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The Power and Responsibility of our Nation's Broadcasters

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Message Tim Robbins

The following is my opening keynote speech for the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas, which I delivered Monday night.

Hello, I'm Tim Robbins. I'd like to thank you for the invitation to address you here at the National Association of Broadcasters. When I first received the invitation I was a little confused because the last time I had contact with the national media I seem to remember them telling me to shut the hell up.

I would like to start with an apology. To Rush and Sean, and Billo and Savage and Laura what's-her-name. A few years ago they told America that because I had different opinions on the wisdom of going to war that I was a traitor, a Saddam lover, a terrorist supporter, undermining the troops. I was appealing at the time for the inspectors to have more time to find those weapons of mass destruction. I was a naïve dupe of left wing appeasement. And how right they were. If I had known then what I know now, if I had seen the festive and appreciative faces on the streets of Baghdad today, if I had known then what a robust economy we would be in, the unity of our people, the wildfire of democracy that has spread across the Mideast, I would never have said those traitorous, unfounded and irresponsible things. I stand chastened in the face of the wisdom of the talk radio geniuses, and I apologize for standing in the way of freedom.

So when they asked me to come speak to you I said, "Are you sure? Me?" And they said, "Yes."

And I said, "You know, I have a tendency to say things that I believe at the time to be well-intentioned but that are actually traitorous." And they said, "Sure, cool." And then I read the press release and it said, "Mr. Robbins will be speaking about the challenges of new media and delivery systems." Oh, OK. But I just want you to know I'm not sure I know what that f*cking means.

But it is an honor to be speaking to you here at this years National Association Broadcasting convention even if I don't know what the hell I'm talking about.

I owe a lot to broadcast media. I got my start in radio in the early 20s. In my early twenties. And it was television.

But these tremendous inventions have benefited us all.

Radio has come a long way from the early days when family's gathered around the trusty old Philco to listen to such programs as Superman, Sherlock Holmes and Amos and Andy. Thanks to music and sound effects, this magical medium was able to transport families to a place where a man could fly, a brilliant detective could solve the most perplexing of crimes, and two white guys could portray ridiculously offensive black stereotypes for the amusement of millions.

The first broadcast occurred on Christmas Eve in 1906 at Brant Rock, MA, when a man named Fessenden played his violin, sang a song and read Bible verses into a wireless telephone of his own invention. His goal was to find financial backers, but no investor of the day believed that radio could ever replace the most popular leisure activity of the day; listening to the hoot owl while playing the zither as your 14-year-old niece bounced on your knee. Some of you may remember. It was all the rage in the early century.

But soon broadcasting over the radio caught on and zither playing and child molestation were a thing of the past. Radio reached a boom time during the Depression as people begin to listen to and depend on radio to lift their spirits during that catastrophic economic crisis. Shows such as The Bickersons taught people life is not so bad as long as somebody has got it worse.

President Roosevelt became the first "radio president" and his "fireside chats" set the stage for later presidential weekly addresses such as; "chew the fat with Ike," "LBJ's bull session," and George W's "Hooked on Phonics and Strategery Hour."

Radio continued to expand and soon, the public turned to their radios for news, which began to mature during World War II with the regular reports of the bombing of London by Edward R. Murrow, with his "London After Dark" series, where Murrow coined the famous phrase: "Good Night and Good Luck" as well as the lesser known phrase; "Die, you Nazi cocksuckers."

In the post war years, the radio business exploded when 90% of all American's claimed radio was their primary source of news and entertainment. To meet this incredible demand Philco built 6 million radios in 1947. And to provide content for those 6 million radios, we were introduced to some of the greatest drama, comedy and musical entertainment this country has ever seen.

In the '70s, radio took a serious nosedive when Edwin Armstrong invented FM to eliminate the static and noise associated with AM and unwittingly provided a home for easy listening jazz rock, overly dramatic disco songs and 20 minute psychedelic sitar jams.

In the '80s and '90s the FCC, under pressure from the Reagan and Clinton administrations, changed the rules limiting the number of radio and television stations a business entity could own, paving the way for such conglomerates as Infinity broadcasting and Clear Channel to buy up local stations and put them under the umbrella of their larger corporations. Again the community benefited because due to Clear Channel and Infinities' conservative approach, listeners no longer had to be subjected to perplexing controversial subjects, or confusing varied opinion, or alternative rock. And as a bonus these large companies, with the help of Mr. Reagan and Mr. Clinton got rid of that annoying Fairness Doctrine, freeing its listeners from the burden of hearing equally from all sides of the political debate. What a bore.

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Tim Robbins has a long list of notable film credits as an actor, his career highlighted by writing, producing, and directorial accomplishments. In 2003, Robbins starred in "Mystic River," for which he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting (more...)
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