Broadcasters, At Your Service


Broadcasters got together Monday night in Washington to press the flesh, munch the shrimp-topped-polenta squares and showcase theirs and others’ public service efforts, not necessarily in that order.

It was the Service to America awards, sponsored by the National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation, which took on added import as the FCC contemplates prodding some of those broadcasters to give up their spectrum to make room for burgeoning wireless broadband use.

On the eve of the FCC’s release of a technical paper outlining more details of its spectrum plan, Commissioner Robert McDowell, one of the night’s presenters, got in a shot at that effort.

Praising broadcasters for their public service, he added: “See how you do [all that public service] once we take away your spectrum,” and then, for good measure: “How do you do all those wonderful things without the government mandating it.

Some broadcasters seemed to miss the point that he was on their side, judged by the groans — or perhaps it was that the issue is just to close to home to joke about, even when the joke is with them, not on them.

Jim Goodmon of Capitol Broadcasting, there to accept the Service to Television award for Fox affiliate WRAZ-TVDurham, N.C., put in his two cents for free-over-the-air TV, saying it remained the primary source of critical news and information. He said it was vital that broadcasters spectrum be preserved.

Broadcasters also got a shout-out from on high, as it were. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, there to present the award to William and Tani Austin for their work with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, said it was good to be among people “who are doing so much that is right at a time when we need so much that is right.”

Goodmon pointed out that WRAZ was the first Fox affiliate to win the TV service award. That was for an AIDS prevention campaign that led to 250,000 people being tested, a blood drive (”What Color Do You Bleed”), and a foreclosure-prevention campaign he said kept 38,000 people in their houses.

McDowell appeared to be the only FCC commissioner in attendance, though the Hill was well represented, including Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), all presenters.

There were more than a few tears in the room when KOMU-TV Columbia, Mo., owned by McCaskill’s alma mater, the University of Missouri, got its award for raising $315,000 to send 400 World War II vets to Washington to see the memorial to that war.

They showed some video of the veterans being greeted at the airport with signs and thank yous, but the crowds should have been bigger (FYI: another planeload is scheduled to arrive June 29). Wouldn’t it be great if there was a huge crowd able to take an hour or two out of their day to give them a big thanks-for-covering-our-behinds Washington welcome? For those of us, and I include myself, who spent more time barbecuing on Memorial Day weekend than pondering the sacrifice that made it possible, what a great way to rectify that omission.

I will provide more information about the flight time when I get it from KOMU.