Last summer, veteran TV-station General Manager Marcellus Alexander was in line to head a CBS O&O after four years leading KYW-TV Philadelphia. But rather than accept a third GM assignment amidst the management shakeup launched by incoming Viacom TV chief Dennis Swanson, he opted for a new career that will allow him to apply his hands-on station experience to help others in the industry.
In October, Alexander replaced Chuck Sherman, longtime head of the National Association of Broadcasters' Television Department.
"The opportunity to work with NAB in shaping our industry's business environment is one that excites me," Alexander said.
In his new post, he oversees the NAB's relations with TV stations around the country, is a go-between for the TV board and staff, and keeps NAB government-relations staffers posted on station operators' reaction to regulatory and legislative goings-on. Among the most important issues now are potential changes to media-ownership rules and the transition to digital television.
"I view my role as one with multiple moving parts," Alexander said. "First, being in touch with member groups and stations to be aware of their business concerns. Second, communicating those issues to the NAB board and working with our congressional-relations teams to move these issues through Congress and FCC and, when necessary, the courts. In the final analysis, we are successful when we have improved the business environment in which broadcasters operate."
Alexander says he's fortunate that Sherman, forced by illness to lighten his schedule, remains as head of the NAB's education foundation and can give ready guidance. "Chuck has given me good insight on how to move forward and build on his success."
One of the thorniest issues facing Alexander is the pullout of the three of the four major broadcast networks from NAB membership. The nets and affiliates have been at loggerheads for years over the FCC's review of the 35% national cap on a company's TV-household reach. Affiliate owners, who now make up the core of NAB's TV membership, oppose the networks' bid to raise the cap, primarily fearing that the networks will terminate relationships or have power to demand much tougher terms if relaxed rules allow them to move into more large markets.
Although the NAB's support for retaining the 35% cap provoked CBS, Fox and NBC to drop their membership, some affiliate chiefs want the NAB to take a much harder line against the networks. So far, however, the association has resisted and did not join a complaint filed by the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance charging the networks with violations of FCC rules governing affiliate relations.
Alexander disputes any notion that the NAB hasn't done enough to protect the cap but says that provoking fights with the networks in the long run is a losing proposition for the industry. "We cannot sacrifice the needs and concerns of individual stations, but the issue itself will be resolved at some point, and that will help make prospects of the networks' return an easier one."
Alexander plans to spend a lot of time "out in the field" meeting station managers and brings an excellent résumé for relating to the concerns of station operators: He has been both manager and owner. Before joining the old Group W at KYW-TV Philadelphia, he moved up the ranks at WRIF(FM) Detroit, becoming part owner when he and his partners bought the station after ownership limits forced ABC to sell properties after merging with Capital Cities in 1986.
NAB President Eddie Fritts said Alexander's operation and ownership experience will be a big asset. "His accomplishments, connections in the industry, and commitment to localism and community service will serve him well."