He likes to stay behind the scenes, but the man in the know about everything digital television is Mike McCarthy, senior executive vice president of Belo Corp. He has just finished a term as chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters' digital television transition task force, which he created to tackle the many problems broadcasters face. He also serves on the NAB Executive Committee and is a member of the Association for Maximum Television's board of directors.
Wearing all those hats has made McCarthy a respected member of the broadcasting community for nearly 30 years.
"It's because of this range of expertise that I've relied so heavily on Mike throughout my tenure as CEO," says Belo President and CEO Robert Decherd.
"Mike has served our industry with distinction," says NAB President Eddie Fritts. "NAB values both Mike's service to the NAB Board and Executive Committee, and Belo's unmatched commitment to localism and free, over-the-air television."
Says Paul Karpowicz, president of the NAB Television board and vice president of LIN Television. "Mike is a tremendous asset to the NAB board, and it's always nice to talk to someone who knows the inside story on Notre Dame football." Both McCarthy and Karpowicz are graduates of Notre Dame University, South Bend, Ind. Both of McCarthy's children graduated from there, and Karpowicz's children currently attend.
With all his involvement in the industry, McCarthy has his own ideas about how the digital transition should go. So far, it hasn't gone as he thinks it should.
"If we had a chance to start over with the digital transition, I would have treated this as a national industry policy," he says. "We are trying to transition the consumer electronics, television, cable, satellite and intellectual-property industries. They all should have linked arms and moved forward into the digital transition together. I wouldn't have launched the transition without some framework to make that happen."
He acknowledges, however, that hindsight is 20/20. "I think it would be nice to have some sort of digital TV czar or czarina," who can set some hard deadlines with authority.
McCarthy approaches all his jobs—top exec at Belo, DTV guru, board member extraordinare—with a thorough understanding of the issues. That's not surprising, given his background.
McCarthy's first real job after graduating from the London School of Economics with a master's degree was as an analyst for the Legislative Reference Service. There he handled issues pertaining to monetary policy and provided research for a range of things, including speeches, testimony, constituent mail and articles.
After a couple years in Washington—with a one-year break for a term in the Army National Guard—McCarthy went to law school. Attending at night part of the time, he worked for the Nixon White House as a speechwriter in the Office of Telecommunications Policy.
Graduating from law school in September 1973, he left government service and joined Washington law firm Dow, Lohnes & Albertson. That job opened the door to a career in media and telecommunications.
He stayed at Dow, Lohnes for 12 years, serving a variety of media clients and working his way up from associate to partner. He left the firm in 1985, after helping his client, then called A. H. Belo Corp., wrap up a $600 million purchase of TV stations from Dun & Bradstreet.
"After eight straight days of 15-hour-per-day negotiations, I got to know the Belo people well," McCarthy says. A year later, he moved his family to Dallas, where he has helped Decherd build a $1.5 billion media company that owns or manages 20 TV stations and employs about 7,250.