During the opening ceremonies of its annual meeting, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) honored actor Alan Alda, broadcast pioneer Tom Taylor, and set attendees’ sites on current challenges and future innovation. NAB was held April 6-11, 2019, in Las Vegas, NV.
More Than M*A*S*H
The opening session was chaired by NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith. Smith is celebrating his tenth year at the head of the organization.
In introducing stage, TV and film actor Alan Alda, who received the NAB Distinguished Service Award, Smith, a former U.S. Senator, recalled how Alda won an Emmy for his portrayal of a conservative senator from California on The West Wing. He quipped, “Conservative? California? Sounds like a non sequitur. I was a conservative senator from Oregon and all I got was not re-elected.”
When Alda, best known for his portrayal of “Hawkeye” Pierce on M*A*S*H, came on stage he shared stories about how he was inspired and got started on his career with Variety Business Editor Cynthia Littleton.
Alda recalled how his father made one of the first television broadcasts. “It was only between two buildings in New York,” he said, “but, it still counts.”
Alda became fascinated with radio and TV and made his own debut on TV when he only ten-years old and interested in magic. “KTLA was always asking for people from LA to come on the air and perform,” Alda recalled. “I called up and they let me do a magic trick where I pulled a cake out of a hat. I don’t remember how I did it.”
Alda got a laugh from the crowd when he shared a memory of the last episode of M*A*S*H, which was watched by 105.9 million viewers. “At the first commercial break,” he said, “so many New Yorkers went to the bathroom at the same time it nearly broke the water works.”
More recently, for ten years, Alda hosted Scientific American Frontiers. On this show he interviewed scientists to get them to tell their stories from a human standpoint. “I realized that if I related to them like another actor, I could get them to open up,” he recalled. “When they began to lecture, I’d interrupt and connect in a real way. A lecture is like a commercial, but if you engage the person with what interests them, that’s communication.” He smiled. “Everything else is excommunication.”
That show led to the foundation of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.
“All this,” Alda observed, “because a ten-year old boy was listening to the radio and was inspired by it.”
You can hear more from Alda on his podcast, Clear+Vivid with Alan Alda.
Tom Taylor Tales
Smith also presented the NAB Spirit of Broadcasting Award to industry veteran Tom Taylor. For thirty years Taylor was a “must read/must listen to” voice for people in radio.
In accepting the award, Taylor observed, “Successful stations are those who serve their local markets.
“In all the years I provided news, no one ever said to me, ‘Don’t do that story, it will upset someone.’”
He emphasized the importance of trusted sources. Taylor said, “Always seek our sources we can trust and in our local markets, work to be that source.”
He urged attendees to remember, “The public is the only critic whose opinion has any worth,”
Challenges and the Future
One of NAB’s missions is to represent broadcasters in the halls of Congress and state legislators. To dramatize one of the challenges facing the industry, Smith held up a cell phone with a small white attachment on its base.
“The Next Gen TV attachment with this phone lets me watch my favorite stations anywhere I am,” Smith explained.
From the consumer’s stand point, having the attachment would be beneficial because it uses none of their data.
Smith continued, “And while this attachment is great, what we would really love to see is a chip built into mobile devices to give consumers this broadcast reception technology. But to date, manufacturers, Apple being one, refuse to enable broadcast chips in their devices. And it begs the question: why?”
Smith pointed out that he does not often agree with Senator Elizabeth Warren, but made an exception for recent comments about big tech.
He quoted her as saying, “They’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit and tilted the playing field against everyone else. And in the process, they have hurt small businesses and stifled innovation.”
Smith then mused, “I wonder if this growing tech power is one of the reasons why this consumer benefit is being held back by the manufacturers.”
But he had a solution. “Given the threat to local journalism that is posed by these tech companies, lawmakers can enable broadcasters to better compete and to support journalism in two ways.
“First, modernize outdated broadcast regulations to allow us to compete on a level playing field with these behemoth tech and pay-TV companies to ensure that broadcast journalism can flourish.
“And second, increase regulation on the tech industry to ensure that these companies cannot use their market power to stifle competition and the financial viability of local news.”
Find Out More
NAB aims at enabling broadcasters to serve their communities, strengthen their businesses and flourish in the digital age.
The conference brought together 92,000 media, entertainment and technology professionals from 160 countries and over 1,700 exhibitors. Attendees learned and explored traditional broadcasting, filmmaking, and new digital storytelling options, from creation to delivery, across multiple platforms to bring their stories to life.
Learn more at their website.