NAB’s Gordon Smith: Never Be Afraid to Negotiate

Gordon Smith at the 2021 Marconi Awards
NAB president and CEO Gordon Smith at the 2021 virtual Marconi Awards (Image credit: NAB)

National Association of Broadcasters president and CEO Gordon Smith told a Marconi Radio Awards virtual audience Wednesday (Nov. 10) that there has never been a more important time to be a broadcaster or a more important NAB mission than making sure broadcasters have the support they need.

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Smith was delivering his final state of the industry address, though not in the way he had hoped to. Smith is transitioning to an advisory and advocacy role through Dec. 31, 2024, and is being succeeded atop NAB by Curtis LeGeyt, currently the association’s chief operating officer.

Smith said that “standing up to Big Tech giants” is part of that mission to make sure Congress and the Federal Communications Commission know how vital the role of broadcasters is during a pandemic and beyond.

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Smith said he wanted to pass along the lessons learned in a life infused with a passion for politics and, ultimately, for broadcasting's public service mission. He said they might seem obvious but they were not when he joined NAB in 2009. For one thing, he said, calling it strange but true, when he came to NAB, in the minds of some members he was not supposed “to even talk to our opponents.”

1. “Never be afraid to negotiate.” He called that NAB's winning strategy behind stopping legislation deemed harmful to its audience and shaping other legislation to promote and protect broadcaster interests. Citing one of his iconic predecessors atop NAB, Eddie Fritts, Smith said: “[T]here are no permanent victories and no permanent defeats in democracy.”

2. “NAB should never register Republican or Democrat but as human, local and American. We need friends on both sides of the aisle,” said the former Republican U.S. senator from Oregon.

3. “Spend money on the possible,” by which he meant prioritize issues and focus on what will be the likely outcome. “Be a rifle, not a shotgun.”

4. “Invest to thrive, not just survive.” As an example he used NextGen TV.

5. “No matter how many conflicting interests we have [some NAB members have interests in cable, satellite and streaming], NAB must always speak for free over-the-air local broadcasting.” The reason is simple, he suggested. “If NAB doesn’t, nobody else will.”

6. NAB’s PAC and grassroots advocacy are vital tools. “Broadcasters’ nuclear bomb is our airwaves, but it must be used judiciously as should our other tools,” he said.

7. “Hire the best, not the most. Good people equal good policy.”

8. “Reflect the values that underpin an FCC license.” Those, he said, are “civic engagement, relief, rescue, community decency, local focus and fair, diverse journalism.”

9. “Before you take a punch, anticipate the counterpunch.” He said that allows for calibrating the response and delivering it at the right time.

Smith signaled the state of NAB was in good hands with his successor. “I know that NAB will continue to achieve great success under Curtis’s strong leadership,” Smith said. “He is the right person at the right time for this job.”

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.