Eddie Fritts on the launching pad
As we first reported last Thursday (1/27/05 RBR #19), Eddie Fritts will tell the NAB's Executive Board today that he intends to step down as President and CEO not in 2006 as previously announced, but in just a couple of months. Rather than hang on to the end of his current contract, Fritts has been getting a handle on what he wants to do for the next stage of his life - - and he's ready to get on with it. The spring convention in Las Vegas will be his swan song, although he could be back at future NAB events as a member. While Eddie could easily rake in big bucks by setting himself up as a Washington lobbying consultant, we hear that he'd like to stay in broadcasting, maybe even return to station ownership - - but he's still considering various options.
So, the saga that began at NAB2004 in Las Vegas will wrap up with NAB2005. RBR/TVBR first reported from the Las Vegas rumor mill last April that Fritts was set to hit the exit after some tense discussions with Lombardo (4/20/04 RBR #77). Although Fritts at first denied that he had any plans to retire (4/21/04 RBR #78), and his fervent backers from the radio side were plotting to oust Lombardo, but by the time June rolled around we were reporting that a deal had been struck to end the war (6/11/04 RBR #114) - - Fritts announced plans to retire after renewing his contract for two more years and Lombardo patched up relations with board members and was re-elected without opposition (6/15/04 RBR #116). Since then there's been little movement toward selecting a successor, but with Fritts speeding up the timetable today, the pace should pick up.
It's time for the NAB Executive Board to kick into high gear and get the search going for a new leader and public front man (or woman). NAB has already missed out on competing for some of the top candidates who recently became available - - most notably, former Rep. Billy Tauzin. We hear that NAB Joint Board Chairman Phil Lombardo is also mulling the idea of splitting Fritts' job and filling it with two people - - one to handle the Washington policy and lobbying side and the other to run the operations of the NAB. That's something for the board to consider, but the most important thing now is to get the succession process moving. There's a new chairman running the Senate Commerce Committee, Ted Stevens (R-AK), and there will soon be a new chairman nominated for the FCC. The NAB needs to get its own executive suite filled (and we hear that Eddie isn't the only NAB exec who's thinking now is a good time to retire) to deal with the challenges facing radio and television.
What the Board must be held accountable for is securing the executive who has an overall full observation of issues facing broadcasters - - not just doing as the Board dictates, but setting a course of objectives to accomplish, with leadership playing the key role. The NAB Board members are elected by the broadcasters and are there to serve as a roadmap, not a mapmaker - - meaning the board members have their own operations to run.
RBR/TVBR first would like to see the agenda on qualifications the board is looking for in a chief executive. Next, find this Leader and then let him or her lead.