David Rehr says he’ll get networks back in the fold “by hook or crook,” restore political clout with better grassroots, more money.
After the loss of some of its largest and most influential members and a drawn out internecine feud that led to the exit of President Eddie Fritts last fall, the consensus of the Washington communications crowd is that the National Association of Broadcasters ain’t what it used to be—that it lacks the punch on Capitol Hill and FCC that once made it one of the most effective lobbies in town.
But NAB now has a new boss and he is determined to restore NAB’s clout and then some. David Rehr tells TVNewsCheck that he will transform NAB into a first-rate advocacy organization with more grassroots muscle, a heftier political action committee purse and a bigger government relations department with closer ties to Capitol Hill. And he wants to bring those lost members—CBS, NBC and Fox—back into the fold.
To increase the “value proposition” for its members. Rehr is also reviewing all NAB programs and services and asking members what they think of them. “Some services may stay; some may go,” he says.
Rehr joined NAB in December from the National Beer Wholesalers Association where he was an aggressive advocate credited with raising the beer industry’s profile in Washington through his personal and administrative skills and generous political giving.
The NAB’s troubles began when its network members and affiliate members began squabbling over the FCC’s national cap on TV station ownership. The networks wanted it removed. So, when the affiliates insisted that the NAB join the fight to save the cap, the networks walked. Only ABC has returned.
Aware of the “bruised feelings,” Rehr says he will be calling on the other networks’ Washington representatives and presidents urging them to rejoin. “By hook or crook, we’ll get them back in,” he says.
The association and networks are in sync on broadcast indecency issues, he says. And there are other issues they can tackle together including restoration of the broadcast flag, multicast must-carry legislation, copyright, telecom reform and the DTV transition, he says. “I am hoping to demonstrate that it’s better when we’re all working together.”
With or without the networks, the Rehr NAB will be more aggressive than it has been, he says.
Rather than waiting for something to happen and responding to it, NAB will set the agenda, he says. “We move the ball forward. We set the tone. We start thinking about how do we take control of the future on behalf of our members and demonstrate results.”
Rehr will expand the government relations department to accomplish this goal. He’s already brought in Laurie Knight, who worked with him at the Beer Wholesalers.
At the same time, Rehr will be beefing up NAB’s grassroots efforts. “It’s the strength of the NAB membership which will ultimately help us be victorious,” he says. His goal: “To see that every single TV broadcaster has an outstanding relationship with their individual member of Congress and their senators.”
Along those same lines, Rehr wants to see NAB do more to promote the “great things broadcasters do in their local communities.” Broadcasters are an “essential and positive force” at home, he says. But, unfortunately, the average member of Congress isn’t hearing enough about all the good things broadcasters are doing, he says.
Says Rehr: “We need to view members of Congress like we view people who watch our programs. What’s the demographic? What are their interests?” Once it answers those questions, NAB lobbyists and broadcasters will become more effective, Rehr believes. “This will make it easier for Congress to say, ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¹Ã…â€œYes broadcaster, I love you, I support your side.’ “
Recognized for his fundraising skills at the Beer Wholesalers, Rehr wants NAB’s Television and Radio Political Action Committee (TARPAC) contributions to grow. According to the Web site PoliticalMoneyLine (www.fecinfo.com), TARPAC ranked 211 with $491,648 as of Dec.31, 2005. Rehr’s former employer, National Beer Wholesalers, ranked 42 with $1.5 million.
When appropriate, Rehr says he will ask individual broadcasters to deliver TARPAC checks to Senate or House members. “I understand we have to draw the line between news operations and ownership,” he says. “We don’t want anyone to say, ‘Come for an interview, and we’re going to give you a check.’ But you can meet them for coffee or have lunch with them or do it at the office. We want it to be right. Everything you do has to be right; then you stay out of trouble.”
This is Part II of a two-part interview. In Part I, posted yesterday, Rehr discussed his legal and regulatory agenda.