NAB Joint Board Chairman Jack Sander talked to B&C about what David Rehr did right, what he could have done better, and what they will be looking for in the next president of the NAB.
B&C: Why is David Rehr leaving NAB?
JS: I will tell you what he told me. David told me this was a good time to leave based on the fact that we had just completed the show. Our board year is June to June, so we will have some changing of the guard both at the executive committee level and at the board level.
I also think the DTV thing is fundamentally behind us even though we have another month or so to go. Everything that the broadcasters have had to do I think broadcasters have done magnificently. I give NAB a lot of high marks for that. That has been a long, ongoing project.
From what he told me, I think he felt it was the right time. I think he felt like this is not a lifelong job is what he said to me and the staff. He just felt like it was just a good time to move on.
I know we always like to dwell on the negatives because that is what the media does, but I think if you took a step back on a broader report card it would be a lot better. I think NAB gets a lot of credit for the DTV transition. Even though there were some other things we didn't accomplish with Chairman Kevin Martin and the FCC, the chairman supported the broadcasters and NAB taking the initiative on what really would be effective in the DTV transition. If you remember, their original thoughts were talking about how many PSAs were going to run. And the broadcasters said, ‘Wait a minute, let's take a step back and think about a whole marketing plan because that is what we do."
To the chairman's credit, he did let us do that and we got great cooperation from our partners. David was very aggressive and very forceful in the digital area on both the radio and television side.
He certainly has heard and read enough press about all the things that were not successful and you and everyone else have well-documented those.
B&C: We're told that one of the problems was a lack of key relationships from the perspective of the board. Is that not a fair criticism?
JS: We asked him over the past 12 to 15 months to reprioritize his activities. In the early stages of David's reign, he really did a great job of outreach to state associations. We asked him to spend more time on the Hill and the FCC. I think that you are never satisfied with where you are in that regard.
We have so many issues that we are working with nearly every member of Congress in some form or fashion. Is it one of the things that is a high priority going forward, that is, our relationships in all the areas of D.C. You bet it is.
B&C: The release announcing his resignation said he would be remaining on board during a transition phase. How long will that be?
JS: We have talked about that as late as yesterday afternoon and I think he sees himself there for the next month or so. We are going over his calendar in terms of the things he had to do. I think he wants to make it a smooth and orderly transition, but I think he also doesn't want to be a lame duck sitting there weeks upon weeks.
We spent a lot of time yesterday [May 7] with David and Janet McGregor [interim head of NAB] talking about the logistics and what we needed to get her up to speed. I would say it's weeks not months.
B&C: Who will be the point person for NAB on the DTV transition on June 12?
JS: I think Jonathan Collegio [VP, digital television transition] will be at the forefront. The TV board will be at the forefront, Jim Yager or someone else.
We will certainly have good and available representation for that celebration.
B&C: Let's look forward. What are you looking for in a new president?
JS: We will be spending some time next week at an executive committee meeting talking about that. When you think about it, it is a little bit of everything. There is one group of broadcasters that say we need a broadcaster who knows their way around Washington. We have another group that says we need an insider from Washington who knows their way around broadcasting.
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. We do not have time to have a six-month or eight-month learning curve about our business, our industries, and our issues. But there are a lot of smart people in Washington who are already engaged in our issues.
I am very open-minded about it. I think we have a good understanding of what our strengths and weaknesses are. We understand that the broadcasting industry is far more complicated than it ever has been in the past. If you look at the number of issues we have to keep our eye on, they are dozens and dozens, from First Amendment, to technology to localism issues, all the various issues specific to TV and radio.
We need someone with the energy and passion of David Rehr. The elements he brought were his work ethic and his passion and his intelligence. We want that plus a lot of other things.
B&C: David said to us recently that he felt like an outsider when he came to the job. So, you are looking for somebody with David Rehr's skills and passion, but somebody who needs to be connected. Does it have to be a Democrat?
JS: I think we look at all the credentials all the time. But as to your comment about David being an outsider, "The beer guy" label [Rehr came to NAB from the beer wholesalers lobby] lasted much longer than it should have. I don't know whether that was our fault, meaning the broadcasters. I don't know whether that was David's fault. I don't know whether that was the media's fault. But when you say he thought of himself as an outsider, I think that he carried the "beer guy" label too long. I certainly wouldn't rule out someone from a Washington-based association that has great credentials and great capabilities. I wouldn't rule out someone who has been an elected official or a great staffer. But in all those categories you're going to be labeled as something.
B&C: Has the board reached out to any body yet?
JS: No. Not to my knowledge. I know the executive committee has not. I have certainly gotten some e-mails on suggestions.
B&C: When Janet McGregor came aboard as COO [in October 2008], she took over a lot of operations responsibilities that David had been handling. Was that because you were preparing for his departure?
JS: Not at all. When we recruited Janet we certainly recruited someone we thought had excellent credentials, both in the financial world and operations.
But as I said earlier, the board said to David that we need him out on the Hill and outside the building more and more. That's just the nature of the beast, and when you've got this many issues going on you've got to do that. So we took into consideration how to free up David from some of his operational, inside-the-building responsibilities. That was the reason for bringing in a COO.
B&C: When do you hope to have a new president in place?
JS: We are going to work on it hard and fast and try to get it done sometime this summer.
B&C: Who is heading up the search committee?
JS: We have to do some work in that regard. We have some bylaw requirements that we have to go over because it is a little murky. As we launch this whole thing, I have to sit down with [board members] Jim Yager, Steve Newberry and Bruce Reese and talk through that and figure out what we need to do. Bruce is out of the country and we can't track him down for a few days. That is kind of the work for next week.
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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.