David Rehr has resigned suddenly from the NAB, where he has been president and CEO for the past three-and-a-half years. The 50-year-old chief lobbyist for America’s broadcasters will stay on with the organization for the next several weeks or months while a search for a replacement is conducted. NAB’s chief operating and financial officer, Janet McGregor, will step up to work with Rehr to handle day-to-day matters from the massive association, sources close to the situation tell Radio and Records.
Rehr’s sudden resignation comes less than three weeks after the NAB held its major event of the year, the annual spring convention in Las Vegas, which in good times, would have easily generated nearly $50 million in revenue for NAB. This year’s attendance was dramatically lower than in previous years, just under 84,000, the decline blamed on the recession.
However, under Rehr’s leadership, the NAB has lost several significant battles, the most obvious the group’s expensive attempt to stop the Sirius-XM merger. Both the Department of Justice, and then the FCC, approved the merger with inconsequential stipulations.
More recently, Rehr’s “take no prisoners approach” approach has caused the group great public discomfort. Last June during a panel session on performance royalties at The Conclave in Minneapolis, Rehr was asked if he would discuss a workable fee schedule with record labels. He responded with certain exuberance: “I’d rather slit my throat than negotiate,” he said, stunning fellow panelists.
The line has reverberated around the world of Radioland and through the halls of Congress. During a hearing on the performance rights legislation in March, Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) asked NAB Radio Board member and president/CEO of Commonwealth Broadcasting Steve Newberry at the end of the three-and-a-half-hour hearing if broadcasters would consider negotiating with record labels. Newberry, answering in the most respectful way possible, said he did not think that would be in the best interest of broadcasters.
Sherman rocked back in his chair and cracked, “Well, don’t slit your throat in here.”
Last week during a gathering featuring singer Tony Bennett on Capitol Hill sponsored by pro-royalties lobbying group musicFirst, Sherman continued to poke fun at the line and told Radio and Records that he hoped the two sides could come together and negotiate a settlement.
Rehr’s keynote speech in Las Vegas on April 20 may have included some foreshadowing. He was unusually placid. While he noted that broadcasters face a tough road ahead with the troubled American economy, he found no foes to battle, but instead spoke of broadcasting’s bright future with digital technology and radio’s expansion into HD Radio technology. He did not mention the pending Performance Rights Act, and his move away from the usual aggressive address was noted by a number of audience members in whispers.
Immediately following the address, Rehr presented Emmy Award-winning actress Mary Tyler Moore with the NAB’s Distinguished Service Award for her years of work as international chairman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). Moore moved the ballroom’s crowd of nearly 2,000 as she spoke of her own battle with the disease over the past 40 years. Rehr was clearly moved by Moore’s eloquence, but never mentioned that he, too, suffers from the disease, a fact not commonly discussed inside the association’s headquarters.
Rehr, who came to the NAB on Dec. 5, 2005 after serving as president of the National Beer Wholesalers Association, replaced Edward O. Fritts, who had been NAB president and CEO for 22 years. Fritts, who was well-regarded by politicians in both parties on Capitol Hill, was pushed out by a board of directors looking for a change. But the same sort of change has also taken over Washington in the past six months since President Obama’s election, and there is little tolerance for decision-makers cemented in the “my way or the highway” approaches to business.
Fritts left the NAB with a reported $7 million in various severance and retirement packages and now heads The Fritts Group, a D.C.-based lobbying operation that represents Fortune 500 companies on Capitol Hill.
“I have enjoyed leading America’s broadcasters through this time of change and challenge,” Rehr said. “Our efforts to educate America about the digital television transition have been enormously successful, and our effort to reinvigorate radio through the Radio Heard Here campaign is positioning radio broadcasters well for the future.
“I am looking forward to building on these experiences and working with the broader Washington community to further advocacy efforts through marketing, communications and education,” he added.
“David made a significant contribution and has been extremely dedicated to making the NAB a stronger organization,” NAB Joint Board chairman Jack Sander said. “On behalf of the board of directors and our member stations, we thank him for his leadership and wish him well in the future.
“In large part due to David’s efforts, we have a very solid infrastructure in place. Our senior staff members are experienced and extremely talented. Our board of directors and members are a powerful force comprised of the best minds in broadcasting,” Sander said.
“We are prepared and well-positioned to represent radio and television’s best interests as we progress into the digital future,” Sander said.