The man charged with overseeing the association while it searches for a new president, Joint Board Chairman Steve Newberry, CEO of Commonwealth Broadcasting Corp., says that finding a new CEO is top priority, but that NAB is in good hands with its staff. Among the group’s concerns are the Satellite Home Viewer Act on the TV side and the proposed performance tax for radio broadcasters.
It’s now been two months since David Rehr abruptly resigned after a turbulent three years as president of the NAB and triggered a search for a successor.
Until that search yields the new man or woman, the job of holding things together and keeping the association focused on getting broadcasters’ way in Washington has fallen primarily on Steve Newberry as the new joint board chairman.
In this interview with TVNewsCheck Editor Harry A. Jessell, Newberry, CEO of Commonwealth Broadcasting Corp., a radio group based in Glasgow, Ky., says the search for the new president is on a fast track, but expresses full confidence in the NAB staff’s ability to get the job done in the interim.
An edited transcript:
Why did the board lose confidence in David Rehr and force him out?
I don’t agree with the premise that the board totally lost confidence. David decided to resign. He had done a great job for us. He had a lot of very successful accomplishments while he was there and we wish him the best.
What’s the time line on a replacement?
We want it to be a summertime project. We certainly hope that we’ll have it over with by Labor Day, but we’re not going to move recklessly. We want to make sure that we find the right person for the position.
When will you begin seeing candidates?
We do have a search firm. A search committee is in the process now of working with the firm and reaching out to various stakeholders and getting their input on the process. I don’t have a specific time when we will start seeing candidates, but we’re going to devote the time that we need to and the energy that we need to to keep this thing moving along.
What are you looking for in this new man or woman?
We are looking for somebody who can be a great spokesperson for local broadcasters, someone who has the ability to navigate Washington and advocate for our needs there. At the same time, we want someone who understands the nuances of our business and can relate to a small-market broadcaster as well as one of our publicly traded members.
Are the search committee and the executive committee one and the same?
The bylaws prescribe that the search committee is formed by the executive committee at the time of the vacancy. So when the vacancy was created in May, the executive committee in May became the search committee. So it’s basically the same, except that [Bonneville’s] Bruce Reese, who was immediate past joint board chairman, serves as the chairman of the search committee. Since we have a new executive committee that came in in June, some of those members aren’t technically part of the search committee.
Traditionally, the NAB president has always been NAB’s chief lobbyist. Do you see that as part of the job, or could that be delegated to another person?
Lobbbying skills are a necessity for the new CEO. Does that mean that they have to be the chief lobbyist? There was a period in NAB’s history when we have had senior vice presidents of government relations who have been very strong. We have that situation now with Laurie Knight.
So I would expect the new CEO to have a strong understanding of what’s needed in lobbying. I would expect him or her to be very comfortable testifying, meeting with members, having deep relationships with those members, but I certainly understand that they’re going to need to continue to work with our very talented staff and make sure that those people are carrying a significant part of the load as well.
There’s been talk that you are a candidate for the job. Are you?
No. I am not.
If you like politics and you like broadcasting, sure, that’s kind of a fun thing to look at, but I’m not a candidate for this job. People have been very nice to say kind things about that, but I’m not a candidate and will not be a candidate for this job. The bylaws prescribe that if you’re on the search committee, you can’t be a candidate and I’m on the search committee.
As joint board chairman do you expect to be active on Capitol Hill, not just during this transitional period, but throughout your term?
Certainly. I don’t think it’s just me in my role as joint board chairman. If we have more broadcasters active on Capitol Hill supporting our professional team, that’s advantageous to us. There’s a passion that broadcasters have that I believe members truly get. If we can have one of our very qualified professional staff accompanied by a real live, living, breathing broadcasters who’s dealing with some of the repercussions of the policies, it’s much more effective.
Do you think that’s been a problem for the NAB in recent years — getting broadcasters to see their representatives?
No. I don’t think no. I think broadcasters are certainly more than willing to do it. Different government relations folks have different styles. Different broadcasters have different styles. I know some members have probably seen more than they care to of their local broadcasters and there are probably some places where we could get the local broadcasters in front of them a little bit more frequently.
During this transition, will you be taking a more active role in Washington than you would otherwise?
Oh, absolutely. But that should not be seen as a lack of confidence in the staff that we have. They have done a phenomenal job. We have some major battles going on. So I think the executive committee has all said: Listen, we’re on call and we will do whatever needs to be done, whatever time we’re called upon to do it.
So how exactly are you and the other members of the executive board managing the organization at this point?
Well, Janet McGregor, who was our COO and CFO, is now the acting CEO and she’s doing a very nice job with that. Janet and I speak frequently and we try to make sure that if she has a question about a board policy or the staff needs input from the board on something, I reach out to the appropriate parties or we refer back to what the board actions have been. I’m there a lot, but I’m certainly not there having to run NAB. The staff’s doing a great job with that.
NAB’s reputation in Washington has suffered over the past several years. Some say it’s because the board is too deeply involved in the day-to-day operations of the organization. They say it was difficult for Eddie Fritts [Rehr’s predecessor] and David Rehr to run the place with the board always looking over their shoulders. Is that a fair criticism?
It’s a fair criticism. I don’t know if I agree with it, but it’s certainly fair for people to observe and express an opinion. I would tell you that a big part of the more active board that you’ve seen in recent years has been the result of a changing industry. Our industry has changed much more in the past eight or 10 years than it did in the previous decades. You have a lot of board members who want to make sure that we’re responsive to the current environment and that we’re aggressive in the future environment.
So you do get some opinions, there’s no question about that, but the board has been very clear on its positions, even though they may not always be unanimous positions.
A big part of the responsibility of the person that comes on board at NAB will be to lead the staff and then set a clear vision for the organization and then provide some guidance to the board on where he or she feels like NAB needs to go.
Do you think the board will actually listen to the next president?
Yes. I do.
I’m not being flippant. Well, I guess I am being a little flippant. But that was a problem with Eddie and maybe with David.
You’re always going to have board members who have a lot of involvement in a particular issue because it has a significant impact on their particular situation. But I do believe that this board will be very united behind the new CEO. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be disagreements or challenges. The mark of a healthy organization is the board knowing its appropriate role and the staff knowing its appropriate role. Everybody will be really clear on that.
With new committee chairmen on the Hill and three new commissioners at the FCC, including a new chairman, isn’t this a terrible time to be without a president?
That is where it is the responsibility of the leadership of the organization — the elected leadership of the organization — to serve in that role, but we have great staff that have relationships as well. We’ll make sure that we reach out to those incoming members of the commission. We’ll open a good line of dialogue, we’ll listen, we’ll find out what issues are important to them and we’ll advocate for what’s important to us.
But you’re right to a certain extent. I guess in theory it would be great for the president of NAB to walk in the door of the new chairman’s office on the second day and say, hi, welcome to the position; but we’re not going to miss a beat because we have that vacancy. We have ample staff and an elected leadership that will make sure that those lines of communication are opened.
So what are the big issues right now for the organization in Washington?
Clearly the performance tax continues to be a big issue. It’s one that the radio industry is very energized over and very focused on. Then, on the TV side, we’ve got the Satellite Home Viewer Act (SHVERA). We have to make sure that our local television broadcasters get that reauthorized and have the protections they need.
I’m hearing good things about SHVERA, that it will not contain the market-mod measure that the NAB has been working against?
I am hearing very good things, too, but, being a radio broadcaster, I’m relying very heavily on [Meredith’s] Paul Karpowicz and [Barrington’s] Jim Yager and [Belo’s] Jack Sander. They are the ones that have been most actively involved. The staff seems to be handling that very, very well and we’re very optimistic about that.
And are you going to win the performance tax fight?
I would never be so arrogant to say absolutely. We feel very good. I wouldn’t trade places with our opposition for all the money. The momentum is definitely on our side. The members of congress have heard from their local broadcasters and they have responded. The number of [opposing] co-sponsors that we have achieved in the last six weeks has been phenomenal. Our staff has done an outstanding job and our member stations across the country have really demonstrated the relationships they have with their members.