Broadcasters .. . The total effect of all that buzzing and humming and whirring was to make central control at the NASA space center look like an IBM Selectric. There were a few freaks wandering around from the Pacifica radio station in Houston, a community cable group and a video commune. By the end of the second day, they had all O.D.ed on all that gorgeous communications hardware packed into what seemed to be several square miles of the Albert Thomas Exhibit Hall. I was told that the exhibitors make anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of their annual sales at these N.A.B. conventions, so it’s no wonder they lay out these elaborate displays, open hospitality suites at the local hotels, hire young lovelies to hang around and lay on their top stud salesmen to hustle customers. The Japanese have been present in some strength for several years, but N.A.B. staff members noticed an unusually high number of Latin Americans at this year’s convention. And the Latin Americans were reportedly interested in buying the most sophisticated, new equipment, not just the stuff. American broadcasters sell when they go to newer equipment themselves. Ampex Corp., the tape company, had one of the largest displays and it was constantly filled with slightly awed potential customers. One company attracted considerable attention by showing a videotape of Carol Doda, the topless dancer with silicone boobs, streaking in San Francisco. To my mind, the most impressive display was that put on by the CMX Systems, which has produced a computerized tape-editing arrangement. The thing can fade, cut, dissolve and mix video and audio tapes all by having its buttons pushed. CMX won an Emmy technical award for the system last year. The trend toward increased miniaturization and mobility in cameras was especially evident, with a great number of new portable, back-pack type cameras on display. The old print journalist’s sneer about the two-thousand pound pencil is rapidly becoming obsolete. BUT WHILE the engineers were absorbed in their phosphors and all these dandy new toys, the management folks were absorbed in their own problems. Perhaps the most out-front statement of what broadcasting managers are concerned about these days was provided by Herb Jacobs, chairman of TelComm, Associates, Inc., who moderated a panel on “Television Programming for the Future.” Jacobs seems to be well-known in “the industry” and is regarded as a good ol’ boy and quite a card. After making a few cracks about the “bunion derby” in the exhibit hall, Jacobs got down to a serious discussion of the state of industry. “We have in this country a shadow government;” he said. “And this shadow government grows stronger all the time. Now, nobody elected these people. Ralph Nader never ran for Congress, although Nick Johnson may. Now there’s a campaign contribution for you to consider his opponents. “Tax-supported foundations are spending millions daily to break up the Establishment of which we in this room are all in the forefront. Nationally-oriented church groups are out to get us,” Jacobs said. “And the militants and minorities don’t like us either. The environmentalists and the ecologists don’t like where we build our towers. Even the nutritionists are blaming their dental cavities on the candy they saw advertised on TV as children. “Now, let’s concede that these people may have some valid points. “But if you think they can’t move your world, I’d like you to consider some of their accomplishments, which only a few years ago would have been unthinkable,” he said. “Rightly or wrongly, they stopped the SST cold. Maybe it should have been stopped the point is they did it. I’m not certain, but couldn’t part of our oil crisis be attributed to their hold-up of the Alaska pipeline? And, because of them, dozens of nuclear generating plants remain unbuilt. “And, thus far, our own industry has lost over one billion dollars in tobacco revenue. They did it. “Hundreds of station licenses have been held up by petitions to deny renewal many of them frivolous. And stations have lost licenses,” Jacobs insisted. “They have initiated’ the threat of counter-advertising and they have cast suspicion on the honesty of almost all advertising for every product. The list goes on and on. But because time is of the essence, let’s zero in on their shadowy motives toward our future. “With respect to television, their predictable target is not so much you, the broadcaster, as the content of the programs you now present, and those you’ll be presenting during the next five years. Therefore, if the shadow government is getting stronger and bolder, so must we, if we are to cope with them. If programming is the target, then our programs will have to be stronger, guttier and more responsive,” Jacobs said. “The qUestion is: Will we permit our programming to deteriorate under the pressures from the shadow government, so that we are merely conduits for every half-baked idea they want spoon-fed to the people? “Or, will we draw the line and tell them to ‘get lost’ by continuing to make our own responsible program decisions, based upon what we not they determine to be in the best interest of all the people?” O.K., it isn’t easy to define the public interest. Anyone who has been much involved with politics is familiar with the phenomenon of folks claiming to be motivated by zeal for the public welfare as they push for measures designed solely for their private gain. I used to wonder how it was that such people could convince themselves so thoroughly of the purity’ of their motives. After a while I stopped asking, “Are they sincere?” and started asking, “Does it matter if they’re sincere?” In politics, one deals with the results: the N.A.B. convention was a case study in the process. The first major concern of the N.A.B. management sessions was House Bill 12993, the license renewal bill. I am sure that even Vincent Wasilewski, president of the N.A.B., would admit that this is a bill for broadcasters, i.e., a special interest bill. That doesn’t make it bad, per se, but while the bill would make life easier for the people who already hold FCC licenses, it would also make it harder for everyone else, somewhere over 99 percent of the people in this country, to challenge those licenses. The bill, which has been unanimously passed out of the House Commerce Committee, would lengthen the licensing period from three to four years. The committee and the N.A.B. haggled over the licensing period as though they were Israel and Syria trying to settle the Golan Heights question: the N.A.B. started with a demand for a seven-year license. Since most challenges are supposedly brought because a station has failed to live up to its obligations to the public interest, the N.A.B. wouldn’t appear to have a strong case. But Wasilewski maintains that many of the challenges are worse than frivolous they’re downright, egregious trouble-making. He feels that court decisions, in particular those made by the Washington, D.C., Circuit Court of Appeals, have aggravated a bad situation to the point at which it is no longer tolerable to those in “the industry.” To listen to Wasilewski is to believe that the poor, innocent, bebes in the industry have to spend 90 percent of their time worrying about license challenges and can’t hardly get on with broadcasting at all. But one man’s frivolous challenge can be another’s outrage. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, black leader of Chicago’s Operation PUSH, paid a brief visit to the Houston convention and announced that the N.A.B. was “the epitome of institutionalized racism in this country.” He further noted that broadcasting is one of the most discriminatory and socially backward industries in the nation and added, “This significant convention is the appropriate time to focus attention on the sorry record of the broadcasting industry on matters relating to the hiring and upgrading of blacks, chicanos, Indians and women at all levels of decision-making.” Jackson April 12, 1974 3
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