A cautious welcome to Las Vegas


Fred Weinberg is a radio station owner, but also publisher of the Penny Press free weekly distributed in Las Vegas, where his media empire is based. Never one to be politically correct or keep his opinions to himself, Fred has shared with RBR/TVBR readers what his readers will see in the next issue as he "welcomes" the NAB to town.

As you read this, many of the nation’s broadcast executives are settling into their hotel rooms here in Las Vegas for the 2008 National Association of Broadcasters convention.

It is my sincere hope-both as a publisher and a radio station owner-that they not get too comfortable.

As good a piece of business as the NAB convention may be for Las Vegas, there are some serious problems within the industry which need to be dealt with and it’s not going to happen if what passes for leadership in the industry spends its time kissing up to politicians, Hollywood lefties and really stupid ideas.

Let’s take the political climate first.

Some years back, we wrote that a fellow named Reed Hundt, the hand-picked Federal Communications Commission chair of Bill Clinton and Al "I invented the Internet" Gore was the worst FCC Chairman in history. 

We were wrong.

That honor now goes to Kevin Martin, the hand picked protégé of George W. Bush.

Martin is a 30-something communications lawyer who has virtually no clue what an FCC Chairman is supposed to do.  He responds to the slightest political pressure-usually in the completely wrong way.  His biggest crusade is to become the national nanny of America.  He would like to censor what it is you see and hear on radio and TV.

And if he had his way, cable and satellite pay services as well. This is a guy doesn’t want to take the violence out of the Sopranos but wants the sex out of Sex in the City and fleeting profanity out of radio and TV everywhere.  The FCC fined Fox $56,000 for running that legendary Married In America pilot in 3002 and Fox has declined to pay.  The Feds just sued them to collect and we are indebted to Rupert Murdoch for telling the FCC to stuff it.

Now we are certainly not in favor of crappy TV or radio.  But regulating crappy programming is not the purview of the Federal government.  The marketplace is a fine regulator of that sort of thing.  And Fox yanked that silly show because of the marketplace, not the FCC.

Martin, of course, will be here, preening in the sure knowledge that his term may be coming to an end but his career will be assured because some silly law firm will be sure to hire and overpay him because of his "connections."  I can only hope it is not the firm which represents my company at the FCC.

The truth is that if broadcasters spent more time covering politics instead of playing politics, our industry would be a lot better off and less subject to the whims of Congressmen and Senators who actually think they should be the arbiters of what Americans see and hear on their TVs and radios.

Let me put that in terms I know everybody will understand.  STOP KISSING CONGRESSIONAL BUTT! There’s a difference between expressing a legitimate viewpoint and puckering up for any Congressman or Senator who comes along. Lately, the NAB and many broadcasters who want things seem to think that sucking up actually works.  Ask the auto industry and the gaming industry if that’s really true.

Now, let’s talk about the technical state of the industry.

Television is well on its way to next February’s government mandated digital transition.  Despite the dire warnings of the political chattering class (the same people whose butts broadcasters should NOT be kissing) you probably won’t notice the difference.  If you get your TV on cable or satellite, you can upgrade to high definition at your own pace.  If you are one of the six people left in the United States who still get their signal off the air, you need a box which costs about $60 to convert that signal to make your old, analog TV work.  And, your government will give you $40 of your own dollars back to you to subsidize the cost of that box.

If you’re a broadcaster, you’ve spent hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions replacing old equipment to meet a government mandate precisely because you had the wrong people kissing congressional butt.  The first rule of getting something done is to know what you are asking for in advance.  That wasn’t the case in digital television and it is certainly not the case in radio’

Fortunately, the government hasn’t been stupid enough-yet-to mandate a transition for radio.  That’s because the so-called HD radio was a horrible technical idea and, on top of that, the AM side of it doesn’t work.  What broadcasters should actually do is to boycott the company which is trying to foist this horrible idea off on the industry and simply concentrate on running better radio stations.

And, finally, there is this industry’s fascination with what is in the minds of leftist Hollywood types like Nuke Lalush, er, Tim Robbins who has been given the NAB’s pulpit for a keynote speech. 

We’re not sure what Nuke has to say to broadcasters which would be worth listening to, given the current state of the industry, but we would certainly enjoy seeing a rapidly emptying room should he go native and use that pulpit for an anti-administration tirade.

Fred Weinberg

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