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What the Heck Happened to David Rehr?

Leading NAB is like trying to herd cats

I would dive headfirst into the performance rights issue except I’m still hung up over what happened to David Rehr. This is 2005 all over again, when Eddie Fritts left — or was forced out — after a conflict with the television board members. Sources suggest Rehr had similar problems with TV members.

TV board members are particularly unhappy the National Association of Broadcasters was not able to convince the FCC to proceed with the DTV transition in February, that it failed to obtain multicast must-carry rights for TV stations and couldn’t block the FCC’s so-called “white spaces” initiative opening up broadcast spectrum for shared use by other devices.

Those TV members. They pay big bucks for membership and throw their weight around while radio gets dragged along for the ride (some would say “and clean up the mess”). Part of me is sympathetic with broadcast owners who have suggested over the years that radio break away and form its own association; however the practical side of me believes this would be a losing proposition monetarily. On its own, radio would be hard pressed to drum up the amount of money it takes to paper the Hill for a given cause.

In addition to a poor economy, radio is in the midst of a little thing called its own digital transition, which needs consistent money and lobbying efforts. More urgently, radio’s in a tough spot in the midst of a congressional fight with record labels over paying a performance royalty for copyrighted music. Rehr said to me recently he was telling members to prepare for a tough battle on this issue, one that began a year ago. Some members were squeamish about getting into a nasty battle, he acknowledged, but he felt this was the way to go.

The board knew about Rehr’s dramatic brand of lobbying when they hired him. Did they like that “scorched earth” approach then but not now? And if they had wanted someone with broadcast experience in the job, why didn’t they hire a TV executive? Because it seems they’re particularly smarting over the lobbying losses on the TV side.

Could it be they’ve discovered it’s hard to find someone who can both lobby and knows broadcasting? How shocking.

In the end, it’s one of those things that will be rumored about for awhile. Rather than one big thing, it’s usually a lot of smaller things that pile up over time, until one side or the other says “This isn’t working.” Rehr won’t talk; he’ll be looking for another gig. And the board members who do, have an agenda for their “leakage.”

Leading NAB is like trying to herd cats. TV and radio have different priorities and agendas; further, the big-market stations vs. small-market stations have their respective needs as well.

We can only hope that this time around, the board, which says it wants to get someone new in there quickly, hires someone it is willing to support — and not just when things seem to be going well.