United States: V&E Lawyer The Secret Father Of Digital Radio
Last Updated: November 7 2002

Issued on October 22, 2002

In an era when lawyers are always trying to add value to their client's business, Robert Mazer went a step further: He envisioned a concept, helped create a business to tackle his dream, and then worked with the new venture to see his vision become a reality.

Mr. Mazer, a partner at Vinson & Elkins in Washington, D.C., was sitting in a six-week conference in Geneva in 1988 when he had an idea: What if American radio stations broadcast their signals in digital?

Fourteen years and thousands of hours of work later, iBiquity Digital Corp., a Columbia, Maryland-based company, has been given the green light from the Federal Communications Commission to begin marketing technology that will allow the 12,000 AM and FM radio stations in the United States to transmit their signals in digital. At the same time, iBiquity has been given the go-ahead to license the technology to radio manufacturers to sell radios that can receive digital signal.

Communications experts describe it as the biggest development in radio history since FM Stereo.

The whole idea began with Robert Mazer, a 51-year-old Baltimore native, a telecommunications lawyer at Vinson & Elkins and an amateur technologist. A year after the Geneva conference, he met with broadcast technology experts in Paris and Munich who were trying to develop a similar concept for European radio stations. But he quickly realized that the Europeans' vision of digitalized radio would not work in the U.S. Upon his return to the states, he began a decade-long journey to find American broadcast and technology-based corporations that would be interested in pursuing digital radio.

"Television was moving toward digital. Cell phones were also becoming digital. Even beepers were migrating to a digital world. I didn't understand why the radio in my car or my home stereo wasn't digital, too," says Mr. Mazer, who worked at the FCC for three years in the early 1980s. The question was where are you going to find the spectrum to broadcast a digital signal? The answer was in the existing AM and FM bands. "I knew the military hid signals within signals. I didn't know what it actually meant or how it worked, but I knew it could be done. The key was convincing some of these broadcast companies, such as CBS and Gannett, that it could be done and it would greatly improve their product."

Mr. Mazer immersed himself in the study of radio signals and technology. After writing a business plan for digital radio and numerous meetings with the broadcast industries top executives and technology geeks, Mr. Mazer finally started seeing his vision become a reality. In 1991, USA Digital Radio was created to develop digital radio. The original investors were Gannett Corp. and CBS Inc. Westinghouse Corp. joined the team in 1992. For the next several years, USA Digital's team of engineers undertook the arduous task of finding the "right" digital technology for American radio.

On October 7, 1998, Mr. Mazer on behalf of USA Digital Radio, a corporation he helped create, filed documents with the FCC asking the agency to issue a rule that would allow its system to be adopted as the standard for digital radio in the United States. USA Digital is now known as iBiquity.

Mr. Mazer's initial vision was to create a corporation that would bring together both sides of the business equation - those broadcasting the signal and those receiving it. iBiquity does just that, joining forces of some of the nation's largest broadcasters, including ABC/Disney, Viacom, Clear Channel Communications and the Hispanic Broadcasting Company, as well as Ford Motor Company and Texas Instruments. Mr. Mazer does not have an equity stake in iBiquity.

On Oct. 11, 2002, the FCC adopted Mr. Mazer's dream in a historic order that will allow AM and FM radio stations to immediately broadcast sounds as pure and static-free as that offered on compact discs. It will also usher in a new era where radio can provide a number of advanced services to listeners. Mr. Mazer says there were many people with different expertise who came together to make this complex project a success.

"The fact is that the original concept of digital radio was Bob's idea," says Al Shuldiner, vice president and General Counsel, iBiquity. "Bob basically created the client to complete his vision. He brought together the group of people who could make this happen. He drafted the business plan. Bob took client development to an all new level."

"It's always gratifying when our lawyers add significant value for a client," says Joseph Dilg, managing partner of Vinson & Elkins in Houston. "It's even more gratifying when the lawyer starts with a company from the beginning and sees it through to be a huge success."

Vinson & Elkins

Vinson & Elkins was established in 1917 and is one of the largest international law firms. The firm has more than 840 lawyers practicing in Austin, Beijing, Dallas, Houston, London, Moscow, New York, Singapore, and Washington, D.C. The firm offers a wide range of legal services. Clients include public and private companies, financial institutions, municipalities, governments of sovereign nations, entrepreneurs, families, and individuals.

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