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NAB's Smith: Virus Puts Broadcasters on Crisis Footing

National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith said that while advertising has been drying up, the cost of remaining on the air and being first informers in the time of coronavirus has not, meaning his industry faces a crisis as well. 

In an interview for Westwood One's syndicated Jim Bohannon radio show March 25, Smith said that viewership and listenership to broadcasting are way up, but, "unfortunately advertising has fallen through the floor. So, costs go on but revenues have stopped. So, it has created a crisis in our industry just as it has in so many other industries," he told Bohannon. 

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Smith cited the help broadcasters would get in the coronavirus bill, but wished for a little more in this and the next aid bill. 

Bohannon pointed to the perception that a broadcast station was a license to print money, but said that was probably a time when the industry was a lot more lucrative. He said there were now some stations, particularly radio, that had not been on firm fiscal footing even before the crisis, a critical community voice that could be jeopardized. 

Smith said yes, and that the coronavirus bill would provide some help to smaller stations in the form of tax changes and loans up to $10 million that are forgivable if they are tied to payroll. The bill says that money used to pay workers during the crisis doesn't have to be repaid.  

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He also said there would be treasury loans to distressed industries and broadcasting qualifies.  

Smith said the bill was some backstop, including the enhanced unemployment insurance. He said he hopes the House would pass the bill and relief would begin to flow. The House is expected to pass the bill Friday (March 27). 

Asked what more he would have wanted in the bill, Smith said he would have liked the tax relief to have extended to larger members, for one, particularly the limitation of the Small Business Administration loans to businesses with 500 or fewer employees. He said NAB wanted the bill to use an individual station headcount rather than an entire group, which would mean that each station in a station group, large or small, would count as a small business in terms of the loans. He said he hoped there would be some "administrative interpretation" of the law that would still allow for that. 

Smith, himself a former senator, said that many of his former colleagues now chairs or members of key Senate committees have promised that there "may be additional relief" for broadcasters in a further coronavirus relief bill. There have been three to date.  

He said that there may be a chance for radio stations to pick up some government business, say educating small businesses on how they can get an SBA loan or unemployment insurance. 

John Eggerton
John Eggerton

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.