Gordon Smith Named New NAB President

The National Association of Broadcasters is naming Gordon Smith, from the law firm Covington & Burling and a former two-term Oregon Senator, as its new president, according to a source familiar with the selection.

Smith replaces David Rehr, who resigned in May. NAB COO Janet McGregor has been serving as acting president in the interim.

Smith is described as a moderate Republican who also has good relationships with Democrats. He is a former member of the Senate Commerce and Finance Committees and knows all the broadcast issues. He is also tapped into new media issues as former chair of the Senate's high-tech task force.

Jack Sander, former NAB joint board chairman, had told B&C following Rehr's resignation that the board would be looking for someone who could hit the ground running. Smith can do that, and has "the Wow! factor," which NAB was also looking for, said one source.

Rehr had been a beer industry executive before joining the association, and conceded to B&C that he had felt like an outsider at the outset of his tenure.

"I think we are going to look for someone who either understands our business or has the ability to understand our businesses very, very fast," Sander told B&C in May. "We do not have time to have a six-month or eight-month learning curve about our business."

NAB was also looking for someone who could make key connections on the Hill, something Gordon comes already equipped with.

According to his online bio, "Smith grew up in Pendleton, Ore., and later in Bethesda, Md., where his father Milan served in the Eisenhower Administration. After serving on a church mission in New Zealand, he graduated from Brigham Young University and Southwestern University School of Law."

According to a source, in recent weeks the candidate pool had been whittled to two, with former Republican FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy making the short list along with Smith.

According to NAB, which announced the hire Friday morning, Smith will officially join Nov. 1, but will be introduced at next week's Radio Show in Philadelphia.

"I am honored to have been selected as NAB's new president and consider this an opportunity of a lifetime," said Smith in a statement. "As radio and television stations embrace new technologies and new business opportunities, I look forward to articulating to public policymakers the unique and positive role played by local and network broadcasters in the fabric of American society."

"We conducted an exhaustive search to identify the very best individual to lead a great trade association," added NAB Joint Board Chairman Steve Newberry. "We're convinced we have found that person in Gordon Smith. His background as a lawyer, a statesman, and as an entrepreneur -- coupled with his extensive knowledge of broadcast issues from having served many years on the Commerce Committee -- make Gordon eminently qualified to represent the interests of free and local broadcasters in Washington."

FCC Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell praised the pick: "I congratulate the members of the National Association of Broadcasters for selecting former Senator Gordon Smith to lead their association. I have had the pleasure of working with him for several years on communications issues and I know first-hand that he is highly intelligent, thoughtful, principled, and possesses a high degree of integrity."

Smith may not need much of a learning curve, but broadcasting is a business that may have a new learning curve as it remakes itself for a digital age.

The wireless industry is eyeing spectrum hungrily, so broadcasters need to continue to make their case for the value of free, over-the-air broadcasting.

It must also deal with a challenging economy, the competition from, and opportunities in, broadband video delivery, and the lingering pockets of DTV signal problems.

But Smith has seen that convergence coming for a while, and is conversant in the current communications lingua franca: broadband.

He staked out a number of relevant positions, and beat the drum for broadband deployment, in a speech to the Media Institute in 2006, "Increasingly, the traditional distinctions among your cable company, your telephone company, your TV network, and your newspaper are blurring," he told the crowd.

He backed removing regulatory barriers to broadband deployment, and protecting digital property rights, including the FCC's proposed broadcast flag copy-protection regime for digital TV broadcasts, which was ultimately thrown out by the courts.

Much of his talk was devoted to a push for broadband deployment, including deregulation of the video market.

"Gordon Smith has been a good friend for 15 years and I congratulate him on being named the next President and CEO of NAB," said National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow. "I have no doubt that Gordon's wealth of experience and recognized leadership abilities will be an important asset to NAB. While our two industries don't always agree on every policy issue, we look forward to working with Gordon and his team at NAB and to continuing a constructive working relationship." 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.