If I were a betting fella I’d put my money on Jim May as the next head of the NAB.
I have no special insight, mind you. It’s pure speculation on my part. Nor is this an endorsement.
But from my perch outside of Washington and just inside the Beltway, watching the National Association of Broadcasters in recent years, I’d wager that its members are hungry for a leader who, while tough, can walk up and down the halls of Congress without getting his elbows stuck too deeply between the ribs of committee chairs, an executive who has a substantial understanding of the needs of broadcasters and a proven record of working on their behalf.
At its most elemental level, this is a lobbying job. Who better qualifies than one of Eddie Fritts’ former top people, a proven lobbyist and a Marine to boot?
Of course, May might be quite happy, thank you, helping another challenged industry, the airlines, as president and CEO of the Air Transport Association of America since leaving NAB six years ago.
Regardless, if I were on the search committee I’d be thinking hard about why Eddie Fritts was deemed such a success and David Rehr wasn’t.
Charisma and a determined public persona may be important characteristics for the leader of the industry’s lobbying organization; but those alone are not substitutes for a firm understanding of the broadcast business or of the highly personal nature of politics.
With this in mind, someone like John David or David Kennedy would be an excellent choice (though both are usually associated with radio, and the new leader must have substantial cred with NAB’s powerful TV membership).
It’s also my hope that the next leader will be more discreet in his or her toughness. This job also requires subtlety. At least in public, Fritts had it, Rehr didn’t.
I have not always agreed with NAB’s stance on issues; but even when I do, I sometimes regret the way the association has articulated its public positions in recent years.
This doesn’t mean I want NAB to sit quietly by. I expect it to push hard be¬hind the scenes on behalf of members and to present positions clearly in public.
But I believe that the choice to pursue aggressive “us vs. them” tactics comes with risks to radio. This strategy, which characterized Rehr’s tenure, can alienate potential partners and legislative allies. It can play into the hands of those who want to paint radio simply as a big corporate bad guy. And if the association then fails to meet an objective (as Rehr did in the satellite merger, on which he staked so much of his lobbying credibility), our industry comes off looking weakened as a force of influence.
I think Fritts knew this and chose his high-profile battles more carefully. When he fought, he did so hard and vocally; but I sensed that many of his real accomplishments took place behind the scenes and that part of his wisdom was in selecting which issues not to contest out in the light. He didn’t raise the public stakes when he didn’t have to or when there was a good chance of losing.
Many NAB members and staff disagree with me on this, saying that stations want a high-profile, aggressive spokes¬man who takes their fight to their opponents. Where we differ is on whether that choice is in their best interests. But they get the final say; it’s their association. (Be sure to read Dennis Wharton’s letter on this topic on page 34 of this issue.)
But without question, Jim May was a significant part of the successes of the previous era. For broadcasters who look back wistfully at their wins under Eddie’s leadership, I bet May is an attractive candidate to pilot the NAB.
* * *
Fans of broadcast equipment find common cause this summer with supporters of broadcast scholarships.
The Bayliss Foundation, as you may recall, chose to postpone its annual Radio Roast, at which an industry notable comes in for friendly abuse in a good cause. But the organization still needs to raise money.
As I wrote in a recent RW Blog post, Executive Director Kit Hunter Franke said the new Bayliss Benefit Auctions will help its scholarship and internship programs.
It’s an Internet-only auction, accessible at www.rasmus.com. Also notable for RW readers is that the auction involves hundreds of pieces of new and used equipment including transmitters, studio, editing, remote and production equipment for radio and TV.
“We plan to hold the online auction several times a year,” Kit told me. “In the future we’d like to offer radio memorabilia, donated creative services like Web site design and sales consulting plus a variety of other ‘must-have’ items.” The foundation will accept donations of broadcast equipment, industry-related services, furniture, office machines, vehicles, etc. throughout the year.
Kit promises “a great deal of promotion and goodwill” surrounding these auctions. The auction company has 45,000 registered bidders alone.
“We will widely promote what we have to sell and will acknowledge who made the donations possible.”
Since 1985 the foundation, named for broadcaster John Bayliss, has awarded $1.1 million in scholarship money to approximately 330 college students and placed more than 90 students in paid internships with broadcasting companies.
* * *
A brief oops! In the previous issue the captions in my column for 1996 and 2003 were reversed. Didya notice?