Mr. Smith Goes to K Street, and NAB


In a one-on-one interview with Multichannel News Washington bureau chief John Eggerton, new National Association of Broadcasters president Gordon Smith talked about a range of topics, including his philosophy for running an association, his read on the satellite bill, and why religious media should not be afraid of the hate crimes bill. For more from the former Oregon Republican senator on his new job, see this week’s edition of Broadcasting & Cable.

MCN: What concerns do you have about the satellite reauthorization bill?

Gordon Smith: I think that it is coming out in a way that is generally acceptable to broadcasting.

There are some concerns about local-into-local broadcasts that we want to make sure [the bill] doesn’t compromise a station’s ability to sell ads. On the other hand, I can tell you in my former role as a U.S. senator that I understand how keenly rural people feel about getting the news, the weather and the sports from their state. And so this is something we have to work with the ratings institutions and try and get a shape that allows business to flourish and people to get the information they need for their hometown and their state.

MCN: Should the Nielsen DMAs be un-gerrymandered?

GS: My own sense is that that would be a good thing, but it can’t be done in a sudden way because, certainly, advertising dollars follow the current markets. It has to be done, I think, gradually.

MCN: That would appear to be staking out some new ground for NAB. Is this a case of leading your board?

GS: I understand that I represent the interests of broadcasters now, and I appreciate the damage that could be done to localism if the law were to be changed too quickly. Perhaps there will be a technology solution that emerges somewhere down the road. In the meantime, I would urge caution.

MCN: Knowing the speed at which things happen on the Hill as you do, and given the deadline by year-end, will the Senate be able to reauthorize this bill, or are there entangling amendments that will force them to have to do a one-year extension?

GS: My experience is that on a must-pass piece of legislation, if there is an amendment that is important to one member but has the net effect of killing the bill, it will ultimately not make it through the process. They’ll keep working it. It doesn’t go away, but it doesn’t mean it is going to hold back the advancement of a must-pass piece of legislation.

MCN: One of your charters from the board is to be more proactive, rather than reactive, on technology. How do you interpret that?

GS: A lot of things are happening that portend a brighter future for radio and television, whether it is mobile TV, or chips in your cell phone. It gives us new platforms on which to continue to deliver great content to the American people for free.

MCN: And does that mean doing more talking to the Googles and computer companies of the world?

GS: Yes, perhaps there was a resistance to new technology. My approach to technology is somewhat like my approach to legislation. What’s the problem? What’s your solution? Well, here’s mine; I think it is a better solution. So, as we look at technology development, what endures are the values of free broadcast radio and TV. How do we fit those into those new platforms? The future says to me that, notwithstanding the Internet, there is still a place for what we do.

MCN: You can’t lobby Congress for a while, right?

GS: I can’t for another 13 months. But as I have said, I can lobby the FCC directly, which I have already started doing.

MCN: How much does it cramp your style not to be able to do the Hill side of it?

GS: I still have very regular contacts with my colleagues who are my friends, but I observe the letter and the spirit of the law that I voted for. They can ask me to come up and testify, and I can answer their hearings. The limitation is on me, not on them. [Smith last week had to ask for an ethics waiver to comply with a request to meet with legislators on the issue of music royalties on radio.]

MCN: Religious TV and radio outlets were opposed to (recently-passed) hate crimes legislation, saying it could target their preaching on abortion or homosexuality.

GS: It was my bill, and I am a very religious person. Hate-crimes laws have existed in this country for 30 years and have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, William Rehnquist being the drafter of the majority opinion. Religious freedom is still alive and well. I respect their concern, and it is something that has to be watched that the right of the free exercise of religion is not compromised by hate-crimes law. But in 30 years of litigation, specifically on issues related to gays and lesbians, it never has been.