Posted on Monday, May 2, 2022

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Two highly respected thought leaders with decades of “affecting change” in the media industry, but with vastly different stories about how they reached their peak of influence. That was a guiding force in the NAB Show’s “Executive Leadership Series” with former NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith and entrepreneur— founder, Chairman and CEO of Allen Media Group & Entertainment Studios—and NAB Television Board Member Byron Allen.

In the hour-long “fireside chat,” led by Curtis LeGeyt, President and CEO of the NAB, the pair discussed their novel career paths, and respective roles as advocates and leaders, united “by the courage to fight for what they believe, and a passion for serving communities,” LeGeyt said. Following are highlights of their comments (edited for clarity).

Allen’s beginnings in comedy: “If you really think about it, comedy is just another way of sharing the news. And you have a lot of people getting their news from comedians. I've always enjoyed being on stage and sharing the truth and trying to help people see things a certain way. That's what comedians do… cut through it and say, here's a different way of looking at it. That's how the mind of a comedian works.”

Smith, as a former Senator and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on the value of a free press: “The First Amendment is first because I think it's most important and includes the keystone of our freedom, which is the ability to speak and publish, and to have our ideas considered in the public square. Once, representing the NAB, I spoke to South American broadcasters and I had this technology speech ready, I think, about ATSC or something like that. And (a tour guide said to me), ‘Would you speak about your first amendment, because we're all one election away from losing our freedom of speech? So that is the keystone to protecting all the other freedoms that we have as American citizens.”

Byron on the importance of news: “News is extremely important. It's critical to our democracy. People need to be informed. People need to have the information so they can make their decisions. We can't have a real democracy without having strong news throughout America. The first thing that happens when people try and take over… is shut down the news, shut down our voices, shut down our flow of information. When you see somebody doing that, that's the devil coming to get you. So I'm a firm believer that we can't have enough strong local news, and we can't invest enough in it.”

Smith’s work ethic and world view: “I had wonderful parents, and it starts with them. I think the most important work any of us could do is within the walls of our own homes. As part of that, I was taught as a principal—as old [as the book of] Genesis, this paradox, that if you seek to find your life, focusing on yourself, you will lose it. But if you seek to serve others, you'll find your life. And this is a principle that I think is at the heart of every broadcaster, in the public service business.”

Allen’s expanding media empire: “My mission is to build the world's biggest media company—to have the influence to effectuate change for the greater good, to unite us. There are media companies out there that work very hard to divide us. And then you can have people that are so divided that they're invading the nation’s Capitol, and trying to overthrow the country. I believe the most powerful person is not the president of the United States, it’s the people who control media. We’re the gateway to the truth.”

Smith on serving the NAB following two terms as a U.S. Senator: “Well, I lost a third term, and having grown up with Potomac fever, it was somewhat disillusioning and disorienting. But I had this wonderful phone call (about interviewing for the NAB). And I thought, yes, because when I was a U.S. senator, and I would go home to Oregon, I would fill my time with visits to radio and television stations. Why? Because that allowed me to reach out to my constituents, the American people. And so broadcasting gave me this new wonderful platform for public service.”

Allen on perseverance: “You’re going to have your ups and downs. But I will tell you, resistance is a key ingredient and will make you very strong. I've seen contemporaries not have enough resistance in their career, and they weren't able to stay afloat. So the downs are equally important… You work through it, and you keep going, but don't be bitter, be better.”