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Leading the way to diversity

7/30/2000 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Consolidation has shut the country's radio major markets to all but the biggest companies. Few entrepreneurs can afford to buy TV stations as prices have risen through the roof.

For minority broadcasters, the ownership pinch is doubly felt: They face exclusion not only because of TV and radio consolidation but also because of the color of their skin. The broadcasting business has long been dominated by an old-boy network, as Jim Winston puts it.

But "I've seen us get through bad times before," he says. "We've weathered a lot of storms. ... It's a question of whether we do well or whether we do better."

As executive director and general counsel for the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters Inc. (NABOB) since 1982, Winston has had to be an optimist, notes David E. Honig, executive director of the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council. "Anybody who isn't doesn't last long in a job like that."

NABOB's goals, now as at the group's formation in 1976, are to increase station ownership by African-Americans and to fight discrimination in advertising placement.

Politics are key to what NABOB seeks. It was politics that in 1995 killed the most effective tool for minority broadcast ownership-the FCC's minority media tax-certificate program-although Winston acknowledges that there had been some abuses. NABOB hopes for a congressional revival of the tax-certificate program, one with protections against abuse.

NABOB's strengths come from its members: 180 radio and 20 TV stations. According to the organization, those black-owned stations represent 1.7% of the nation's current 10,549 radio stations and 1.6% of the 1,243 TVs (numbers that are in sync with those compiled by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration).

Winston also points out that there are only two publicly traded broadcasters that are African-American controlled: Radio One Inc. and TV group Granite Broadcasting Corp.

Winston has a good feel for the problems broadcasters face, partly as a result of his trying to get into the business himself. In 1980, he left his FCC job as a legal assistant to then-Commissioner Robert E. Lee to start a low-power TV network. The plan "never materialized," he says, blaming the FCC for reasons that have nothing to do with his being black. He also blames the commission for NABOB's-and others'-troubles after the disastrous "C-block" PCS auction of 1996.

Minority broadcasting isn't Winston's only concern. He also practices telecommunications law as a partner in Washington law firm Rubin, Winston, Diercks, Harris & Cooke LLP. How does he split his time between NABOB and the firm? "They each take 100%," he laughs. "It gets pretty crazy."

Winston's dedication to both derives from his parents' work ethic. His quest to effect social change likewise stems from his family background and also from his college days in the 1960s. "What I'm keenly aware of," he says, "is that I benefited from the civil rights struggle."

Whereas his dad never finished high school, he went to college. The younger Winston entered the University of Pennsylvania the year the school threw open its doors to more blacks than had ever been enrolled there. Winston became a protest leader. "It made the educational experience a whole lot more than textbooks," he recalls.

But it was his father who made the earliest-and perhaps deepest-impact. Winston père worked as a laborer for then-Westinghouse Electric Co. in Pittsburgh. After 41 years, which included training white men who were then promoted over him, he was rewarded with a tie tack.

"Those are the kinds of experiences you don't forget," Winston says quietly.

After graduating from Penn with a major in electrical engineering, Winston decided law school would be the best place to hone his leadership skills. He graduated from Harvard Law in 1972, to his parent's enormous pride.

He now finds that "the part of me that started out being an electrical engineer enjoys the technological changes in this industry."

The biggest issue all broadcasters face now, however, has nothing to do with the rapidly changing pace of technology. It's "the size of the companies," Winston says. "White, black, yellow, red-[all] are being squeezed out of the business." Now, more than ever, "money talks, and I think the public interest has suffered as a result."


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