Gordon Smith, NAB president and CEO, was toasted, and at times roasted, at the Broadcasters Foundation of America black tie dinner March 16 at the Plaza in New York. Deborah Norville presented a rousing intro for the Foundation, which raises substantial funds for broadcasters who have fallen on hard times. Major Garrett, chief White House correspondent at CBS News, and an old friend of Smith’s, emceed. The virtuoso violinist Jenny Oaks Baker did a kick-ass version of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” on her fiddle, and some of Smith’s broadcast pals, including Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan and David Barrett, Hearst Corp. director and former president and CEO of Hearst Television, took turns roasting him.
Smith, a former U.S. senator and frozen foods magnate, is a devout Mormon. Barrett—who got the Golden Mike award in 2013—said that everything he knows about Mormonism, he picked up while seeing The Book of Mormon on Broadway. Barrett spoke of whiling away a winter day in Miami, sitting in a beach chair next to Alan Frank—who got the award in 2011—smoking cigars and discussing Smith’s finer points. He noted how the suave Smith smoothed down some of the “rough edges” from “infidels” like Barrett and Frank as they addressed lawmakers on the Hill.
“He leads with a sense of integrity,” said Barrett, a word you hear quite a bit from people describing the NAB president. “He is so admired by us all.”
Smith then stepped to the podium. “Ever wonder what it would be like to attend your own funeral?” he quipped. Taking a poke at suspended NBC News anchor Brian Williams, Smith mentioned how he and his wife Sharon “came under heavy artillery fire” while stepping into a cab in Manhattan.
Acknowledging his squeaky clean image, Smith said he and Sharon did, in fact, get a little crazy while in Manhattan. “We went out in SoHo, had a couple Shirley Temples, and stayed out until 9:45,” said Smith, noting that the pair was partying like it was 1959.
Addressing the public distaste for Congress, Smith said when Congressmen are said to have a brain no bigger than a pea, it’s an insult to the beloved peas the Smith family built a massive business on.
Smith thanked the broadcasters in the room for their public service. “Broadcasters have durable value,” he said. “We’ll continue to be valuable as long as we do our work.”