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Rehr Opening: Nab Chief Eyes Opportunity, Honors TV Broadcast News Legends

by Susan Ashworth~ April 25, 2006


Newly elected NAB President David K. Rehr told a packed audience at the All Industry Opening that he wanted to avoid talk about past problems facing the broadcast industry, and even avoid rehashing some of its current challenges. Instead he wanted to talk about one thing: the direction the NAB should be heading.

"We need to move away from being seen as an organization that's always on the defensive," Rehr said to immediate applause. "We need to be seen as one that's on the offensive. We shouldn't be protecting the status quo, but need to be an organization that embraces change."

"We can transform our reality," he added, "and we need to start today."

Rehr readily admitted the broadcast industry is facing its share of competition, from cable and satellite to the Internet. But broadcasting has a solid base of strength that the industry needs to exploit and build upon. "We still have the eardrums and eyeballs," he said, and the industry can take even further advantage of that with the onset of HDTV and HD Radio.


He also gently chided the audience about reluctance to change. "For the first time in the history of media, the customer is in charge," referring to the whenever and wherever proliferation of media. But rather than fearing that evolution, the industry should be excited about the opportunity.

The way to do this, he said, is a five-pronged approach, beginning with a promise to exploit every new technology in every new platform available.

"Broadcast signals need to go everywhere, to everyone, to every device," he said. "After all," he reminded a laughing audience, "TV and radio were wireless before it was cool."

The industry also needs to more heavily promote the benefits of DTV and HD Radio. Both TV and radio are at the verge of the greatest transformation in history, he said, and many Americans don't truly understand what either of these technologies mean.

"It's our responsibility to let them know the benefits, and not leave it to our government, our competitors or the guy who sells TVs at Best Buy," he said to laughter.

In addition to encouraging competition with cable, satellite and telecom, and better empowering parents to control content that comes into the home, Rehr said the fifth task the industry must address is to adopt an advocacy attitude with the local community and the government.

"We need to step up our advocacy to educate local communities and Washington about our work," he said.

As a young child in Illinois, Rehr remembers how his local radio and TV broadcasters opened up the world to him -- introduced him to the big city of Chicago, the state of Illinois and eventually the rest of the world.

"I think today's broadcasters will open the windows for my children as they did for me," he said.


Three of the best-known of those broadcasters were then honored by Rehr as he awarded the NAB Distinguished Service Award to CBS anchor Dan Rather, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw and the late ABC anchor Peter Jennings. Having largely defined evening news for the last 20 years for millions of Americans, the three men were honored by the NAB for their significant and lasting contribution to American broadcasting.

"I've seen many changes in broadcasting, and broadcast news again finds itself in a period of change," Rather said. "That's good, and inevitable. But one thing that hasn't changed is that news needs to serve the public interest as its primary goal. The faces [of the anchors] will change, but the commitment to the news will remain the same."

Upon accepting his award, Brokaw recalled the event that changed the life of his South Dakota farmer grandfather: owning a radio. It gave him access to life outside his hardscrabble farm, "and made him a citizen of the world."

Though there are now myriad new tools to receive news of the world, it's the integrity of the news that matters more than any device. The tools are but an extension of news itself.

"There's no delete button for hate or poverty, no help button for a disaster," he said. It is the news itself that must remain paramount.

Both Rather and Brokaw took time to honor the late Jennings, who was awarded posthumously with the Distinguished Service Award, and was recognized by his colleagues for his contributions to broadcasting as well as his humanitarian efforts.

© 2006 NAB