Federal Communications Commission Chairman The Honorable Ajit Pai delivered the keynote address to attendees of the Radio Show luncheon on September 6. His speech centered on gratitude and hope.
The Radio Show, a professional gathering sponsored by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB), took place in Austin, Texas, from September 5-8, and focused on challenges and opportunities for the radio industry.
NAB President Gordon Smith, formerly a U.S. Senator from Oregon, introduced Pai. He began by reviewing Pai’s history with the FCC, then paused to warn the people running the teleprompter that he was about to go off script. Smith recalled, “It was back in the days when he served as a staffer for Senator Sam Brownback and later Jeff Sessions that I first met Ajit Pai. I was impressed then and when he first came to a Radio Show as an FCC commissioner, I renewed in my mind what a remarkable human being he is.”
Smith explained that Pai was the son of immigrants and grew up in Parsons, Kansas, where radio came to mean a great deal to him. His local station, KLKC, enabled him to listen to his high school basketball team’s games and to connect him to the wider world.
Smith pointed out that Pai had reiterated his belief in the importance of broadcasters, in general, and particularly in times of trouble such as the recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida.
Smith concluded, “I’ve had the opportunity to meet many public servants, not all of them great, but I have never met a public servant who was any better than Ajit Pai.”
Pai began by expressing gratitude for all that broadcasters do for their communities and the country. He called out the efforts being made by the radio community to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
“As saddened as I am by Harvey’s destruction,” Pai said, “the last week has also left me encouraged and hopeful. We saw that the worst of tragedies brings out the best in the American people.”
Pai paid tribute to Houston Officer Sergeant Steve Perez, who lost his life while helping others; to furniture store owner “Mattress Mac” who sheltered 800 people in his two stores; to the “Cajun Navy” who brought boats and trucks to help with the rescue; and to members of the local FCC office who worked to restore communications to the region.
Pai continued, “But you can’t talk about the heroes of Hurricane Harvey without talking about broadcasters; without talking about you. Station after station scrapped commercials and promos to provide continuous emergency information.
“Some went beyond. Radio station KIKK in Pasadena, Texas, normally broadcasts only during the day. They filed an emergency petition with the FCC to be allowed to transmit emergency information around the clock. I personally signed the approval for that in one hour.”
Pai got a laugh from the audience when he added, “Don’t expect our response to your petitions to be that fast all the time.”
Pai continued his review of all the ways broadcasters helped during Harvey, and concluded, “I am in awe of broadcasters’ response, but not surprised, because that’s what broadcasters do.”
Pai pointed out that 93 percent of Americans listen to radio every week and in places like Houston, last week, radio listenership increased by almost 200 percent. “This is because radio has a special connection with listeners,” he said. “We at the FCC want to help you strengthen that connection.”
To help broadcasters, Pai said that the FCC was working to help revitalize AM radio by updating outdated technical specifications regarding antennas and other equipment.
He also cited efforts to bring common sense to outdated regulations. Pai made a commitment to his audience that every month he would bring up regulations to his fellow commissioners which need to be updated or repealed.
As an example, he cited the rule that required certain broadcasters to maintain physical copies of FCC rules in their offices. “I’m talking about the actual volumes of the code of FCC regulations,” he explained. “In the digital age, when anyone can access FCC rules online, this is simply not necessary anymore.”
He also mentioned plans to repeal other rules which the internet and social media have made anachronistic.
Pai concluded his speech by paying tribute to Texas stations and their contributions to broadcasting.
“In November of 1921,” he said, “what may have been the first broadcast of a football game in America aired on call-sign 5XB from what is now Texas A&M.” With tongue in cheek, he added, “I don’t know if they covered the recent stunning collapse against UCLA. If they did, that may have been the last football broadcast out of College Station.”
Pai pointed out that iconic broadcaster Walter Cronkite had local ties. “He went to high school in Houston, and to college right here at UT Austin, writing for the Daily Texan. He broke into broadcasting as a radio man and I think he provided the right words for this moment and for your industry. He said, ‘Success is more permanent when you achieve it without abandoning your principles.’”
Pai continued, “Like every part of our society, radio has been disrupted by the rise of digital technology, but it is enduring today because your success is rooted on such sound principles: localism, diversity, community, and public service. You don’t just do it because it’s good business, you do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
He concluded, “To borrow from Cronkite again, that’s the way it is on Wednesday, September 6, 2017, and that’s the way I hope it will continue to be.”