NASHVILLE, Tenn. — NAB Executive Vice President for Radio John David kicked off the Radio Show Luncheon and introduced Jeff Smulyan, chairman and CEO of Emmis Communications and NextRadio (the event’s sponsor).
In his address to the crowd, Smulyan argued that the reason why the forecast for radio’s future looks so bleak is that the expectations of audiences and advertisers have changed. But, he said, NextRadio is a tool to help broadcasters compete.
“The future success of our industry is literally in the palm of our hands,” Smulyan said.
NAB Radio Board Chair José Valle next introduced NAB Chairman and CEO Gordon Smith, who called Nashville “an exciting place to be.” Smith then welcomed Jon Kirchner, chairman and CEO of DTS Inc., the parent company of iBiquity Digital/HD Radio.
Kirchner and Smith engaged in a conversation about DTS, immediately addressing the pending acquisition by Tessera; Kirchner called it “the elephant in the room” because the announcement was made yesterday with few details.
However, Kirchner reassured attendees, saying that he anticipates being named the president of the combined companies and plans to continue to invest in HD Radio innovation.
“DTS in our history has become an expert in building technology ecosystems,” Kirchner said, explaining why the company considered its acquisition of iBiquity Digital to be a sound financial decision. And, he said, “It’s only recently that the size of the [HD Radio] ecosystem is hitting critical mass.”
When you think about the marriage between sound and picture and the general consumer interest, the research is pretty compelling, according to Kirchner.
Smith asked Kirchner about his thoughts on the car of the future and how radio will be able to compete, remarking, “We’re a dashboard-centric industry … but I do know that in the coming decade the car is going to be a very different experience, and we need to be in it.”
Kirchner’s response was: “A futurist once told me, ‘The future is already here. It’s just not distributed evenly yet.’” He referenced the developments in self-driving cars and other technologies that have drastically begun to change automobile.
According to Kirchner, the important question for DTS and for radio going forward will be, “How can we collectively partner to deliver that enhanced experience?”
Nonetheless, “We have to proactively shape the future ...” said Kirchner. And “our job is to make it [radio] as prominent as possible.”
After all, “you don’t want radio to be the thing your dad did,” Kirchner said, explaining that the technology must evolve so that it isn’t left behind by younger generations.
Additionally, “You’ve got to focus on multiple markets simultaneously,” said Kirchner. Tessera already has a strong presence in the mobile market, which will be leveraged as he hopes that HD Radio will break into the mobile market as part of the company’s intentional evolution.
“I think the [HD Radio] platform is leverageable into mobile,” said Kirchner.
Touching on another subject of concern to broadcasters, Smith asked about Apple’s decision to remove the headphone jack on its new iPhone7. “I don’t think it ultimately becomes ubiquitous because the economics and technology are pretty challenging,” Kirchner responded. Rather, “I think you’re going to continue to see wired live for a long time.”
Gordon Smith then remained on the stage and was rejoined by Valle, who helped to introduce Don Benson, the 2016 winner of the National Radio Award. Benson is the former president and CEO of Lincoln Financial Media and he has more than four decades of radio industry experience, much of which was spent with Jefferson-Pilot Media.
“Don has been a leader on serving and volunteering and giving back to the business,” Smith said.
Benson served multiple terms on the Executive Committee of the National Association of Broadcasters board of directors and as Radio Board chair for three consecutive terms. In addition, he also served as a multiyear member of the board of directors of the Radio Advertising Bureau and as chair of the Arbitron Advisory Council, representing the top 50 continuously rated radio markets.
“His leadership helped shape and advance the radio business,” said Valle, who added, “By the way, there is no gentler, kinder leader than this guy,” said Valle.
An introductory video featured cameos from mentors and former colleagues, many of whom characterized Benson as a gentleman and several referenced his quiet strength.
Scott Shannon, Benson’s first radio boss, who hired him to answer phones part-time at WMAK in 1969, also gave a colorful and touching testimony to Benson, remembering, “He looked like he came out of a Ralph Lauren ad. We found out he was a Vanderbilt kid.” But more important, Shannon said, “This kid wanted to learn everything, and he learned quickly.” Benson followed Shannon to Atlanta, serving as his assistant PD.
“Don Benson is one of the brightest and the best, and I’m so happy he’s getting this award today,” said Shannon.
Benson then took the stage to accept his award. He spent most of his speech thanking colleagues, family and friends for their recognition and support, but also made time to poke fun at himself.
Benson recalled an unsuccessful quest to win a black transistor radio as a teen, culminating in being a witness to the original Maxwell House Hotel fire. He also recalled his time with Scott Shannon, describing him as a close mentor and friend who gave him his start in radio — and who also dubbed him “Wonder Frog.”
“I’ve been very lucky to have some great teachers, and Scott was one of them,” said Benson.