Reflecting on the first RAB-NAB joint Radio Show


RBR-TVBR analysis
Picking Washington, DC as the site for the 2010 Radio Show – the first ever produced jointly by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) – proved to be a good choice, even if Mother Nature didn’t cooperate on the weather side. The Grand Hyatt was packed as broadcasters took advantage of the convenient Eastern Seaboard location and the organizers happily reported an unusually large number of on-site registrations.

OK, the smaller-than-usual venue also made the show seem more packed than it would have in other locations. We heard quite a few panelists joke about how cramped they were with maybe five or six people stuck behind a raised table that might have fit three comfortably. At one session panelists had to play musical chairs so one presenter could see his own PowerPoint presentation. Seats were at a premium in many sessions, since the rooms were the smallest we’d ever seen for a convention.

Hopefully, many broadcasters were able to book some face time with their Senators and Representatives, even though Congress adjourned on the first day of the Radio Show and many of the politicians raced back to the campaign trail. Only two Members of Congress showed up as panelists – both lame ducks who had no need to campaign as they prepared to begin collecting retirement checks come January.

There was far less discussion of the Performance Rights Act (PRA) debate than we had expected. Skilled politician and former US Senator that he is, NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith sought to put a lid on that boiling pot by assuring members that no deal had been struck and NAB was still unalterably opposed to PRA in its current form on Capitol Hill. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) doesn’t expect to ever cast a vote on PRA, since he’s joining Smith in the “Former Senator Club” come January. He stated in no uncertain terms that even if NAB and RIAA come to terms on a PRA settlement, there’s no way it will come up for a vote in the lame duck congressional session.

It was shocking – and very informative – that the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission didn’t bother to show up at a national radio convention taking place three subway stops from his office. This guy is clueless when it comes to the role that broadcasters have been playing in American life since decades before he was born, continue to play today and will continue to play when he has become as irrelevant as his former Chairman mentor. It is probably just as well that radio is not on his radar screen, since his more-regulation mindset keeps him busy trying to do damage to other communications industries.

Only one FCC Commissioner was a panelist at the Radio Show. That has to be a record low.

As a former WTOP (then AM) Washington, DC intern, Commissioner Robert McDowell (R) is certainly more attuned to radio issues than most members of the FCC (though none can compare with the late, great Jim Quello). Attendees found little to object to in his comments Thursday. Since McDowell is the ranking GOP member of the FCC and his current term runs to the middle of 2014, there’s a good chance that he would be named interim Chairman and perhaps to a term as Chairman if a Republican wins the presidential election in 2012.

Wasn’t it great to see the photos of Charles Warfield with hair? If you missed his speech Friday as he accepted the National Radio Award, much of what he said about the industry and his own personal experiences are also in our interview. That link is the audio version. If you prefer to read the pdf, click here.

“Don’t believe that my grandchildren don’t care about radio, because they do,” Warfield admonished his fellow radio pros. “Let’s don’t let them down.”

Just as he has for over 32 years, Warfield pushed for broadcasters to get more and more involved in their communities and take their stations to the streets. And he called for a greater emphasis on creativity. “We must find a way to put the fun back in our business,” he said.

Warfield also made a point of thanking his staffers at Inner City Broadcasting and said employees at radio companies who have had to do more with less through the recession “deserve our appreciation.” 

The buzz at the Radio Show was good. Business is getting better. Everyone is enthusiastic about being a broadcaster and excited about new multi-platform opportunities. Since our business is news, we miss the days when a billion-dollar group deal (or maybe two) would be announced at a Radio Show. But the economic reality is what it is – and at least it finally appears to be going in the right direction.

The exhibit floor setup certainly was effective in forcing foot traffic past the vendors, although it seemed strange to have only table displays and no booths. We wonder whether many other convention hotels would offer a similar setup to the Hyatt, with session rooms lining both sides of an exhibit area.

Hey, we’ll find out next year in Chicago. The 2011 Radio Show will be September 14-16 in the Windy City. It has been a very, very long time since a Radio Show was in Chicago, which we had heard was due to the costly union requirements at the city’s convention center. No doubt the show next year will once again be in a hotel venue.

Editor’s note: If you attended the NAB-RAB conference give RBR-TVBR your take and what you liked, disliked, and importantly what you need next year.

–Jack Messmer, Executive Editor