Former head of the National Beer Wholesalers Association David Rehr knew more about ale, lambics and dunkel lager than show business when he threw his hat in the ring to become CEO at the National Association of Broadcasters in 2005 . Some thought his lack of broadcasting experience might hurt his chances — understandable, as David was up against a field of 80 candidates and outgoing head Eddie Fritts was a longtime broadcaster himself. But the NAB gave David the keys, and now he’s negotiating a new, multi-year contract. We grabbed a pint and listened to David’s tale of transition.
Those encased Everlast boxing gloves are signed by Mohammed Ali. David received them as thanks for being “Heavy Weight Champion” from the 2,000-member NBWA, which he was with 14 years, six as CEO.
The glitzy, 7,500-member NAB encompasses most of the major TV and radio networks, along with thousands of commercial radio and TV stations. What could six-packs have possibly taught David about show business? It’s all in the tactics, he says. “Retransmission consent is not nearly as easy to explain to the average person as preventing drunk driving, or excessive taxation of alcohol. We have a lot of educating to do on our top issues. I simply apply the lessons I have learned to broadcaster issues. That means simple messages, ruthlessly executed.”
Before he started at the beer group, its political contributions topped out at about $500,000 every two years. Under David, they grew to $1.3 million in 1998, and $2.3 million in 2004 (mostly to Republicans).
Getting familiar with the NAB membership was another top priority. One of the first assignments David gave himself as CEO was setting out on a road trip to 20 state broadcaster conventions. He also met with broadcasters in 25 states and visited 22 local stations. To make sure his members know he understands where they’re coming from, David just had a wall of clippings and posters from individual stations assembled in the hallway entrance outside his office.
“We want to make sure they know that the NAB is about them,” David says of the NAB’s members. He describes them as being fiercely individual in their thinking.
Now 48, David moved to D.C. in 1981 to work for then-Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn). Five years later, he switched to lobbying and joined the National Federation of Independent Business. He took his lobbying skills to the NBWA in 1991. David and his wife Ashley McArthur (herself a former Hill staffer), have four children at home now. Although David is a George Mason economics Ph.D, he spends a lot of time with them playing board games or watching NAB-member fare such as “American Idol.” His other TV faves include “CSI: Miami,” “Desperate Housewives” and—of course—“Meet the Press.”