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NAB’s Dennis Wharton Retiring After 24 Years

New public affairs department announced, to be led by Michelle Lehman

Dennis Wharton

Dennis Wharton has been spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters longer than anyone in its history. But he’ll retire from that role come July.

Wharton, executive vice president of communications, has been with the association for 24 years. Ann Marie Cumming will become the association’s primary spokesperson, and Wharton will continue to serve as a senior advisor, according to President/CEO Gordon Smith.

In an email to the NAB Board of Directors, Wharton described his tenure at NAB as “the privilege of my professional life,” noting he had been “in the catbird seat for countless moments in broadcast history,” including the launch of HDTV, radio performance royalty fights, “wardrobe malfunctions, and media consolidation battles. According the NAB announcement, he’s is most proud of the unparalleled public service of local broadcast stations, on prominent display during the COVID-19 crisis.

[Read: NAB Campaign Targets Coronavirus Aid, Federal Ads for Local Stations]

Smith called Wharton “a fervent advocate for local broadcasting” and made special note of his enthusiasm and good humor. “We wish Dennis all the best and are fortunate to have him stay on as an adviser to NAB.”

In Wharton’s letter, he praised the NAB board, his co-workers, local broadcasters, state broadcast association executives and reporters who covered NAB through the years. He reserved special gratitude for colleagues on the NAB communications team, which he has overseen for more than two decades.

Wharton joined NAB in 1996 as vice president, Media Relations, and subsequently was promoted to senior vice president in 1997 and executive vice president in 2006. He has overseen NAB departments that include media relations, research and public service. Wharton joined NAB after a 16-year journalism career in Ohio and as Washington bureau chief for Variety, where he covered legislative and regulatory issues related to broadcasting, cable and Hollywood movie studios.

[Read: COVID-19 Response Toolkit Now Available From NAB]

Michelle Lehman

NAB also announced it will merge the association’s communications and marketing departments into a new Public Affairs department, led by NAB’s Michelle Lehman, executive vice president of marketing. In her new role, Lehman will be responsible for NAB’s media relations, public service and research divisions.
She also spearheads the “We Are Broadcasters” campaign and directs marketing campaigns to promote NAB events and activities, overseeing the association’s brand, messaging and digital strategy.

Lehman began her career in Washington, on Capitol Hill serving as press secretary for former Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and then for the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee, under the leadership of former Ranking Member Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn). She also served as associate director of technology policy for a boutique public relations firm, as well as vice president of public affairs and chief spokesperson for the National Beer Wholesalers Association before joining NAB.

Lehman has tapped Ann Marie Cumming, senior vice president of communications, to serve as the primary spokesperson of the organization. In this role, she will be assisted by Zamir Ahmed, vice president of media relations, who has been with NAB since 2011. Cumming, who joined NAB in 1994, will oversee media relations and the research division led by Vice President of Research Dan McDonald.