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Read Gordon Smith’s Final State of the Industry Talk

He reflected on his tenure and offered nine lessons from his career as senator and association head

Gordon Smith in a screen capture of his state of the industry talk

Gordon Smith was true to his reputation as a pragmatist in his final State of the Industry remarks Wednesday. His talk also provide some insight into why he is regarded as one of NAB’s most effective leaders.

Among the lessons he imparted:Never be afraid to negotiate.” … “NAB should never register Republican or Democrat, but as human, local and American. …  We need friends on both sides of the aisle.” … “Treat others well. This is a key ingredient to strong advocacy.” … “Reflect the values that underpin an FCC license – civic engagement, relief, rescue, community decency, local focus, fair, diverse, journalism.” … “Some things have to ripen, and you want to calibrate your punch when it’s most impactful.”

Smith, a Republican former U.S. senator, will leave his position as president/CEO of the National Association of Broadcasters at the end of the year. He gave his talk online, given that the NAB Show and Radio Show were both cancelled this fall.

Here is Smith’s text. You can watch the video on the NAB website.

While this is not how I had hoped to share my final state of the industry address with all of you, know that we are building towards a strong NAB Show in April, and I look forward to seeing all of you there where we can continue focusing on building a thriving and vibrant industry.

There’s never been a more important time to be a broadcaster… in the past 20 months, perhaps more than any other time that I can recall, your role has been invaluable. You have been there for your communities… keeping them informed, connected and safe during this time of uncertainty. And your advocacy team at NAB has been committed to ensuring local stations have the support you need to carry out your vital mission of serving your communities during this critical time.

From delivering on critical pandemic relief and paycheck protection to standing up to the Big Tech giants, we are sending a strong message to Congress and the FCC that the vital role of broadcasters and the local journalism they provide must be upheld.

In thinking about what I wanted to say to you today, I couldn’t help but reflect on my journey to Washington, D.C., how I built a career in politics, and how I found myself at NAB.

Many of you know that I was born in Pendleton, Oregon, to a father who processed peas and who worked for President Dwight Eisenhower, and a mother whose maiden name was Udall. So, in some sense, I was born to the battle of peas, policies and politics – and I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve loved my life and I’ve loved my time in this great city.

I remember vividly when I was eight years old attending the 1961 inauguration of John F. Kennedy. Our cousin Stewart Udall was becoming the president’s secretary of Interior, so it was an especially exciting day for my family.

That day reached deep into my soul…and it wasn’t just the president’s clarion call to a new generation of Americans to ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. The whole occasion struck me as something to aspire to and value.

You could say I caught Potomac Fever right then and there as an eight-year-old boy. From that day on, my professional ambition in life was to become a U.S. senator. I feel blessed and humbled to have achieve that dream. And I will admit to you that I was extraordinarily disappointed when the voters of Oregon did not elect me to a new term in 2008. It was not long thereafter that I was hired by NAB. It was a time in my life I was somewhat lost. But in a divine turn of events, broadcasting once again gave me an anchor in public service.

During my childhood, I had served as a paper boy for two Washington papers – the Washington Star and the Washington Daily News. I became a news addict and read all the headlines and stories. I would come home and ask my mom if she had seen the same stories. And, she’d often say, “Remember, Gordy, the best way to ruin a good story is to hear the other side.”

I never lost my passion for politics and hearing the other side. As I reflect on my time in politics and at NAB, a movie from the 1960s called, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” comes to mind. This humorous movie has several themes – but the ones I remember most are how unexpected life can be and sometimes it’s the journey of discovery that matters most. Well, finding my way to NAB – the forum – was unexpected. But it has enriched my life in ways that I could not have imagined.

So, if you can humor me for just a few minutes…I’d like to tell you my side of the story…what I’ve learned on the way to the forum so to speak. And, how these lessons have led to many of our successes as an association.

1 — Never be afraid to negotiate. President John F. Kennedy once said, “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” Negotiating is important — it’s engagement. If you’re going to lose something, get something. This has been our winning strategy behind the performance tax issue. Our engagement on the Hill is to talk, negotiate and deal to be in the game — stopping legislation that we deem harmful to our listeners and viewers, and shaping other legislation to advance and protect the interests of broadcasters.

There is also a saying that comes to mind that Eddie Fritts used a lot… there are no permanent victories and no permanent defeats in democracy. When you have to win something, you also have to lose something.

2 — NAB should never register Republican or Democrat, but as human, local and American. We uphold and defend American values, such as factual journalism and the First Amendment. Neither party satisfies 100% of our issues. We need friends on both sides of the aisle.

3 — Spend money on the possible – prioritize our issues. Focus on likely outcomes. When I first came here, I was handed a book of legislative issues that was about 50 pages long. I was asked what I thought about the book. I said I thought it was all very interesting, but you’re not telling me what’s important and what isn’t. There were probably only three main issues. My point is to prioritize – be a rifle, not a shotgun.

4 — Invest to thrive, not just to survive. Invest in our future. Investing in new technologies, such as Next Gen TV and hybrid radio, not only provides audiences with more choices and a better viewing and listening experience, it also underpins the values we hold so dearly as broadcasters — keeping our citizens connected and informed with the news they can trust – anywhere they are, and always for free.

5 — No matter how many conflicting interests we have (cable, satellite, terrestrial vs. streaming) NAB must always speak for free over-the-air, local broadcasting. If NAB doesn’t, nobody else will.

This mission unifies our industry. Whether you’re in radio or TV, a network or affiliate, urban or rural, large or small, we have more in common than in difference. And, we will always be stronger with a unified message on Capitol Hill.

6 — Our PAC and grassroots are vital advocacy tools that we should continually tap into. We have many other tools in our toolbox. Broadcasters’ nuclear bomb is our airwaves, but it must be used judiciously as should our other tools.

Consider your tools, tone and timing. Tools – we must use all our tools at our disposal. Tone – needs to be calibrated. Timing – has to be at the right moment

7– Hire the best, not the most. Good people equal good policy, which equals winning in politics.

Treat others well. This is a key ingredient to strong advocacy. If you’re likable, a good person and have strong policy arguments, you’re going to win. Good business equals good policy on Capitol Hill.

8 — Reflect the values that underpin an FCC license – civic engagement, relief, rescue, community decency, local focus, fair, diverse, journalism.

Edmund Burke was an English parliamentarian who supported the American revolutionaries. Upon looking up from the Westminster floor where he was giving a speech, he remarked, “there were three Estates…but in the Reporters Gallery yonder, there sat a fourth Estate more important far than they all.”

At the time, the first two estates were the clergy and the nobility. The third was commoners, or the people. For us, it’s the presidency, the Congress and the courts. The Fourth Estate is still the press.

As the Fourth Estate, we reflect the values and integrity of our communities. We foster civic engagement and root out corruption through our factual journalism. That will never change.

9 — Before you take a punch, anticipate the counterpunch. This will tell you whether it’s worth it. Some things have to ripen, and you want to calibrate your punch when it’s most impactful.

These are just nine lessons learned, and there is more I’d like to share with you, but I’m reminded of a story of former President Woodrow Wilson. In 1918, Wilson had put forth his Fourteen Points proposal outlining his vision for ending World War I. It was a peace plan intended to ensure that no such conflict occurred again. America’s allies, however, did not think much of the fourteen points. Upon hearing of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau stated, “Mr. Wilson bores me with his Fourteen Points; why God Almighty has only 10!”

Lest I surpass God Almighty himself, it behooves me to end at nine points.

I want to thank all of you for listening to my perspective throughout the years. You are not only trusted colleagues, but have also become dear friends. I have learned so much from being in the trenches with all of you. And, I know that NAB will continue to achieve great success under Curtis’ strong leadership. He is the right person at the right time for this job.

Like you, my heart will always beat as a broadcaster….as a public servant.

NAB gave me a new way to serve, a way to be in public service, still…a way to utilize all the experience and training of those Senate years in the noble, public cause of broadcasting.

To look back too often at any of life’s chapters, with nostalgia or lament, neither than looking forward to the future with vigor and purpose, is to surrender to old age and regret. Together, we have not surrendered. We have won. Thank you.

[Related: Read the Radio World interview with incoming President/CEO Curtis LeGeyt.]