Ed Godfrey, transformational leader of RTNDA, dies

June 25, 2019 01:00

“He was one of the most effective presidents we’ve ever had.”
That’s how former Radio Television Digital News Association – known until 2009 as the Radio Television News Directors Association – treasurer Lou Prato describes Ed Godfrey.
Godfrey, who served as one of RTNDA’s final elected presidents in 1984 (the title was changed to chairman/woman in 1987), died June 18 in Louisville, Ky., several months after being injured in a fall. He was 88.
It was in Louisville, where he worked for many years at WAVE-TV, that Godfrey retired from his long, illustrious career as a television news director, after serving in the industry previously in Miami, Houston, Portland, Ore., and Atlanta.
But for our association, Godfrey’s legacy includes leadership on a number of pivotal regulatory issues of that time, including, perhaps most notably, the effort to abolish the Fairness Doctrine.
While serving as our president, on Feb. 8, 1984, Godfrey testified before the Senate Commerce Committee, telling then-Chairman Robert Packwood (R-Ore.):
“We news directors are determined to end our second-class citizenship under the First Amendment. The Communications Act requires government regulation of the journalistic content of electronic media in ways clearly forbidden for regulation of print media content. The public we serve is ultimately the loser.”
The Fairness Doctrine had been in place under FCC fiat since 1949. It required broadcasters, which operate on frequencies owned by the U.S. government and licensed to them under heavily regulated conditions, to “affirmatively endeavor to make ... facilities available for the expression of contrasting viewpoints held by responsible elements with respect to the controversial issues presented.”
RTNDA, along with the National Association of Broadcasters and other proponents of fewer regulations governing our industry, was a leader in the effort to have it repealed. The FCC ultimately did, in 1987, and then permanently scrubbed its overarching regulation from the Federal Register in 2011.
The deregulatory move has since become controversial in some sectors all along the ideological spectrum, because it eventually led to highly partisan forms of broadcast media, predominantly conservative and liberal talk radio. That served as a catalyst to other partisan public affairs programming, predominantly on cable television, which is not regulated by the FCC.
To this day, however, RTDNA believes that less government regulation of our profession is in the best interest of the American people because it gives them access to more, and more diverse, insights.
Larry Scharff, who served as RTNDA’s general counsel for many years, including the mid-1980s, helped prepare Godfrey for his Senate testimony.
“I can tell you that [Ed] was devoted to RTDNA and its great causes of the First Amendment and the betterment of electronic journalism,” Scharff told me recently. “He served RTNDA well for many years before and after his presidency.”
Many of Godfrey’s contemporaries on the RTNDA board also remember him fondly.
“As he did with RTNDA, I expect anything he touched he made better. That’s a good legacy and a great example he left for many others,” said Tom Bier, the association chairman in 1990.
Spence Kinard, who was RTNDA’s first chairman of the board in 1987, also served with Godfrey.
“So sorry to hear about Ed. He had a crusty exterior but was a kind and thoughtful man on the inside,” Kinard recalled.
Former board member Paul Paolicelli also served with Godfrey and was one of the final previous members to visit Godfrey in the weeks before his death.
“I’m so grateful we had that time. Ed was Ed, subdued by feisty. I hoped against hope that wouldn’t be our final goodbye. So many years and so many memories. He was one of life’s true experiences,” Paolicelli told me in an email.
Godfrey’s family remembered him in an obituary published in the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Ed can be remembered for his integrity in journalism. A staunch defender of the First Amendment, he showed tenderness for victims experiencing tragic loss. His reporters were discouraged from getting sound bites from victims, to mitigate "hype" and inflated ratings.

Godfrey could best be described as a "gentlemen's gentleman". He never failed to stand when a woman entered the room, hold her chair, or honor his word when he gave it.
We should all remember Godfrey for his seminal contributions to our association and our profession. As he told the Senate Commerce Committee in 1984, “The First Amendment and its interpretation by the Supreme Court should be our shield from government intrusion.”
It is an admonition that remains as relevant today as it was 35 years ago.
Godfrey leaves behind a wife of 62 years, Sue, a son, daughter and four grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at 2:00 p.m. EDT Sunday, June 30, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 1206 Maple Ln., Anchorage, Ky.