Radio & Television Business Report Interview: Seven Questions with David Honig

by Dave Seyler, Guest Contributor on June 30, 2013

The following article originally appeared in RBR.

David HonigPersonal information
Current company: Minority Media and Telecommunications Council
Position: President
Location: Washington, DC
Place of Birth: Cambridge, MA
Date of Birth: 12/6/49. Do the math – I’m 63, so I’ve got about two more years of full-tilt civil rights advocacy before the FCC left in me.
Spouse/Kid/Personal Info: My daughter is 23 and is training to be a civil rights lawyer.
College: Oberlin (Math, 1971), U. of Rochester (MS Military Systems Analysis 1974), Georgetown University Law Center (JD cum laude 1983)
Favorite Band or Artist: That’s easy! Anita Baker
Favorite Movies: Hollywood Shuffle (1987); The Notebook (2004)
Favorite Books: Too many to list
Sports Team Preferences: No preferred team – but I would like the Washington DC football team to change its name. The current name is a racial slur and it is shameful in this or any other day and age. NOTE: broadcasters can help by refusing to use the name (let’s call it “Redxxxx”) on the air. Just call it the “Washington football team” until its owner arrives in the 20th Century and changes the name.
Hobbies/Passions: I have three old Checker cars that I tinker with and drive. They weigh four tons and get 8 mpg, but they seat eight and will last forever.

1. How did you get started in the business?
I started in broadcasting as research director for an antipoverty agency that objected to racial discrimination in broadcast employment and to consistently negative portrayals of minorities in the news. That was in 1971, and it’s framed my perspective on the industry ever since.

2. What are the chances of getting the minority tax certificate program re-instated?
Possible, but it won’t be easy. MMTC has been trying to get it back since 1995 when Congress repealed it. The NAB has been terrific, trying to help. The Tax Certificate Policy, which the FCC created in 1978, quintupled the number of minority owned stations until Congress unwisely repealed it in 1995.

While we’re waiting for Congress to reverse itself, the FCC should take the advice of former commissioners Michael Copps and Deborah Taylor Tate and start digging into MMTC’s 71 long-pending proposals to advance minority ownership.

3. MMTC has proposed numerous FCC actions to promote broadcast ownership diversity. Out of that pool, which do you believe are the most promising?
The most important is migrating AM radio to TV Channels 5-6, as advocated by the Broadcast Maximization Committee. Two-thirds of minority owned stations are AM’s, and obviously these stations need help. The Channel 5/6 migration would triple the value of AM stations. Another key proposal is the Tell City waiver application, which seeks to facilitate relocations of FM translators closer to large cities where AM stations can use the translators to supplement their coverage.

4. It appears that the judiciary has progressively made it harder to address this issue – what may be the best way to overcome judicial hurdles?
The FCC could grant several of the dozens of race- and gender-neutral proposals that MMTC has pending, most of which have been endorsed by the Commission’s own Advisory Committee on Diversity. Near the top of the list should go several proposals aimed at improving AM signal reach and sound quality. Others are aimed at incentivizing private sector efforts to advance ownership diversity.

5. Aside from the tax certificate, what is the best thing Congress can do to address diversity?
Relentlessly perform its oversight function, as was contemplated by the “market entry barriers” provision of the 1996 Telecom Act (Section 257). Congress needs to make sure that the FCC regularly reviews its rules and eliminates or modifies those that inhibit diversity, while aggressively enforcing rules – particularly the advertising and procurement nondiscrimination and EEO rules – to ensure that minorities and women in our business will get a fair shake.

6. Overview time: What is a reasonable five year goal in the move to diversify broadcast ownership and the best overall plan to get there?
The goal should be nothing short of full participation: minority and women broadcast employees, managers and entrepreneurs should have the same opportunities to succeed as every other employee, manager and entrepreneur.

Here are three steps the FCC should take to get us there:

1. Rule on all of the 71 pending proposals to diversity media and telecom ownership.

2. Conduct the DTV spectrum auctions in a manner that yields up spectrum the wireless industry urgently needs while, at the same time, fortifying diverse broadcasters’ financial and logistical ability to operate on several platforms.

3. Set high expectations for the industry. Inspire it to “go big” with private sector initiatives and investments to promote diversity without the need for extensive regulation.

7. What can your readers do to promote diversity?
1. Follow the issues and get to know the players and the proposals. RBR/TVBR always reports expansively on the ongoing battle for diversity and inclusion.

2. “Each One Help One.” Broadcasting is one of America’s great “helping professions.” Almost no one gets into broadcasting out of greed or sloth. Broadcasters become broadcasters because they want to provide a vital service to everyone. That’s the culture of our profession. In that spirit, every successful broadcaster should make it his or her personal pledge to reach out to, mentor, and assist a minority or woman who wants to make broadcasting a lifetime career. Help that person make the contacts you made, secure the experience you had, and achieve the same success you enjoyed.

3. As a 501(c)(3) tax exempt nonprofit, MMTC accepts donations of radio and television stations. We use these stations to help train the next generation of minority and women broadcasters. Anyone interested in considering the donation of a station to MMTC should feel free to call me at 202-332-0500.

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