Coming to New Orleans is coming home for me. This city, where I had the pleasure of working for a few years and, more importantly, of courting my wife, is one of my favorite places on earth, and I thank you for the opportunity to come back and to spend some time with you yesterday and today. It’s probably a little early in the morning to cite the city’s motto -- “Laissez les bon temps rouler,” or “Let the good times roll” – but some of you maybe got into that spirit last night. If not, there’s always tonight.
I grew up on radio and I still remember waking up every morning to Happy Hank, broadcasting out of Chicago and brought to me by the good people at Coco-Wheats, and racing my brother to see which of us would get our bed made first as Happy Hank watched us through some kind of magic telescope. In the afternoon, the ladies would listen to their radio soaps, like the ongoing saga of Lorenzo Jones and his wife Belle. In the evening came the Lone Ranger and Tom Mix. On weekends, there was The Shadow with its creaking door and “what evil lurks in the hearts of men.” And I well remember my first immersion in late night election returns in 1948, but I had to turn off the radio pretty early in those days, so I went to sleep believing, like many others, that Thomas E. Dewey was our next President. Some things never change -- my youngest kids went to bed this past election night thinking that Al Gore was their new leader.
Many years have intervened, but I still spend a lot of time with radio. For me it’s more time than I spend with television, thanks to the wonderful world of Washington commuting. So radio has been, for me, a close and constant companion. But happy as those memories are, I don’t think about radio as a nostalgic trip down Memory Lane. I see it, rather, as a major industry of the present, fulfilling a high and valued public purpose. And I see it also as integral to our future -- an engine of growth and progress and enlightenment for us all.
It’s a future that doesn’t get talked about enough as we focus on the new wonders of the Communications Revolution, with all its talk about broadband and 3G, high definition television and interactive TV, e-mail and palm pilots, satellites and wireless phones, and all the rest. Those are all very important, but people need to realize that startling changes are coming their way in radio, too.
I’m learning about digital radio. I’m new to that, but I think we’re all still in the learning stage. We know there is a digital future for radio, but beyond that, I don’t think any of us can paint the picture of what exactly that digital future will look like. Is it just better sound? Is it a myriad of new programming? How interactive is it? So the digital future of radio is still in galleys, but if the history of technology is any guide – and I think it is – then we know it will be a story of exciting new opportunities, some of which we can’t even glimpse right now. I know that your industry engineers are hard at work studying and testing new digital radio technologies and developing proposed standards for them, and I congratulate everyone who is working on that. It’s exciting stuff and I am enthused about working with industry over the coming months and years to move this exciting transition forward.
My hope is that we will learn some lessons from our experiences thus far with the transition to digital television. I understand that the radio and television situations are in many ways very different – different spectrum challenges, different economics, different market conditions. But there may still be some lessons to be learned about how something like this is rolled out; at what pace; and with what consequences to the various stakeholders involved, especially you in the business. Elemental questions of supply and demand need to be tackled before milestones and deadlines are established. There are more questions than answers. None of them is easy, but about one thing I am clear: it is that we need to work closely together every step of the way, in a spirit of true public sector-private sector partnership, to make it happen. It took a lot of work together to build radio service in the early part of the last century, and I believe that kind of cooperative partnership will be needed to make the tricky transition to digital radio.
So I am as excited about radio’s future now as we were back in the days of Happy Hank and Tom Mix and “People are Funny” and “You Bet Your Life.” There are tough problems and all kinds of challenges to be worked through -- issues of concern to you and to me and, most of all, to the American people. But how could it be otherwise when we’re talking about an industry so important to all of us?
One huge issue coming our way at the “new” Commission is industry consolidation. The Nineties brought new rules allowing increased consolidation in the radio industry. In developing these rules, the Commission concluded that broadcasters needed additional flexibility to compete effectively. These rules changes paved the way for tremendous consolidation in the industry. Many of you are now affiliated with groups of dozens, even hundreds, of stations. More and more of your programming originates outside of your station’s studio. These changes create efficiencies that allow you to operate more profitably and on a scale unimaginable just a few years ago. But they also raise questions about how far combination and consolidation should go; whether most of the harvest-able efficiencies of consolidation have already been harvested; how best to nurture a truly competitive environment; questions about trends in diversity and the preservation of localism -- virtues most Americans still hold dear; and questions, sensitive questions, about the nature of programming itself. It’s affected everything. It even presents challenges to the way a great trade association like the Broadcasters goes about its work.
Along with the increased opportunities and efficiencies that you have witnessed come increased responsibilities to your communities. Now, as throughout radio’s long and distinguished history, most broadcasters are good citizens of their communities. They take their obligations seriously. And they work together, particularly through their NAB, to preserve the values on which broadcasting was built. You can be proud of the work you have done through the NAB.
I am a believer -- a true believer -- in the value of trade associations. I worked for one, heading up its legislative and trade departments. Few experiences in my professional life have been as rewarding as seeing competitive business people come together to pursue common objectives. There is just something about seeing the everyday rivalries of the marketplace put temporarily aside, while common industry objectives are pursued together, that makes me feel good about our system of business and hopeful about our country’s ability to meet our public policy challenges.
About the only thing I get more excited about than this kind of business cooperation is cooperation and partnership between our private sector and the public sector. Those of you who worked with me during my eight years at the Department of Commerce during the Clinton Administration know how strongly I feel about this. There my effort was on building cooperative business and government efforts to make America more successful in the global economy. Across almost every sector of our nation’s enterprise, with information technologies and telecommunications in the vanguard, government and business began, at long last, to work together to implement aggressive new export promotion and advocacy programs; to bring America’s small and medium-size enterprises into world markets; and to make us the world’s greatest exporter. Working together, through our Advocacy Center in the International Trade Administration, we won contracts and deals overseas that translated into $71 billion of U.S. domestic content and probably over 800,000 good, high-paying American jobs. During those eight years, America increased its exports to nearly $1 trillion a year.
I learned from this experience that in the global market we inhabit, neither the private nor the public sector could get the job of trade development done by itself. Business and government had both downsized; each had fewer resources to throw into the fray; and our competitors in the EU and Asia had already figured out that they had to work together and they were on their way to cleaning our clock in the global competition. So we worked together here at home, and when we joined hands -- public sector and private sector-- things began to change.
What’s all this got to do with your radio station or with my job at the FCC? Actually, quite a lot, I believe. The Telecommunications and Information Technology Revolution of our time knows no borders or boundaries, any more than radio waves stop at the state line. Our ability to succeed at home depends mightily on what happens far away from home. And in this modern world of fast-moving technology, the research and development and business strategies being hatched overseas affect you just as much as what’s happening at your competitor’s station across town.
But the kind of cooperation I am talking about today goes beyond just working together in the global arena. It involves, first and foremost, working together on the challenges we face here at home: fostering and harnessing and applying new technologies, like digital; encouraging competition; preserving the diversity of voices and choices; and crafting public policies and regulatory regimes that address the public interest without diminishing America’s spirit of enterprise.
The radio industry and the federal government have a long history of cooperation. In 1925, when Secretary Hoover convened the Fourth Radio Conference, he could already acknowledge that “it was only by your cooperation that the requirements of this great service could best be met.”
I want to help this partnering continue. I want to assist in bringing people together to identify opportunities; to talk candidly about problems and obstacles; and to develop common-sense solutions to advance the common good.
As a FCC Commissioner, I have an obligation to work with the industry to help ensure that licensees continue to serve their communities. When radio licenses come up for renewal or for transfer, it is our obligation under the Communications Act to make sure that the renewal or transaction serves the public interest, convenience and necessity. I take this obligation very seriously.
Now, the public interest is a broad concept. I believe that one important component of the public interest is a vital and competitive marketplace with regulatory certainty in business transactions and fulfillment of Congress’ vision of a more competitive and less regulated industry.
Also in the public interest is the preservation of a diversity of sources of programming in each community. Not just a variety of stations and formats, because variety and diversity are not the same thing, but diversity of ownership and diversity of programming reflecting the increasing diversity of our society. Localism, avoidance of excessive market power, an informed citizenry cognizant of the complexity and diversity of positions on the issues of the day – these, too, are integral parts of the public interest.
I don’t think mine is a particularly expansive view of the public interest. After all, it wasn’t Mike Copps who said: “…it becomes of primary public interest to say who is to do the broadcasting, under what circumstances, and with what type of material.” That would have been Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover back in 1922 at the First Radio Conference. It was also Hoover who said, “…we can surely agree that no one can raise a cry of deprivation of free speech if he is compelled to prove that there is something more than naked commercial selfishness in his purpose.”
Now I may not be as radical as Herbert Hoover, but the public interest is my lodestar as I begin to wrestle with all the many issues coming before the Commission. I hope it will be similarly important to all of you, because the same statute that obliges Kathleen and Kevin and me to make sure that a license transaction or renewal serves the public interest obliges you as broadcasters and public trustees to operate in the public interest.
I’ve mentioned only a few of the matters of common interest that I hope we can work on together. There are many others. In closing, I just want to state again my strong conviction that industry and government can best serve our common public interest goal when we come together, reason together, work together. I came here this morning primarily to leave this one point with you and to say how much I am looking forward to working with you to make it happen.