The Next Fritts: Place Your Bets

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Even though the search has barely begun -- and likely won’t conclude until this fall, at the earliest -- three candidates are already generating considerable buzz as potential replacements for Eddie Fritts, the retiring (but never shy) president of the National Assocation of Broadcasters. Expect plenty of wagering on the subject this week at NAB2005 in Las Vegas.

Given that spats with affiliates prompted the major networks to drop out of the organization in recent years, which has in turn hurt the NAB’s lobbying power on Capitol Hill (goes one theory), two prime contenders should be CBS Executive VP Marty Franks and Disney/ABC lobbyist Mitch Rose. Either one might help build a rapprochement between the networks and affiliates, and both have extensive Washington connections: Franks is a former Democratic House and Senate staffer whose current job includes running CBS’ digital-TV operations; Rose is former chief of staff to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens.
But it’s not clear that network affiliates are ready to seek peace with the Big Four. That could be good news for David Kennedy, CEO of radio group Susquehanna Media. Kennedy is immediate past chairman of the NAB’s joint TV/radio board and is co-chairman of the committee searching for Fritts’ replacement. Funny how these search committees sometimes work: Eddie Fritts led a certain search committee before he was chosen to head the NAB 23 years ago.

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The Fritts Years

After an awesome 23-year run, NAB chief Eddie Fritts is about to step down. His record is awesome—but not flawless. He helped the industry shed onerous rules limiting the size and power of radio- and TV-station owners. At the end, however, he couldn't repair fissures that have divided broadcasters in fundamental ways.