Dawson B "Tack" Nail, veteran communications
reporter and editor for Communications
Daily in Washington and a
former reporter for Broadcasting & Cable,
died Friday from injuries suffered in a fall, according to his employer. He was
Nail had been covering the business for Communications Daily since 1964, and for almost a decade before
that was a reporter for Broadcasting
"It's hard to overestimate how beloved he was,"
said Andrew Schwartzman of Media Access Project. He also loved getting the facts
right. "I just remember his penchant for accuracy was unbelievable,"
said Schartzman. And for getting the big story.
"The thing that always would amuse me was that he would
have some incredible scoop, this unbelievable ability to get stuff off the
eighth floor (where the FCC commissioners reside), and get this wonderful,
cat-that-caught-the canary kind of smile."
"He was a unique and charismatic person who always
seemed to get the story right," said former National Association of Broadcasters
President Eddie Fritts, now head of The Fritts Group. "No one will really
know how many sources he had inside and surrounding our industry. He was
one of the great scribes who covered our industry, or any other. I can't
imagine that there will be an NAB
convention without Tack Nail."
"He was the guy who always got the story," said
Dick Wiley, partner at Wiley Rein and former FCC chairman.
Nail would get the story out of his sources with his
trademark "I understand that..." opening, delivered in a folksy
Western twang that disarmed the opposition. "His word was his bond and he
was a straight shooter in every way and a terrific reporter," remembered
Wiley recalls that Nail was the first person to call him
when he was named general counsel of the FCC in 1970. "I was in Chicago
and I got a call from Tack Nail and I thought, 'how the heck did he know about
that." But Wiley noted a chink in the accuracy armor. "I kidded
him forever because he had me in there as "Kenneth Wiley." But Nail
had a solution. "For years he has called me Kenneth."
Wiley says Nail was not only the first person to contact him
from the press corps when he joined the FCC, but the last when he exited
for private practice. "He was the last guy to see me go when I was
chairman. I was working and he came in and said he wanted to see me to say
good bye. I told him I would only be two blocks away."
"Tack Nail was an incredible journalist and always an
honest broker about the industry," said C-SPAN
founder Brian Lamb. "In 1980, Tack took a chance and appeared on C-SPAN's
first ever call-in program to discuss the FCC. I have enjoyed our friendship
for the last 40 years."
"For all his off-handed, gnarly, un-PC, rough-edged demeanor and the southern twang," says veteran broadcaster Bill O'Shaughnessy, "Tack could get through to any DC bureaucrat or solon of the Congress and always to any media mogul in whose care and keeping the powerful instruments of communications reside."
"Cable joins in mourning the loss of ‘Tack' Nail," said Rob Stoddard, Senior Vice President, Communications & Public Affairs for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. "Tack was first and foremost a journalist - ferreting out information to keep us all honest - but he often freely shared with his sources wise counsel honed by years on the beat and tempered by a good heart. Tack's role as a mentor for young or new telecom reporters was unrivaled in Washington, and his puckish good humor and fun-loving attitude could be uplifting even in difficult or awkward situations. As a writer and editor, Tack set a high bar for trade and business journalism, and his legacy in that regard will live on. We offer sincere condolences to Tack's family, his many close friends, and his longtime employer, Warren Publishing, which he helped put on the map with his reporting, professionalism, and presence."
"Tack was a great friend who mentored many a journalist, protected many a source, and provided us all with plenty of laughs through the years," said NAB Executive Vice President of Communications and former media reporter Dennis Wharton. "We grieve for his family, while we celebrate the life of a reporter whose decency, integrity and simple kindness were unmatched."
"Tack was an institution in the FCC World," said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. "He knew the players, the right sources and the issues, and he understood how things got done. He was also totally straightforwàrd and personable. He was one of a special breed of all-too-rare boots on the ground journalists. I will miss him personally and so will his many friends and admirers at the FCC."
"I worked at Comm Daily from late 1983 to late 1999," remembers Art Brodsky, now communications director with Public Knowledge. "When I started, Tack was already a legend in broadcasting and FCC reporting. Years ago, the FCC would hold closed meetings and he would know the results before some of the Commission staff. He would know what went on in NAB Board meetings before some at the NAB. He was one of those reporters who knew everything and everyone, and he did his job with a smile, perpetual good humor and lots of good, old fashioned reporting.
"You couldn't find a more kind and considerate person than Tack. Today, I heard from former colleagues of acts of kindness he performed, from giving personal sympathy in tough situations to colleagues to donating air miles so that Mike Feazel and his wife could pick up a baby in China [see profile below]."
Former B&C reporter
Kim McAvoy profiled Nail in the following (excerpted) piece in 1995, when NAB
gave him its Spirit of Broadcasting award.
you don't have a favorite story about Tack Nail, you haven't lived life to the
fullest. Hear these:
year at a NATPE convention, Nail, scheduled to appear in a skit, secretly
shaved his beard and replaced it with a fake. In the middle of the skit Nail
stopped, turned to the audience, said he was tired of his beard and yanked it
once called a National Association of Broadcasters official to point out typos
in his report to the NAB board-- before the board had received a copy. (The
NAB's front-desk receptionist had standing orders to alert key officials as
soon as Nail entered the building.)
there was the night he pulled the late Robert E. Lee into a swimming pool,
leaving the commissioner (who couldn't swim) limping for weeks.
former NAB P.R. staffer recalls: "When he would start a press conference
question with 'Sir,' I would hold my breath. You never knew what would come
been 40 years since Nail arrived in Washington as a rewrite man for
'BROADCASTING' magazine. He was a former Perry, Okla., high school history
teacher fresh out of the Korean War and journalism graduate school. It wasn't
long before Nail was an established reporter covering what was still a
relatively young radio industry and an infant TV business.
got his first taste of journalism in college. He was sports editor for his
college paper at Southwestern Oklahoma State University and had a weekly sports
program on KWOE(AM) Clinton.
graduation, he spent two years in the Army, including a combat tour as an
artillery forward observer in Korea. After the war he went back to Oklahoma and
to graduate school on the GI Bill. Not only did he teach history and journalism
but he served as an assistant football and wrestling coach.
of Nail's trademarks is his Oklahoma accent; he's been known to come off as a
naive country boy. Don't be fooled, says Warren Publishing's Al Warren.
"Underneath is a very shrewd mall."
attributes Nail's success as a journalist to his ability to "develop a
rapport with everyone. He knows their spouses, their children and their pets.
He has an extraordinary affinity for people and the industry." Warren also
considers Nail "a modern Job---he's had a tough personal life." Nail
grew up an orphan; he lost a child in infancy and later his first wife, Joye.
Nail himself is recovering from a recent bout with cancer.
taught me a lot about journalism and how important personal relationships
are," says Mike Feazel, a senior editor at Warren Publishing. Nail taught
Feazel a lot about generosity, too. He gave his colleague frequent flyer miles
to bring back a baby girl he and his wife were adopting in China.