Virginia Broadcasters Make Case to Congress

Virginia broadcasters were leveraging the visit of WVEC Norfolk GM Brad Ramsey with House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, also from Virginia, to make the case for the value of broadcasters' public service value to The Commonwealth.

Judiciary is among the committees with jurisdiction over the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA), which some legislators want to use to make revamps to the retransmission consent regime that broadcasters say could hurt their ability to serve their communities.

In a letter following up on the meeting with Goodlatte two weeks ago during the National Association of Broadcasters State Leadership Conference, Ramsey, who is president of the Virginia Association of Broadcasters, detailed some of the public service commitments of those Virginia broadcasters.

Ramsey told B&C his meeting with Goodlatte was not on any particular legislation, and that the letter was to make points he did not have time to make in the meeting.

Those included that Virginia stations produced more than 57,000 hours of local news last year, an increase in news hours for the fourth year in a row. WVEC is doing its part to make it five in a row. The station is adding a 4 p.m. newscast this year, creating four new news positions, according to Ramsey. He also said Virginia station web sites, which includes Washington, D.C.-licensed stations that serve suburban Virginia, had generated more than a billion page views in the past year.

Ramsey pitched not only the quantity, but the quality of public service. That included election specials, debates, award-winning severe weather coverage, and WUSA-TV Washington's "Pothole Patrol" (the wide temperature swings and snow totals have created plenty of freeze/thaw and plow-related tire-swallowers in D.C. area roadways).

Add in the charitable efforts--from helping kids fight cancer to donating airtime to nonprofit PSAs, and Ramsey's list took three pages to detail.

"As local broadcasters we have an incredibly powerful story to tell," Ramsey told B&C. "Our elevator speech won't fit in an elevator.  One of my goals as VAB president is to make sure we are better documenting our story, and telling it more often. It's certainly no secret that policymakers in Washington will have a big impact on our industry, and our viewers, in the months and years ahead [STELA, spectrum auctions, a planned Communications Act rewrite], so we owe it to our local communities to stand up and talk about all that we are doing to serve them."

National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis Wharton, who provided a copy of the letter to media reporters, suggested such stories were not unusual. "Virginia's broadcasters are not unique in using their airwaves to do great work," he said. "It happens every day, by broadcasters in all 50 states.

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.