It was a father-and-son story that represented radio at the Giants of Broadcasting & Electronic Arts awards Wednesday in New York. Entercom founder and chairman Joe Field and his son David, president and CEO, joined the rare pantheon simultaneously, accepting their awards side by side.
It was one of only a handful of times two family members have been honored together in the awards’ 15-year history and the family pride was palpable.
The younger Field called it “truly humbling to look at the roster of true Giants who have preceded us,” a list of 210 luminaries that ranges from Jack Benny and Lucille Ball to Charlie Rose and Diane Sawyer. David told the crowd gathered at Gotham Hall how his father founded Entercom 49 years ago as a young lawyer with “no business experience and no broadcasting knowledge” but with “a prescient vision” about the FM radio’s potential back when AM still ruled the airwaves. While his father possesses a “brilliant mind, tireless energy and an indomitable will,” David said what he most admired about him are the human qualities—“a selfless, principled and unpretentious man with great virtue and integrity whose philanthropy has made an enormous difference in so many lives.”
While the Giants typically honor past accomplishments, David Field said what most excites him is radio’s future. The medium’s competitive position has “never been stronger,” he said. “In an era of unprecedented change and disruption, radio is thriving largely due to the power of its local brands and personalities that entertain and inform and engage local audiences.” Radio, he said, is “on the verge of a renaissance” as big multibillion-dollar advertisers such as Procter & Gamble rediscover the medium’s reach and power and as the industry pushes ahead to “capitalize on innovation opportunities.”
The younger Field, who started as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs and rose through the Entercom ranks from CFO to COO to CEO, didn’t mention the first round of spinoffs from the company’s pending merger with CBS Radio that made headlines the day before. But he did touch on the opportunities he sees from the watershed merger. “We are committed to expanding our investment in our brands and capabilities to better serve our customers and communities,” he said.
Standing by his side, Joe Field gave props to his son’s work running Entercom since 1999 and said he wouldn’t have been inducted as a Giant had it not been for his son’s “extraordinary record” as a broadcaster. “I can’t thank him enough for all that he has done to make this award possible,” Joe said. And while the journey ultimately had a happy ending, it apparently didn’t start that way. He spoke of the company’s “difficult early years” when it struggled against powerful AM station operators that dominated radio. He recalled his a-ha moment when he first hatched the “far out” idea that FM could survive as an independent medium from AM with its own live operators and dedicated sales staffs. Back then he couldn’t have imagined his scrappy start-up would become one of radio’s largest companies. Yet what makes him most happy, Joe said, is “standing here together with my son David whom I am most proud of,” and joining the Giants as a father-son combo.
While the Fields were the only current radio people inducted, other new Giants have roots in the medium, such as NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell. The host of “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on MSNBC began her career in the newsroom at KYW Philadelphia (1060) in 1967. Career-shaping stories, nods to mentors and advice are what Giants of Broadcasting acceptance speeches are all about and Mitchell offered a little of each. She spoke of first meeting Jeff Zucker when the CNN Worldwide president was a sports researcher for Katie Couric and commandeered Mitchell’s desk one morning at the NBC News Washington Bureau. Mitchell’s advice now for broadcasters: “Approach every day with the same energy and enthusiasm we had when we first entered the newsroom.” Now covering her seventh president, Mitchell said the industry still has a “lot of work” to do in fostering workplace diversity and she talked of the challenges of keeping pace with a news cycle that changes by the second in a nation that seems to suffer from Attention Deficit Syndrome. Mitchell received applause when she declared, “We are not the enemies of the people. We are the eyes and ears of the people.”
President Trump’s combative stance against the media was also referenced in fellow-honoree Zucker’s speech. Zucker, who took over the “Today” show at the age of 26 and went on to a 25-year career at NBC Universal that culminated in the position of CEO, said there’s never been a more important time to be working in the news business. Trump’s attacks on CNN have only “emboldened us and made us stronger,” Zucker said. “It is our job to hold those in power accountable.”
Among the other television industry members who were named a Giant of Broadcasting were Jeff Fager, executive producer of CBS News’ “60 Minutes.” While so much has changed since the most-watched news program in America first hit the airwaves 50 years ago, some things remain the same. Among them, Fager said, are its standards and values and adherence to quality, fairness and integrity.
Horizon Media founder Bill Koenigsberg, an agency that spends a big share of its $8 billion in media investment on radio, shared 10 pieces of advice he recently dispensed to the agency’s interns, which he suggested also apply to most everyone working in broadcasting. Among them were “develop and protect your brand,” “find your passion” and “get negativity out of your life.”
Also inducted were consulting president Gary R. Chapman, who earlier served as CEO of LIN TV; iconic actress Barbara Eden (“I Dream Of Jeannie”); and Dispatch Broadcast Group chairman and CEO Michael Fiorile. The awards were emceed by “60 Minutes” correspondent Bill Whitaker.
Held by the Library of American Broadcasting, the event draws attention and raises funds that go to support a repository of broadcast history—including early issues of Inside Radio—at the University of Maryland. Hubbard Radio chief executive Ginny Morris, who chairs the library’s board, said that yesterday’s 15th annual awards luncheon “smashed” its previous attendance record. The event also supports training and diversity initiatives of the International Radio and Television Society Foundation.