NBC’s Return Highlights NAB Opener

(click thumbnail)Mark Wolper (C), accepts the NAB Distinguished Service Award on behalf of his father, renowned TV and film director David L. Wolper, from NAB Board Chairman Bruce Reese (L) and NAB President David Rehr.LAS VEGAS

The opening event of NAB2007 included big names, a remembrance of a big TV event and big news—NBC Universal has rejoined the National Association of Broadcasters.

“There is no question that NAB will be stronger as an organization with NBCU as a member,” David K. Rehr, NAB president and CEO, said in the Hilton Barron Room Monday morning. NBCU makes the fourth network member of NAB, along with ABC, ION (formerly PAX) and Univision.

NBC withdrew seven years ago over policy disagreements that have since changed or been resolved. Rehr emphasized the importance of cohesion in the industry, and said it was time for a change of vocabulary.

“Do we call the new, high-tech Mercedes S-Class car a horseless carriage? Of course not,” Rehr said. “Broadcasting is using the equivalent of horseless carriage language in many ways. We have been using 20th century language to define ourselves and our position in a 21st century world, and frankly, that has to change.”


Rehr used the example of how iBiquity went to market with IBOC, for “In-Band On-Channel” radio. The response was undetectable, until IBOC was rebranded as HD Radio.

“And suddenly a light bulb went on,” Rehr said.

Broadcast issues need the same sort of overhaul, he said. Multicast must-carry, for example, is widely perceived as an effort on the part of broadcasters to take channel capacity away from cable operators. To the contrary, broadcasters do not want their own programming “stripped” out of their 6 MHz allotment, Rehr said.

“We’re simply asking that they do not take the anticompetitive step of stripping out our signals,” he said.

“Down conversion” is another phrase targeted for extinction. Rehr likened it more to “digital discrimination.”

“What we have here is broadcast discrimination by the cable companies,” he said.

And just what are “performance rights people should be allowed to perform?” he asked.

The broadcast radio model has long been one of free music for free promotion. Now, record companies want to charge a fee for airplay. Rehr said it would equate a government-mandated tax that the NAB would “fight... with everything we have.”

Ditto on the satellite radio merger, he said.

Rehr was joined at the opening event by Mary Landrieu, the Democratic senator from Louisiana who witnessed firsthand recent hurricanes, including Hurricane Katrina.

“I feel like I’m in a room of fellow travelers telling the true story of what happened on the Gulf Coast,” she said, thanking broadcasters for their assistance and contributions. “Broadcasters really were our first responders.”

Landrieu said she intends to introduce a bill to support broadcasters in times of such disasters. The First Response Broadcasters Act of 2007, co-sponsored by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), was crafted to help keep broadcasters on the air during an emergency.

The legislation would provide that, along with police, fire departments and the military, broadcasters would be first in line for food, water and fuel. Out of 50 state broadcast associations, 45 have endorsed the bill, which will be introduced later this week in the House and Senate.


The opening event of NAB2007 was concluded with the presentation of the Distinguished Service Award to David L. Wolper. A veteran TV producer, Wolper’s numerous works includes “Roots” and the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics Games.

“I don’t know if I deserve it, but I want it,” Wolper said in a prerecorded message. Parkinson’s enjoined his attendance, he said.

Wolper credited individual broadcasters for launching his career after 108 stations bought his first documentary, “The Race for Space.”

Wolper’s son David Wolper was on hand for a sit-down with Leslie Uggams and Le Var Burton, who starred in “Roots.” Based on the book by Alex Haley, “Roots” ran over one week in 1977 and became a watershed event in TV history.

Uggams recalled how she was rehearsing for “Guys and Dolls” in Las Vegas when the show premiered.

“I couldn’t get room service,” she said. “I went down to the casino, and it was empty. People were up in their rooms watching ‘Roots.’”