NAB looks to build bridges

Jan 13, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Topping the agenda at the National Association of Broadcasters board meeting this week in La Quinta, Calif.: How to shore up the association’s legendary lobbying machine.
Addressing the issue is mandatory because the man behind at least a significant part of the legend-Jim May, NAB executive VP, government relations-announced his resignation last week to assume command of the Air Transport Association.
Among other things, Mr. May, who joined the NAB in 1988, is credited for reshaping the association into a highly respected grassroots lobbying operation. Before the May NAB retool, Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., publicly proclaimed that NAB could not “lobby its way out of a paper bag.”
Mr. May, 56, also served as the association’s chief conduit to prickly industry critic Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who chairs the Senate committee charged with industry oversight.
The loss of Mr. May’s personal relationship to the lawmaker is of all the more concern because NAB President and CEO Eddie Fritts lost some of his political leverage when his longtime personal friend Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., recently renounced his claim to be the Senate’s majority leader.
In a effort to fill the NAB’s connection deficit, some NAB board members were said to be advocating the hire of a high-profile candidate, perhaps even a former congressman-assuming one can be found who would be comfortable reporting to Mr. Fritts.
Among the incentives to serve would be the possibility of succeeding Mr. Fritts, 61, at the association’s top slot one day.
A potential drawback to filling the slot with a politician is the risk of alienating those on the other side of the political fence, particularly now that one party holds only slight majorities in both the House and Senate.
“In a Congress with a slim Republican majority, it makes sense to have centrists in your lobbying shop,” said one well-placed industry veteran.
Still others said that as important as political pedigree is an ability to build bridges.
“You’ve got to get someone with good connections but who can connect with everybody,” said Alan Frank, president and CEO of Post-Newsweek Stations and an NAB TV board member.
At least as critical, according to others, will be Mr. Fritts’ comfort with his new No. 2.
“It’s an Eddie decision,” said one source.
Among the potential candidates being mentioned at deadline: Rick Lazio, a former GOP congressman from New York who lost to Hillary Clinton in a race for one of the state’s Senate seats; John Orlando, an NAB senior VP and former CBS lobbyist who once served as top aide to Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich.; Dan Phythyon, a former NAB lobbyist who is now senior VP, law and policy, United States Telecom Association; Bob Giese, a former lobbyist for Chris-Craft Broadcasting who now has his own law practice in Washington; Kathy Ramsey, another NAB senior VP; Ken Johnson, a former broadcast journalist who is now press secretary to Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., and Billy Pitts, a former ABC lobbyist.
Also on the NAB board agenda will be a plea from the Association for Maximum Service Television to help fund the launch of a new independent research laboratory for digital broadcasting.
Sources said MSTV wants the NAB to commit at least $2 million to help launch the initiative, with additional funding to be sought from consumer electronics manufacturers and individual broadcasters.
At least some NAB board members are said to be questioning whether the initiative makes sense.
“If the broadcast labs are going to be funded by NAB, why wouldn’t NAB control it?” said one industry source.
“There’s no business plan to support it,” added another.
But David Donovan, MSTV president, said he looked forward to making his pitch for NAB funding Sunday, Jan. 12.
“It is important for the industry,” Mr. Donovan said.