Former Oregon senator will replace David Rehr

The National Assn. of Broadcasters has tapped former Oregon senator Gordon Smith to lead the lobbying org as its president.

Smith replaces David Rehr, who resigned in May. NAB chief operating officer Janet McGregor has been serving as acting president in the interim.

Smith, who most recently worked for the law firm Covington & Burling, is a moderate Republican who has good relationships with Democrats. He is a former member of the Senate Commerce and Finance committees and is well versed in issues of importance to broadcasters. He is also tapped into new-media issues as former chair of the Senate’s high-tech task force.

In searching for Rehr’s replacement, NAB was looking for someone who could make key connections on the Hill.

According to a source, the candidate pool had been whittled to two in recent weeks, with former Republican FCC Commissioner Kathleen Abernathy making the shortlist along with Smith.

According to NAB, which announced the hire Friday, Smith will officially join the org Nov. 1 but will be introduced at this week’s NAB Radio Show in Philadelphia.

“As radio and television stations embrace new technologies and new business opportunities, I look forward to articulating to public policymakers the unique and positive role played by local and network broadcasters in the fabric of American society,” Smith said in a statement.

Smith may not require much of a learning curve, but broadcasting is a business that is facing a new learning curve as it remakes itself for a digital age.

The wireless industry is eyeing the spectrum hungrily, so broadcasters need to continue to make their case for the value of free, over-the-air broadcasting. Broadcasters must also deal with a challenging economy, the competition from, and opportunities in, broadband video delivery and the lingering pockets of DTV signal problems.

One of NAB’s most contentious efforts is a campaign to defeat the Performance Rights Act, a bill that would force radio broadcasters to pay performers when their music is played on the air. MusicFirst, the coalition of artist groups and record labels pushing for the legislation, congratulated Smith on his new job. The org’s executive director, Jennifer Bendall, noted in a statement that Smith as a senator “was a champion of the rights of artists and creators.”

(John Eggerton writes for Daily Variety sister publication Broadcasting & Cable. Ted Johnson contributed to this report.)

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