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:< OB SERVER A Journal of Free Voices A Window to the South April 12, 1974 500 The Observer goes to a broadcasters' convention Houston If someone gave the 6,000 broadcasters who showed up in Houston on March 18 a choice between the First Amendment and 10-year licenses, they'd hesitate about five seconds. And take the licenses. Maybe most of the folks who came to the 52nd annual convention of the National Association of Broadcasters are not the top people in the business, not the folks who make the important decisions. "They're salesmen," shrugged Woody Roberts, a radio programming consultant. Ralph Renick, news director of WTVJ in Miami, came to Houston only because he was one of those chosen to ask questions at President Nixon's Houston press conference and that's not the kind of opportunity a newsman is going to pass up. "We usually send our front office people to these conventions," Renick said. "The real value of N.A.B. conventions is first, the hardware, and then the contacts you can make in the hospitality suites." The N.A.B. convention was the whitest, straightest, most overwhelmingly male, WASP gathering I've seen since I covered a Shriners convention in Minneapolis in 1967. I saw six blacks, five beards and met no women who were there as anything other than wives of their husbands. Most of the folks I talked to had, in fact, started out in "the industry," as they all seem to call it, as salesmen. But by out-hustling all the other salesmen, they'd been promoted and promoted again and most of them bore formidable titles manag er, president, executive vice-president, head of this division or that. I would guess that at least 70 percent of them were in the radio "bidness." I acquired a new sympathy for a reporter friend who works for one of the networks who told me he'd given copies of Tim Crouse's book, The Boys on the Bus, to all the higher-ups in his shop. "I think it's doing some good, even though their lips get awfully tired when they read it," he said. I thought at the time that was just a clever cheapshot, but now I'm not so sure. The chief devil figure of the N.A.B. conventioneers was Nicholas Johnson, the maverick former FCC commissioner. Whenever Johnson's name was mentioned, you could hear a collective intake of breath and you kept waiting for it to be expelled in the form of a hiss. Johnson's book How to Talk Back to Your Television Set, a manual for community groups who wish to challenge FCC licenses, was referred to with both sneers and shudders as "Johnson's Little Red Book," "Quotations from Commissioner Nick" and "The Johnson Manifesto." THE N.A.B. has two divisions, management and engineers, and the two groups ran separate convention programs. To some extent, it was an engineer's convention. They held seminars on topics such as "A New Approach to AM Monitoring Using Digital Displays" and "Optimizing Color Fidelity with Present-Day Phosphors by Matrixing." In the traditional broadcasting war between the "techies" and the "talent," this was the techies' hour to shine. They and they alone could get off on new methods of cyclorama lighting and there wasn't a talent, much less a reporter, around who understood matrix compensation for phosphors. But even non-techies were bowled out by the hardware displays. God only knows how many millions of dollars worth of equipment were involved in the 83 radio exhibits and the 106 television exhibits.