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Martin Exits Laughing

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin took shots at Comcast in particular, cable lawyers in general, and a host of other targets in a short but well-received stand-up routine in at his final Federal Communications Bar Association dinner as chairman Tuesday night in Washington, an annual roast of the FC’s top regulator.

Actually, Martin was angling for some more time in the big chair, joking that though it was a historic year and people had voted for change, the "fundamental change’ he was advocating in Washington was a change in the rule that the chairman has to come from the party of the winning presidential candidate.

He suggested going to the same law school with the new president and playing basketball together–both of which Martin has done with Barack Obama–should be the new metric. ‘Unfortunately," he added, "Julius Genachowski also qualifies," a reference to the former General counsel to then FCC Chairman Reed Hundt and an Obama adviser who is considered a top candidate to succeed Martin.

Joking about the toll the economy has taken on the FCBA, Martin said there were empty seats in the house, then added: "Comcast can’t even afford to hire seat-warmers to not laugh at my jokes." That was a reference to the stories that Comcast had hired people to fill seats at an FCC field hearing, as well as to the often-contentious relationship between the operator and the FCC chairman.

But Martin said he had done his part for economic growth by drafting a plan that would shift around billions of dollars in the Universal Service Fund and thus provide work for every telecom lobbyist in town. "It had no chance of passing," he said, "but that was not the point."

Martin pointed out that the recent 700 mhz spectrum auction had raised almost $20 billion for the treasury. "That doesn’t sound like much" in the face of  trillion-dollar deficits, he said he took comfort in knowing he had paid for "not one, not two, but three AIG executive retreats."

Martin pulled out a bottle of Jack Daniels, took a swig, and said there was nothing like it to take the edge off when "Commissioner Adelelstein goes off on one of his sermons" about product placement. He followed that with a slide of the wrecked and burning DTV transition race car, then a slide of the FCC logo sponsored by GEICO.

Martin took a page from Steven Colbert’s nightly "Word’ riff, flashing a graphic of Martin’s picture with the night’s word: "Legacy," and following that up with: "Hold for 5 minute ovation from cable lawyers."

There were a few sympathetic "awwws" from the audience when Martin talked about what he had done in the last four years that was important and nothing appeared on the screen.

With Martin pondering how his legacy would be recorded, the screen flashed: "Depends on who writes it, someone commissioned by AT&T or Comcast."

Following a Martin tradition of top 10 lists, the chairman ticked off his top career plans upon leaving the FCC. They included: Working at the NTIA mailroom sending out DTV coupons, working as a contractor hooking up converter boxes, become a wardrobe consulant to Janet Jackson, becoming an FCC-sponsored NASCAR driver (the FCC-sponsored DTV transition race car crashed two out of three races), play Harry POtter on Broadway, and run for mayor of Wilmington.

And number one: "I have no plans to leave the FCC."

Joining Martin at the head table were the other commissioners, as well as former chairmen Bill Kennard, Michael Powell, Dick Wiley, and Al Sikes.

Martin’s warmup act at the dinner was reprising his role as Martin’s "roaster emeritus": Eddie Fritts, former National Association of Broadcasters president who now runs consulting company, The Fritts Group.

Among his top zingers (which are just about all of them, actually), were the following:

"We were trying to come up with an entrée tonight in Kevin’s honor and the cable guys suggested we serve Champagne and Lame Duck."

"Tonight is a night for great food, lots of billable hours, and plenty of liquor flowing.  It’s like lunchtime for the AIG Executive Committee."

"You know, when Kevin Martin first came to the FCC, people used to joke about how young he looked.  But you can tell the stress is getting to him and he is showing his age.  This week he has had to shave twice."

"When it comes to the FCC Kevin is a true Bush Republican.  No exit strategy." (big laugh line among the assembled attorneys).

"What a crazy time it’s been in Washington recently.  I can’t think of a tougher campaign in recent memory. Two extraordinary candidates for America’s most important job.  Pulling out the all the stops and using surrogates for their negative campaigns.  It was just sooo ugly. But enough about Commissioners Copps and Adelstein. (Both are in line to be acting chairman when Martin leaves.

"Let me take a minute and say that hopefully soon, there will be an end to the infighting and civil unrest between rival fundamentalist factions that have dominated the news for so long. But enough about Commissioners Tate and McDowell." (Martin has sometimes had a hard time coralling votes from the two commission Republicans).

"Speaking of Hillary Clinton, what about her possibly joining the Obama Cabinet?  Secretary of State is really an intriguing idea.  My understanding is that she gets the job if she can stop the fighting between Dingell and Waxman (John Dingell [D-MI] and Henry Waxman [D-CA] are in a heated battle for chairmanship of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC).

"And speaking of the Digital TV Transition.This just in. I’m sure you heard today in testimony on the hill, there’s been another federal rescue package proposal. Plans are underway to rescue the FCC’s NASCAR Ford."

"Heck, the FCC car crashed so many times it should have been the McCain Straight Talk Express."

"You know, there’s a real question as to how much the FCC can regulate programming."

"The FCC jurisdiction covers all 50 states, which caused Sarah Palin to say “there are 50 ?”

"However, Kevin’s goal is to have family friendly programming on cable that senior citizens and young impressionable

minds could watch.  So something for both –  John McCain and Sarah Palin."

"During Kevin’s tenure as Chairman he introduced his very own stimulus package.  Some would say his anti-cable initiatives fueled the Leave No Lawyer Behind Act."

"Not to fear however, even in this tough economy there are some good deals. I found $10 on the sidewalk today and used it to buy 200 shares of Sirius XM stock.  And I got $3 change back."             

"Everyone wants to know who will lead the FCC next year.  By that I don’t mean which law firm."

"The big rumor today is that the Obama White House will include a cabinet level chief technology officer.  In keeping with today’s business climate, they will actually outsource the job to India."