LAS VEGAS — What a difference a year makes.
There was a long line to register on the first day exhibit halls were open for this year's spring National Association of Broadcasters show; and before the convention was over, executives for the trade group were estimating that attendance was up by about 5,000 people to 88,000, or about 6.5 percent. Low hotel rates as well as relevant conference panels encouraged the rise, according to the association.
Exhibitors said they were taking orders and actually selling equipment, a sign that project purse strings have loosened a bit. That's not to say cap-ex has returned to pre-recession levels, but it does suggest that at least for things such as RF and studio projects, station monetary priorities are beginning to shift from being laser-focused on reducing debt.
Unfortunately, rumors continued to flow about groups still reducing their engineering rosters; some manufacturers said they're designing equipment that's easier to use with this reduced attention in mind.
Most radio exhibits were in the Central Hall, after more than a decade during which radio/audio booths were largely in the North Hall. Vendors were happier with the more inclusive feel.
Despite the uptick in estimated attendance, some functions remained reduced in scope. The NAB leadership event remained a reception, rather than a dinner; and regulatory sessions were again rolled into a broader management track.
However NAB did hold an FCC chairman's event, and three other commissioners participated in the show. Among the news from the spring convention:
NAB to Continue Royalty Fight
Smith vowed to continue combating the record labels' efforts to persuade Congress to levy a performance royalty on broadcast radio.
The former two-term Republican senator said he was hired to lead NAB because he knows politics and comes from a political family. His father worked in the Eisenhower administration and his mother was born into the Udall political dynasty.
In politics, perception is reality, he said. Some believe broadcasting is the technology of the past, he said, but it remains a vital business and it's his job to make that case to lawmakers and the administration and its agencies.
"Broadcasting is the original wireless technology. We are mobile, and both radio and television are adapting to new technologies and finding new ways to deliver the most popular and important content. That is not the past; that is the future — still."
He took the job, he said, because he believes "the cause of free, over-the-air broadcasting, with its attendant public obligations, is a just and worthy cause. The values of free and local radio and television — and the public service responsibilities that come with that — are still relevant and vital today, even as a mature technology is being made new again."
Stations already pay copyright royalties to ASCAP, BMI and SESAC; the proposed fee would be an additional payment. NAB says the effort doesn't take into consideration the free promotion artists receive in the form of airplay and station events.
"Labels like to call it a 'right' or a 'royalty,' but whatever you call it, it's basically a bailout of the major recording companies. I think the American people have had enough bailouts," Smith said.
Referring to the advent of digital music downloads and decline in popularity of physical records and CDs, Smith said technology has wrecked the music industry's business model, so it seeks to make up the shortfall by "biting the hand that feeds it."
Smith said, "The centrifugal forces of modern life are fraying the bonds that tether our citizens to their communities. Broadcasting, however, serves to keep our citizens connected to our communities and gives those communities coherence. That is a public good. And that's why we will continue to fight the record labels in their attempt to save their business model on the backs of free, local radio."
MusicFirst, a coalition of record labels and artists that back the performance royalty, responded in a statement from spokesman Marty Machowsky.
"AM and FM music radio stations earn billions each year in ad revenue without compensating the artists, musicians and rights holders who bring music to life and listeners' ears to the radio dial. They have free use of the public airwaves worth tens of billions more. Yet they refuse to pay artists and musicians even one penny for use of their work.
"It's wrong. Everyone deserves to be paid for their work."
Smith also discussed the FCC's proposed national broadband plan, which includes what he called the "spectrum grab" from broadcast television so that wireless companies have more for mobile broadband.
He said the turnover may not be voluntary as proposed. "Broadcasting is not an ATM that can keep spitting out spectrum."
He encouraged broadcasters to present a united front on issues facing the industry to overcome scenarios that could weaken radio and television. He said NAB needs stations to "advocate" for the industry in Washington and nationwide.
"I am very proud to be part of this industry, and I will work my heart out for you," he concluded.
Genachowski Focuses on Broadband 'Myths'
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski was all business in his first address to NAB show attendees as chairman.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, in his first address to a spring show as chairman, said the agency intends to issue a Notice of Inquiry on media ownership soon. © NAB He spent much of his time seeking to debunk what he called myths about the proposed broadband plan. He sought to assuage worried TV broadcasters about the commission's proposals to reclaim some of their spectrum for broadband use.
Demand for mobile Internet access soon will outstrip the supply "by a lot," he said, and new technology and spectrum-efficient policies will be needed. The spectrum issue, he said, won't go away, because demand for data on the Web won't go away.
Genachowski said the plan calls for recovery of 500 megahertz over 10 years from private and government users, including TV broadcasters. He said spectrum auctions would be voluntary and TV broadcasters would be given the option of channel-sharing.
The chairman also said the FCC will convene an "Engineer's Forum" to discuss broadband, followed by a similar event with business executives.
Genachowski said some attendees had thanked him for recent FCC decisions to allow FMs to increase digital power and allow AM stations to use FM translators. He noted that he had been a radio DJ in high school, "spinning discs on a carrier-current station."
The chairman also said he was impressed by the work he saw in the exhibits related to the transition to digital for both radio and television.
On another topic, he signaled that the commission is ready to refocus attention on media ownership, and try again to relax cross-ownership rules slightly. Chairman Kevin Martin did so, an attempt that ultimately was rejected by a federal court.
Genachowski believes Congress was right to tell the agency to review its media ownership rules periodically and said the FCC intends to issue a Notice of Inquiry soon.
He took no questions and left the stage quickly. Smith explained to the audience that Genachowski needed to rush back to Washington to testify before Congress.
After some initial polite applause, there was little audience response to the chairman's speech until he was leaving the stage and Smith came back out. Presumably the quiet was a measure of the chilly reception most broadcasters are giving to the idea of any spectrum giveback, even if it is voluntary.
A number of attendees were critical of Genachowski broadband explanations; one characterized them as "going over like a lead balloon." But in a statement, NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton called Genachowski's comments "reassuring" and promised to work with the commission.
Shortly after the show, Genachowski created a spectrum task force meant to advance the agency's spectrum agenda and promote collaboration across the commission.
Julius Knapp, chief of the Office of Engineering Technology, and Ruth Milkman, chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, will co-chair the working group. The heads of the Enforcement, International, Media and Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureaus, as well as the chief of the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, will participate.
No FCC Pledge on FM in Cellphones
FCC commissioners passed up a chance to mandate that FM chips be included in cell phones.
It was the last question in the "Washington Face Off" session. Smith, who moderated, joked that he would "probably lose his job" if he didn't ask the three commissioners present a radio question. He said he could explore LPFM or HD Radio but settled on the issue of including FM chips in cellphones, saying there's been "pushback" on the issue from wireless carriers.
So the NAB president asked whether the agency would consider a mandate, because "radio needs a platform that's growing."
Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat, said "what you're talking about is redundancy" — that radio works even when cell phones fail during emergencies.
Commissioner Meredith Baker said it's up to the marketplace to decide whether to include FM capability in phones. © NAB Commissioner Meredith Baker, a Republican, prefaced her remarks with "I love radio" and said she is pleased the digital power increase "is rolling out well," but she said it's up to the marketplace to decide the matter of whether to include FM capability in phones.
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, also a Democrat, just said of radio in general, "I still listen with interest."
FEMA Demos CAP-EAS Alerts
EAS was a big theme for radio as alerting equipment providers displayed next-gen gear. In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency was on the exhibit floor for the first time. EAS is part of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System; FEMA's goal for the IPAWS is to make alerting more effective.
Several private companies that make alerting gear were near the FEMA booth, including Global Security Systems and viaRadio. FEMA had several encoders/decoders in a rack to demo alerts, including gear from Sage and TFT. The aim was to show attendees that some gear on the market now can receive and pass on the new Common Alerting Protocol alerts.
Damon Penn, left, FEMA's assistant administrator, National Continuity Programs Directorate, and Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, opened a next-gen EAS panel. Photo by Jim Peck In an EAS update during the SBE's Ennes Workshop, Gary Timm, a member of the SBE EAS Committee and broadcast chair of the Wisconsin EAS Committee, said he's feeling confident about how the EAS migration to a next-gen Common Alerting Protocol is progressing, and so is FEMA.
In a message on its website summing up its EAS meeting at the show, the SBE reported that Damon Penn, FEMA's assistant administrator for its National Continuity Programs Directorate, said on April 14 that FEMA estimates it would adopt CAP sometime this September.
That said, Timm told attendees that FEMA won't start its 180-day "shot clock" marking when stations need to have CAP-compliant EAS encoders/decoders in their facilities until they know stations can handle the CAP messages.
That's a big relief "that gives us comfort," said Timm, an engineer for Journal Broadcast Group-Milwaukee. FEMA says it will have the capability to provide CAP alerts to all EAS participants by the end of that 180-day period.
The current EAS isn't going away; CAP is simply a new delivery method, he stressed.
With the upgrade, after an EAS message is sent "we can add text, a toxic cloud plume map, Amber Alert pictures," he said as examples.
Timm's also a facilitator of an EAS CAP industry group that includes hardware and software vendors as well as broadcasters. The group has drawn up a CAP-to-EAS implementation guide for FEMA that was open for public comments until April 20 (www.eas-cap.org/documents.htm).
On a personal note, Timm, a broadcast engineer who's been at WTMJ(AM) in Milwaukee, Wis., for 37 years, plans to retire in a couple of months. He intends to continue volunteer EAS work and may explore engineering consulting.
Michael J. Fox Honored
NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith presented actor Michael J. Fox with the NAB's Distinguished Service Award for his advocacy work for Parkinson's disease.
His Michael J. Fox Foundation has raised more than $175 million in research funds. The organization (michaeljfox.org) is dedicated to finding a cure for Parkinson's and to ensuring the development of improved therapies for those living with the disease.
Previous recipients include Mary Tyler Moore, President Ronald Reagan, Edward R. Murrow, Bob Hope, Walter Cronkite, Oprah Winfrey and Charles Osgood.
"Thank you for including me in the company of the giants you've honored in the past," said Fox, who said his broadcast work plucked him from obscurity and prepared him "for the challenges ahead."
SBE Celebrates Baun, Davis and Locke
Terrence M. Baun, director of engineering and operations for the Wisconsin Educational Communications Board, received the Society of Broadcast Engineers' Lifetime Achievement Award. One person close to Baun said he was "truly surprised and very emotional" when the award was given at the standing-room event.
Baun is a 34-year member of the SBE. He has served on the National Certification Committee for 12 years, as chairman for three. He was a director and vice president and was elected the SBE national president in 1995. Baun was named the SBE Broadcast Engineer of the Year in 1991, the first to receive that award; he was named an SBE Fellow in 1999 and in 2003 was named the SBE Educator of the Year.
SBE also elected Sterling Davis and Robert Locke as SBE Fellows. Davis is vice president of engineering for Cox Media Group in Atlanta and a member of SBE Chapter 5 in Atlanta. Locke is the chief engineer for KPTS(TV) in Maize, Kan. and a member of SBE Chapter 3 in that state.
Some Europeans Stranded by Volcano Eruption
Nearly 24,000 NAB Show attendees came from abroad, and more than a few had their stay in the United States extended unexpectedly.
The Eyjafjallajökull volcano in southern Iceland erupted on April 15, causing massive disruptions to air traffic across Northern Europe. As the ash plume spread, countries in the affected area began shutting down airspace, starting with the United Kingdom on April 15; U.K. airspace and that of most of continental Europe was closed for six days. After the airspace began to open, U.K. airlines sought volunteers to give up seats so the thousands of people still stranded after the volcanic ash disruption could get home. Re-booked returns stretched into May.
Upcoming: Radio World "Cool Stuff" Award winners, IBOC news from the show and highlights of the Public Radio Engineering Conference.