Acknowledging the “pain” and “very difficult decisions” radio and TV stations have been making, National Association of Broadcasters President/CEO Gordon Smith hailed broadcasters for their work during the pandemic.
Smith opened the online iteration of the NAB Show today with his traditional state of the industry address. “Broadcasters endure,” Smith said. “Right now, you are in the darkest valley, but know that for most Americans, you are their beacon of light and hope. You are on the front lines of this battle, and I want you to know that NAB stands together shoulder to shoulder with you.”
On the regulatory front, Smith said the FCC “heard our concerns and has announced multiple extensions of deadlines, clarifications and exceptions to existing policies.” (Read his full remarks at the bottom of this story.)
He hailed stations for their journalism and support for local businesses, schools and charities; and thanked them for airing NAB’s spots to help stop the spread of COVID-19. “You are not simply helping your communities stay healthy, you are offering them hope. You are giving them a literal lifeline.”
In a subsequent conversation with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Smith said that the radio industry has been “doubly damaged” by the nation’s advertising downturn.
Pai said that he too had heard from broadcasters that it’s “very hard for small-town radio to keep the lights on,” and said the commission has been exploring regulatory relief including fee structures. He encouraged stations to tell the FCC how it can advocate. Pai said he wants to see the broadcast industry stay vibrant and “not shrivel.”
And there was a bit of byplay to amuse watchers of the political scene.
Pai described Smith, the former U.S. senator and fellow Republican, as a mentor. Smith asked Pai what will come next for him personally after he eventually departs the FCC, adding with a smile that Pai should move on to the White House. Pai demurred to talk about his next role, saying he was amused by speculation he’s heard about his future. But Smith concluded the interview, again with a smile, saying, “I’d be happy to be your vice president.”
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Here is the text of Gordon Smith’s opening remarks:
I’d like to thank all of you for joining us for NAB Show Express. This is a new format and new experience for all of us. And while we can’t wait to be together again in Las Vegas next year, we plan to share many new digital show offerings with you in the future.
I particularly want to take a moment and thank the companies that support the broadcasting business — our exhibitors. Without you, our show would not be what it is. We are particularly grieved not to have in-person exhibits this year. We are all enduring this hardship together, and we appreciate those of you who have been, and will continue to be, NAB Show partners.
This current health crisis is an unprecedented time for our business … for our country… and even our world. Most of us have never lived through a global pandemic of this nature. It is impacting literally everything we do — from our families, to our friends and of course our businesses and our livelihoods.
I have talked to many of our broadcaster members during the past two months, and I have felt their pain and empathized with the very difficult decisions they are making. Some have had to take out loans to make payroll. Some have had to let go of trusted and capable staff. And some… I am very sorry to say, have had to close their doors entirely.
We don’t know how long this pandemic will last, or what the lasting effects of it might be on our economy. But there is one thing I do know… broadcasters endure. Right now, you are in the darkest valley, but know that for most Americans, you are their beacon of light and hope. You are on the front lines of this battle, and I want you to know that NAB stands together shoulder to shoulder with you.
It is a bit ironic, or maybe fortuitous, that this year, we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of broadcasting, and the story of our great industry is one rooted in keeping our communities safe, informed and connected. It is interesting to note that during the time of the first commercial radio broadcast from KDKA in Pittsburgh in 1920, America was just coming out of another pandemic — the 1918 Spanish flu.
Throughout the last century, America’s local radio and television broadcasters have been there to provide a reassuring voice and a sense of community during our nation’s most harrowing days.
Now, as the world faces an uncertain situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, your work is more important than ever.
Whether it’s providing the trusted journalism that is keeping our communities informed or providing access to our nation’s leaders and medical experts to help us better understand the crisis, you are protecting lives.
Broadcasters feel the suffering of their communities and have stepped up like never before to support small businesses and local restaurants, raise funds for those who have lost their jobs and help feed the hungry.
You’re also partnering with schools to allow teachers to assist children who have had their lives turned upside down and now must transition to virtual classrooms in the home.
The response from broadcasters — who themselves are fighting for their lives and livelihoods — has been nothing short of phenomenal.
We are incredibly grateful to all the stations who are airing NAB’s spots to help stop the spread of COVID-19, donating nearly $100 million worth of airtime so far.
But your commitment goes far beyond airing public service announcements. You are not simply helping your communities stay healthy, you are offering them hope. You are giving them a literal lifeline. You are a connection when Americans are desperately seeking ways to stay connected. And this is what broadcasters have done for 100 years.
We know this is likely the most challenging time local stations have ever encountered. This pandemic has crippled our nation’s economy and our industry has not been spared. Broadcasters are confronting plummeting advertising sales and enormous operational challenges. And yet, stations are doing what they do best: delivering the trusted and lifesaving information your communities need.
We know you cannot rest, and we won’t either.
NAB is working around the clock to deliver meaningful relief for the industry. And, we have appreciated the hard work and support of our state broadcast associations in our advocacy efforts. This includes urging legislators to allow local stations to apply for forgivable loans and to ensure the money the federal government is spending to advertise its programs is directed to local media. We have broad bipartisan support across Congress on these initiatives.
We are working closely with regulators as well, addressing areas of need for radio and TV stations, allowing you to focus on your role as first informers.
I am pleased that the FCC heard our concerns and has announced multiple extensions of deadlines, clarifications and exceptions to existing policies.
We won’t stop fighting for you and the relief you need to stay on the air.
Our great industry has endured for the past 100 years because of the indispensable and irreplaceable role broadcasters play in every town and city across the nation. And we will endure for at least 100 more, because you are the backbone of our country. You are truly what makes America great. And we are in this together.
I am reminded of a quote by American poet Theodore Roethke, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”
Though much remains uncertain, of this I can surely see: America’s broadcasters will always be there for their communities to lead them out of darkness during times of crisis… to connect us to our friends, family and community and to provide comfort and hope. This is true now, and it will be true when this crisis is over.
I am grateful for your strength, courage and conviction that will help us get through this together…and I am thankful for the reminder your stations provide each day… that we are not alone.