforts again for 2023. 

And then the bipartisan support and progress we had on the Journalism Competition Preservation Act, especially for those radio broadcasters that focus disproportionate resources on local news. It would provide some revenue from tech platforms when they are repurposing our content. That bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee just before Congress went out of session prior to the election in the fall. 

Those are the three significant wins for local radio this year. 

RW: What are the top goals for radio members going into 2023?

LeGeyt: On the advocacy side, we will remain focused and advocate against any new terrestrial performance royalty. That fight is not going away. The recording industry is investing more resources on the other side of this. They have recruited the former head of the House Democratic Caucus, Joe Crowley, to lead their MusicFirst effort, so they are not going anywhere. 

And secondly, we need to work toward legislation that ensures a level playing field between the big tech platforms and local broadcasters. We need to make sure policymakers understand the impact that big tech is having on the local advertising market. 

We understand as listeners migrate online the tremendous gatekeeping ability those platforms have, enabling us to have a direct relationship with our audiences. If they are going to repurpose our content we want to be fairly compensated for it. We will engage with lawmakers on both side of the aisle for legislation that allows broadcasters to compete with big tech. 

At the spring show, LeGeyt joined Library of American Broadcasting Foundation Co-Chairs Heidi Raphael and Jack Goodman in presenting the inaugural Insight Award to LeVar Burton, second from right, for his contributions to broadcasting, history and American culture. (Photo by Jim Peck)
At the spring show, LeGeyt joined Library of American Broadcasting Foundation Co-Chairs Heidi Raphael and Jack Goodman in presenting the inaugural Insight Award to LeVar Burton, second from right, for his contributions to broadcasting, history and American culture. (Photo by Jim Peck)

RW: Is there any reason to think the latest American Music Fairness Act to pay music performers will actually become law? The latest proposal would limit payments by small and local stations to about $500 annually. Does the idea of a capped payment for smaller broadcasters open the door at all for you on this?

LeGeyt: No. I don’t think that is a starting point. A starting point for NAB would be a proposal that looks at music royalty more holistically and provides some relief for local broadcasters on the royalties they are paying when streaming to audiences online. I think those fees are far too burdensome and I feel they are impeding innovation by local broadcasters. That is innovation that needs to happen to enable our medium to thrive. 

I think solving something holistically and creating a sustainable royalty model that allows for broadcasters to thrive in the digital space is a win-win for local broadcasting and performing artists who will benefit from more airplay on our platforms. 

But the current economics are not sustainable. So we are willing to have a conversation about what a terrestrial fee should look if it is wrapped into the larger conversation around digital. Absent that, and the current AMFA doesn’t have anything to do on digital, then it’s a non-starter. 

[Related: “Congressional Committee Moves Radio Royalty Bill Forward“]

RW: Should the Senate approve the nomination of Gigi Sohn to the FCC?

LeGeyt: We made very clear when Gigi Sohn was first nominated that we had some significant concerns involving her role with regards to some of our television issues. She since had proffered that if she is confirmed, she would recuse herself from a set of television issues. We were clear in the aftermath that given her voluntary recusal on those television issues, it satisfied the NAB’s most significant concerns with her nomination. 

RW: Do you feel that matters of importance to NAB members are being held up by lack of a fifth commissioner?

LeGeyt: We certainly think the FCC functions best when it has its full complement of commissioners. We need to give real credit to Chairwoman Rosenworcel that she has forged a very, very productive tenure with a 2–2 commission. I think the structure has taken the temperature down on some telecom issues and enabled her to focus on those places where there is bipartisan consensus and has looked pretty productive from where I sit.

Curtis LeGeyt, left, welcomed attendees to the first in-person NAB Show in three years in April. He’s with Steve Hill, CEO/president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and Mary Beth Sewald, president/CEO of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. (Photo by Jim Peck)
Curtis LeGeyt, left, welcomed attendees to the first in-person NAB Show in three years in April. He’s with Steve Hill, CEO/president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and Mary Beth Sewald, president/CEO of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. (Photo by Jim Peck)

RW: NAB has been vocal in opposing the GeoBroadcasting proposal to allow limited geotargeting on FM boosters. You’ve made policy and technical arguments against it, but geotargeting proponents say NAB also has been “savage” in its opposition, issuing “disingenuous” arguments with “out of context personal allegations” in going too far. How do you feel about those characterizations?

LeGeyt: I’m not going to get into specific adjectives, but it is fair to say we have significant concerns with the GBS proposal. Our members just don’t see geotargeting as a viable technology that will help them compete in today’s media landscape. 

RW: So NAB’s criticism of GBS co-founder Chris Devine and his business background have been fair?

LeGeyt: Yes. The record right now reflects significant concerns raised by a litany of voices across the broadcast industry. And the opposing viewpoint is what has been submitted by Mr. Devine’s company. I do think his credibility is an extremely important factor here, given the fact that he is asking the FCC to rely entirely on his company’s assertions in terms of the viability of the technology and its efficacy. 

[Related: “NAB Questions Past Business Dealings of GBS CEO“]

RW: The National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters recently reversed its stance on geotargeting and no longer supports it. Did NAB ask NABOB to change sides?

LeGeyt: No truth to that. I would love to have the ability to influence the positions of other trade associations but NAB has no ability to do that. 

RW: NAB held off the FCC’s foreign sponsorship ID proposal via a successful court challenge; but the chairwoman has revised the proposal and is trying again. Does the NAB accept her revised proposal?

LeGeyt: I think it is important to say at the outset that the NAB shares the FCC’s goal of ensuring the public knows when it is listening to foreign propaganda. And we are committed to working with the chairwoman on a fair proposal that achieves that goal. However, we remain concerned about rules that unfairly burden the vast majority of broadcast stations that are not engaged in that practice, that do not air foreign propaganda. Our worry with the current proposal is that it imposes a burden on stations far outside the intended target. 

[Related: “FCC Pushes Back Comment Deadline on Foreign Sponsorship Proposal“]

RW: Do you expect the commission to at least consider easing subcaps on radio ownership in 2023? 

LeGeyt: I am absolutely hopeful that FCC will conclude the quadrennial review of media ownership rules that encompasses the subcap issue. TThe rules [aimed at] assuring a diversity of voices within local communities are outdated. This premise that local broadcasters are only competing against other broadcasters in local markets is antiquated. 

The way Americans engage with audio platforms has changed, and the FCC needs to look at it. Unfortunately the rules just haven’t kept up. The FCC needs to consider rules that will allow radio broadcasters to compete. 

RW: It’s unique that broadcasters are in a relationship with big tech in certain areas, the car for example, but yet compete with them in that space. 

LeGeyt: Well, I think if we want to perform the service we are paid to do for our industry, which is to make sure they are equipped and ready to innovate to remain competitive in this current media environment, we need to be at the table with some of these platforms. 

The work we have done with Google on the Android Automotive project is a great example of that. We have completed and presented to Google a proposal affecting radio including extensions meant to maintain interoperability between car interface developers and hardware suppliers for tuners. 

Without having a seat at the table, radio is going to end up not being fairly represented in the technology as the connected car develops.

RW: Speaking of the connected car, you got a demo of the DTS AutoStage platform from Xperi at the NAB Show New York this fall. What’s your take on that platform?

LeGeyt: I think Xperi has done tremendous work putting the AutoStage platform not just here in the U.S. but globally. I think it has a lot of potential for what radio can offer to audiences as well as advertisers. The marrying of a radio station’s over-the-air content with internet-delivered content opens up all kinds of new opportunities for broadcasters and advertisers.

[Related: “DTS AutoStage Lands Four New Car Partners“]

RW: Talk of AM revitalization seems to have died off at the commission. Meanwhile some new electric vehicles are shipping without AM capacity. What words of encouragement do you have, if any, for your AM members?

LeGeyt: We are going to continue to tell the story here in Washington about the incredible service that both AM and FM stations are providing. I also think that as a trade association, there is a real role for us to play to make sure the auto manufacturers have the latest data in terms of consumer preferences as it relates to radio. 

Sometimes in this very fragmented media landscape, the popularity of radio gets lost in the layers. So we are raising the volume on that story. To the degree that a manufacturer is making a decision that might make radio accessibility more difficult, that is not going to be in the best interest of their consumer, and I’m sure not in the interest of policymakers in Washington concerned about public safety. 

[Related: “FCC Commissioner Advocates for Preservation of AM Radio“]

RW: You have been in the new Washington headquarters near the capitol for a while now. How is NAB benefitting from its proximity to the decisionmakers it seeks to influence?

LeGeyt: It’s an incredible opportunity for our industry. It enables us to get more members of Congress over to our headquarters in a building that really represents the future of broadcasting. It allows us to tell the story of radio and the great innovations happening.

RW: Last question. What radio stations do you like to listen to and on what platforms do you listen?

LeGeyt: I utilize a little bit of everything. When it comes to terrestrial radio I’m a political junkie and sports junkie. Here in Washington I probably spend a disproportionate amount of time listening to [Hubbard’s] WTOP as well as [Audacy’s] 106.7 The Fan, WJFK(FM).