Politicos Fete Fritts

NAB field general shall return

NAB President Emeritus Eddie Fritts plans to open up his own lobbying firm, he said last week, but don’t look for him or associates to brown-bag their lunches.

Word is, he already has temporary digs in the same Washington building as Morton’s Steak House. Besides, if Fritts had a paper bag, he would just lobby his way out of it.

That was a reference to a comment by then-Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Bob Packwood, who told an NAB audience at Fritt’s first convention that the association couldn’t lobby its way out of a paper bag.

Fritts got a Washington send-off last week from the association he helped turn into one of the most powerful in town, with $85 million in the bank. The occasion was a celebration at the Willard hotel in Washington, where, urban mythologists claim, the term “lobbyist” was coined in 1870 during the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, who used to hold court in the lobby.

Fritts, recalling Packwood’s diss, told the Willard crowd, “That gave me an early indication that I should keep my head down because they use live ammunition here in Washington.”

Fritts, a Mississippi native, took that as a challenge and, looking back on the intervening years, called the tribute “a celebration of 23 years of success.”

Fritts, who has been transitioning out of the NAB since the arrival of new President David Rehr in December, will remain a consultant to the association.

He told the high-powered audience that they had not seen the last of him. “As my dear friend [former MPAA head] Jack Valenti said, retirement is a synonym for decay. Well,” said Fritts, “down home, we would say it a bit differently: If you ever slow down, the back end will run over the front end. I don’t intend to let that happen.”

Instead, he said, “in the very near future, you can expect to hear an announcement on the creation of The Fritts Group LLC, and we’ll be seeing many of you around town.”

The salute portion of the evening began with an introduction by NAB Joint Board Chairman Bruce Reese, who said Fritts deserves the thanks of every radio and TV broadcaster for his victories on Capitol Hill, at the FCC and in the courts. He ticked off the victories: The 1992 Cable Act, the 1996 Telecommunications Act, DTV spectrum allocations, the rollout of DTV, and digital radio.

Reese then provided the night’s largest laugh line, and it was inadvertent. “As Eddie has frequently said,” Reese concluded, “in Washington, there are no final victories, and no final deceits ... defeats.”

Order could not be restored for quite a while as laughter rolled over the crowd.


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.