As broadcasting celebrates its 100th anniversary, the state of the industry is bloodied but unbowed, rocked but resilient, much as the nation was back in 1920 when KDKA(AM) Pittsburgh was going on the air in the wake of another pandemic, the 1918 Spanish Flu. And also as it has since 1920, broadcasters continue to keep their communities "safe, informed and connected," even as they fight for their own lives and livelihoods.
That was the message of National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith in his address to the virtual NAB Show Express Wednesday (May 13), according to a copy of his prepared remarks.
Smith said it was ironic, or perhaps fortuitous, that this year marked that 100th anniversary, but said that either way, throughout the intervening years, radio and TV had been providing a reassuring voice and sense of community in the nation's "most harrowing days," with the current COVID-19 pandemic certainly qualifying in that category.
Some broadcasters have even been driven out of the business by the current crisis, he said.
"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," he said. "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."
Smith thanked the FCC for "multiple extensions of deadlines, clarifications and exceptions to existing policies" as broadcasters coped with "likely the most challenging time local stations have ever encountered." He also said NAB would continue to urge legislators to allow local stations to qualify for forgivable COVID-19 aid small business loans--something that was included in the just-released Democratic COVID-19 aid bill--and to get the government to spend its advertising budget on local media, including radio and TV stations and newspapers.
Smith's speech was at once a rallying cry and collective pat on the back. "We don’t know how long this pandemic will last, or what the lasting effects of it might be on our economy," he said. "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."
NAB continues to push D.C. to help broadcasters during pandemic
He cited the donations of airtime--nearly $100 million--for COVID-19 PSAs, the news that keeps communities informed and safe, the support for local businesses, the food drives--all while fighting for their own lives and livelihoods.
He said that is simply carrying on that 100-year legacy, but he talked about the future as well. "Our great industry has endured for the past hundred 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."
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.