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Dennis Wharton, the long-serving executive and chief spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, will retire from his post in July after 24 years with the trade organization that represents TV and radio station owners.

Wharton has served as chief spokesman for NAB since 1996. Before the NAB he spent 13 years as a Washington, D.C.-based correspondent for Variety. Wharton will continue to serve as a special advisor to NAB president-CEO Gordon Smith after his retirement.

Smith hailed Wharton’s skill and commitment to the job of advocating for the needs of hundreds of broadcasters around the country. Wharton is deeply respected among journalists who cover TV and telecom policy matters for his straightforward style and his natural understanding of the reporting process.

“Dennis is a fervent advocate for local broadcasting and his dedication to NAB and the broadcast industry cannot be overstated,” said Smith. “Journalists, broadcasters and colleagues alike value his extensive insight on industry-related issues and appreciate the enthusiasm and good humor he brings to his work. We wish Dennis all the best and are fortunate to have him stay on as an adviser to NAB.”

With Wharton’s departure as executive VP of communications, NAB’s marketing and communications departments will be consolidated into a new Public Affairs unit led by Michelle Lehman, who has served as NAB’s exec VP of marketing since 2006.

Ann Marie Cumming, NAB’s senior VP of communications, will succeed Wharton as the NAB’s chief mouthpiece. She’s been with NAB since 1994. Zamir Ahmed, VP of media relations, will also assist in public communications.

“We have assembled a talented team of professionals to carry our NAB mission and message to the public, whether that is our membership, press or policymakers,” Smith said. “We see public affairs as critical to advancing our advocacy agenda and positioning the association and our events for success.”