A Cold One for New NAB Chief?

Oct 24, 2005  •  Post A Comment

There was a changing of the guard on two fronts at the National Association of Broadcasters last week.

As was widely anticipated, the NAB search committee announced that beer industry lobbyist and partisan Republican David Rehr has been hired as the association’s president and CEO, effective Dec. 5.

But also of major consequence to the association is that completion of the search committee’s duties marked an end to the all-encompassing influence of Phil Lombardo over NAB affairs-at least for the time being.

Mr. Rehr, 46, was not available for interviews last week, but in a statement he said he was honored by the opportunity to succeed Eddie Fritts as NAB’s top executive.

“I know that I have big shoes to fill and I am anxious to hit the ground running,” Mr. Rehr said.

Said Mr. Lombardo, the Citadel Communications CEO who co-chaired the NAB search committee and backed Mr. Rehr’s candidacy, in the same statement: “We conducted an exhaustive search to locate the absolute best person we could find to retain NAB’s leadership as one of the pre-eminent trade associations in Washington. David Rehr fits that description in every way.”

One of Mr. Rehr’s first major challenges at the NAB will be to mend fences with Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who had made clear that he wanted the association to put one of his former staffers-Mitch Rose, now a lobbyist for The Walt Disney Co.-in NAB’s top executive slot.

As chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Stevens has tremendous influence over issues of critical importance to the broadcast industry, including the industry’s pending campaign to win legislation that would require cable TV operators to carry all of the free programming streams offered on broadcasters’ digital TV channels.

NAB declined to divulge Mr. Rehr’s salary last week. But even though the search committee gave Mr. Rehr a three-year contract, he will have to prove himself fast. Under NAB’s bylaws, the NAB president must be re-elected by the board every year. So according to the interpretation of some close to the association, the full 60-member NAB board will have the opportunity to vote him out as early as next June if he doesn’t prove his worth.

Though Mr. Rehr has no broadcast experience, he has established credentials as a notable GOP fund-raiser.

Despite the expiration last week of his assignment as co-chair of the NAB search committee, Mr. Lombardo will continue to serve on the organization’s powerful executive committee, giving him an insider’s seat on association affairs through June 2007. But as immediate past joint board chairman, Mr. Lombardo has no vote. His term as joint board chair expired in June.