Broadcasting 'Industry's Best Days are Still Ahead'

New Leader at the Helm

~ April 24, 2006

David Rehr joined NAB as President and CEO in December of 2005. Prior to his taking over the helm at the National Association of Broadcasters, he was president of the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA).

With more than 20 years of experience on Capitol Hill and in the lobbying community, Rehr has been an outspoken advocate for entrepreneurs and small businesses before the federal government.

Under Rehr's leadership, NBWA won many legislative battles on behalf of small business enterprises and climbed into the top 10 of Fortune Magazine's Power Rankings of the 25 most influential lobbying groups in Washington, D.C.

The NBWA Political Action Committee grew from a PAC that raised and spent a little more than $400,000 each election cycle, to nearly $3 million, catapulting it into the top 10 disbursing PACs since 2003.

Rehr, who has a doctorate in economics from George Mason University, has been named a "Top Association Lobbyist" by The Hill newspaper multiple times, and has been featured in Beachum's Guide to Key Lobbyists.

Rehr has also been featured in numerous major U.S. media outlets, including The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The New York Times and ABC World News Tonight.

Shortly before the start of NAB2006, the NAB Daily News spoke with David Rehr in his new capacity as NAB president and CEO, about what lies ahead for the organization and the broadcasting industry.

NAB Daily News: You've been on the job for about five months now. How's it going so far?

Rehr: It's going very well. I've been traveling all over the country - meeting with both radio and TV broadcasters from New York City to Carthage, Texas - reaching out to members to learn more about their needs and better understand how decisions in Washington can impact their stations.

Inside the Beltway, I've met with members of congressional committees that oversee broadcasting - many of whom I knew already since I've been working in Washington, D.C. for 25 years. I've also met with all the FCC Commissioners, including Chairman Martin, and their respective staffs proactively advocating the needs of our members.

I knew that NAB was going to be an exciting job, but it is 400 times more exciting than I had anticipated. It's an honor to represent and serve the broadcast industry, and I look forward to building NAB to be even more effective on behalf of our members.

NAB Daily News: With a change in leadership, NAB has the chance to freshen or redefine its goals. What is the message NAB is bringing to lawmakers, regulators and broadcasters?

Rehr: Our message to policymakers is that free, local broadcasting is a national treasure worth preserving and strengthening, and that our industry's best days are still ahead.

NAB is and has been a terrific organization. We want to make it better. We want to take the best of the past and apply it to the future.

On Capitol Hill, this, in part, means enhancing our visibility. It also means increasing the value proposition for our member stations.

NAB Daily News: What's on 2006 legislative agenda?

Rehr: Ensuring a smooth, seamless transition to digital broadcasting for both television viewers and radio listeners is a top NAB priority.

Congress recently established a hard date of Feb. 17, 2009, for ending analog TV. With over 1,500 stations currently broadcasting in digital, our industry will be ready - but we must ensure that consumers have access to all the benefits of DTV.

For competitive reasons, the cable monopolies are pushing very aggressively to disenfranchise consumers from the high-definition picture offered by local broadcasters, and at the same time refusing to carry additional free multicast programming. That's anti-consumer, and it's just plain wrong.

We're also ensuring the seamless transition to digital radio. HD Radio is going to revolutionize and revitalize radio and NAB will promoting it.

NAB Daily News: And where does satellite radio fit into that equation?

Rehr: Currently over 100 House members are co-sponsoring H.R. 998, a bill that will hold satellite radio companies accountable to their national-only license while preserving the hallmarks of free radio.

And just last month, a similar bill, S. 2418, was introduced in the Senate, demonstrating the momentum for such legislation.

Satellite radio services, which combined for nearly a billion dollars in lost revenue last year, are skirting the original intent of their FCC licenses.

NAB Daily News: It is safe to say that broadcasters have never faced as many competing media or demands for consumers' attention. What should radio and television managers be doing or thinking right now to hold or increase their market share?

Rehr: From our perspective, it's imperative that local broadcasters be on every new distribution platform. The modern advances in technology have created an array of additional gadgets - but they all lack local content. That provides a business opportunity and potential new revenue stream for stations.

NAB Daily News: What sort of public education efforts does NAB have planned to lead the public over to digital television?

Rehr: Broadcasters plan to increase our efforts to educate consumers about the DTV transition.

It's in our best interest to make sure the road to DTV has as few speed bumps as possible, and that we have the same number of eyeballs watching broadcast programming in digital as we did in the analog era.

That said - education at the purchase-point is probably the most important piece of any consumer outreach campaign.

The idea that you can walk into a Best Buy or Circuit City today and be sold a TV that will be obsolete in three years, without any warning to the consumer, is a travesty.

NAB Daily News: What can NAB do to quell public outcry over indecent programming?

Rehr: NAB has taken a lead role in an unprecedented effort to help empower parents in making informed choices about media content that enters their homes.

It's important to note that while many parents believe that some TV programming is unsuitable for children, they reject the notion that such programming requires government action.

Earlier this year, NAB joined the broadcast networks, MPAA, NCTA and CEA in a planned $300 million public-service ad campaign with the Ad Council designed to meet these parents' overwhelming desire for a market-based solution.

This is something that's never been done before, and it is our hope that it will show our industry's sincere commitment to empowering America's parents.

NAB Daily News: What are your priorities for NAB as you move forward?

Rehr: First, broadcasters must increase the value proposition of our business by aggressively embracing the full scope of new technologies. The gadgets and tools we have available today are beyond anything we ever dreamed. We must utilize every single one.

Second, we must continue to provide compelling content with new platforms in mind. That means increasing the number of distribution channels and platforms for broadcasters - all complementing our free-over-the-air broadcast programming.

Third, we must emphasize and be evangelical about our commitment to localism. Localism is the lifeblood of our business. It's what sets us apart and makes us unique.

Lastly, NAB must educate Congress and the FCC about the uniqueness of broadcasting and the central role we play in communities across America.

NAB Daily News: What did broadcasters do right during the 2005 hurricane season in relaying emergency information and providing help to their communities last year? And what do they need to be ready to do this year?

Rehr: The hurricane season of 2005 brought unprecedented cooperation and unity throughout the radio and television industry.

In New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast we saw competing broadcast stations join forces to just stay on the air.

At great personal risk, broadcasters waded through snake- and alligator-infested waters to fire up generators and continue broadcasting critical, often life-saving information.

The dedication of broadcasters in the hurricane-affected areas was remarkable. And across America, local broadcasters banded together to raise over $200 million for the ravaged areas.

One of the things I've been most impressed with since joining NAB is the incredible amount of public service provided year-round by local stations.

It's unfortunate that sometimes it takes a disaster of Katrina's magnitude to remind our critics of the role local broadcasters play in their communities.

© 2006 NAB