Robert A. Woods, 80, a retired founding partner in the communications law firm of Schwartz, Woods & Miller, died Dec. 22  following a long illness.
The firm handled FCC and other matters for numerous public broadcasting stations as well as for common carriers and commercial broadcasters. Woods served as outside general counsel for the National Association of Educational Broadcasters in its later years.
In cities where there were no suitable TV channels reserved for noncommercial use, Woods went into battle. In Rochester, N.Y., he helped the founders of WXXI-TV win the license for Channel 21 over seven applicants from commercial TV. The licensee had been founded in 1958 but didn’t put its service on the air until 1966.
Woods also served as outside counsel for the Joint Council on Educational Telecommunications, which advocated for educational channels on cable TV systems and for access to satellites, much as it had for reserved TV channels in the 1950s.
As an attorney for universities and pubTV stations that had Instructional Television Fixed Service microwave licenses, he advocated for FCC permission to lease out excess capacity for commercial use, which helped maintain school services on the channels and, as those services went out of favor, earn substantial lease income.
In the early 1980s, when the FCC was considering loosening underwriting rules, Woods proposed for his clients that public stations be permitted to accept deregulated ads for underwriting institutions and companies but not for products. The commission “roundly rejected” the idea but went on to permit “enhanced underwriting” with looser restrictions on the on-air credits.
A native of Beverly, Mass., Woods received bachelor’s and law degrees from Harvard.
Woods and Louis Schwartz worked together as attorneys for the National Labor Relations Board and then for the small law firm of Krieger & Jorgensen before starting their firm in 1970. Lawrence M. Miller later became a name partner. Woods retired in 2001. Schwartz died in 2004.
Rick Breitenfeld, retired head of Maryland Public Television and Philadelphia’s WHYY, counts himself client No. 5 of Schwartz and Woods’ law firm. As soon as the two young lawyers left the Jorgensen firm, a number of clients rushed after them, Breitenfeld says.
The two partners had quite distinct personalities, Breitenfeld recalls. “Louis was the Brooklyn, streetwise type” and Woods was “proper, very gentlemanly and a little bit reserved.”
Miller noted the contrasting characters in his eulogy at Woods’s funeral: “Bob and Louie were a great team, very different in many ways, yet very alike in their approach to the practice, with a focus on research, polished writing, and zealous but ethical advocacy, and in their love for wordplay and capacity for levity even in the throes of legal battles.”
Before computers were common in law offices, Woods systematically digested every FCC decision and kept summaries for quick access, Miller says. He wrote FCC filings with amazing speed, recalling case citations from memory while jabbing a typewriter with two fingers.
But his favorite all-purpose catch phrase, borrowed from the caption of a New Yorker cartoon and applied randomly over the years, according to Miller, was neither substantive nor rigorously pertinent to anything at hand: “I say it’s spinach, and I say the hell with it.”
He was a longtime supporter of the Democratic Party in the Washington, D.C., area and late in life volunteered for the ALS Association.
Woods was preceded in death by his parents, Frederick E. and Edna P. Woods, a sister and four brothers.
He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Betty, who hosted the law firm’s annual summer cookouts with him at their home in Bethesda, Md., and his sons Lawrence of Silver Spring, Md., and Randall of Seattle; daughter Diana S. Heinze of Charlotte Hall, Md.; sister Mary Buck of Rochester, N.H.; and four grandchildren.
A funeral service was held Dec. 29 in Bethesda, Md. The Woods family suggested that memorial gifts in lieu of flowers be sent to the Alzheimer’s Association or the ALS Association.
Schwartz, Woods & Miller law firm.