Current and former RTDNA leaders remember Ernie Schultz

Read Former RTDNA Chair Bob Priddy's memorial of Ernie here.
I’ll never forget the first time I met Ernie Schultz.
 
It was in the mid-1980s. I was a young radio news director from a small market who was in Washington, D.C., to receive an award for my newsroom’s work.
 
After the awards banquet ended, a quiet, unassuming man approached me. He introduced himself, congratulated me, and spent several minutes asking about me, my station and my career ambitions. He was genuinely interested in my take on the state of broadcast journalism in America at that time.
 
It was Ernie, then the Executive Vice President of the Radio Television News Directors Association, a predecessor of the position I am now honored to hold at RTDNA. And it was the first time that I, then a new member of RTNDA, had a personal encounter with a leader of our Association.
 
I came away from the conversation with an enthusiasm for the organization that has lasted for more than 30 years. I didn’t join RTNDA because of Ernie but I have remained involved in it, and now RTDNA, in one capacity or another precisely because of that encounter with him in Washington.
 
Ernie Schultz died this week of complications from a fall in Edmond, Oklahoma, where he and his wife Theda, “Teddy,” lived. He was 87. He is also survived by his children, Jack and Elizabeth, and many other relatives and friends.
 
Before he was recruited by RTNDA to leave his native Oklahoma and move to our nation’s capital, he’d had a stellar 25-year television news career at WKY-TV, now KFOR-TV, in Oklahoma City. He worked prior to that at KGEO-TV in Enid, Oklahoma, and got his start in front of a microphone as a child radio actor. He was a Phi Betta Kappa graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a degree in radio speech.
 
While working as news director at WKY, Ernie served as the elected president of RTNDA Board of Directors in 1977-78. He left TV in 1980 and became RTNDA’s Managing Director in 1981. He was promoted to Executive Vice President not long afterward.
 
In 1987, when RTNDA changed the title of its board CEO from president to chairman/woman, Ernie was promoted again to become the first paid president on staff. He held that title for nearly two years. When he left, he told the RTNDA board that he felt he had done what he could and that it was time for a new leader to raise the Association’s profile even higher.
 
My Ernie story is certainly not unique, nor the most important. Past RTNDA leaders who worked closely with him during the years he ran the Association’s Washington headquarters have similar anecdotes.
 
“Here's the kind of guy Ernie was. We felt that the presidency of the organization should be worth $100,000. But Ernie refused to accept that salary because he didn't think the organization could afford it,” said Bob Priddy, former RTNDA chairman and longtime board member.
 
“It was my privilege to be legal counsel then and to observe the conscientious leadership he provided, always with great caring for the members and his staff, including not wanting to make much more money than his top lieutenants,” said Larry Scharff, RTDNA’s former attorney. 

As a new person getting involved with RTNDA, Ernie was so kind and generous of his time. He encouraged me to get involved, and always made me feel important, even though I wasn’t. He didn’t seem to have an ego, yet was perfect for the job and the right person at the right time for RTNDA,” said RTDNA Treasurer Loren Tobia, another former chairman and longtime board member.
 
“Ernie led the organization at a time when financial leadership was extremely important. He was instrumental in keeping the organization on a solid footing,” according to Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director Emeritus and also a former chairman.
 
Someone who knows about that aspect of Ernie’s RTNDA legacy very well is former Treasurer Lou Prato, who wrote:
 
No one was more dedicated to RTNDA than Ernie Schultz. When he was the news director of WKY-TV in Oklahoma City, his station was known within RTNDA and beyond as one of the best journalistic operation in the country, earning the respect most stations in larger markets could not match. That’s why he was the right man for the job when RTNDA wanted a fulltime president.
 
As RTNDA’s treasurer during Ernie’s tenure, I worked closely with him. This was period where RTNDA not only expanded and increased our financial worth but gained national and international influence our founders had only dreamed about. Ernie was first and foremost a journalist, but he also knew how to run an organization and get the most out of limited financing.
 
One of his major assets was he never became overcome by being in the nation’s capital. Its call “Potomac Fever.”  Ernie knew how to work within the Washington system, but he avoided becoming overwhelmed and consumed by it. I found that out first-hand when I moved to the Washington area shortly after Ernie. One example is the many lunch meetings we had to discuss RTNDA business. We avoided those ritzy, expense-account restaurants that populate Washington. We would get a sandwich at a small carry out and sit on a park bench near the RTNDA office. I am sure we accomplished more in that half hour or so on those park benches than anyone could have imagined.
 
Ernie was a classy guy. I never heard him utter a bad word about another person, even when some on our RTNDA board created problems for him. I am thankful to have called Ernie a friend and equally thankful for all that he did for RTNDA. RIP, Ern!
 
Longtime NBC News correspondent Bob Dotson, now a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, never served as an RTNDA leader but for years conducted seminars at our annual conventions, which were always standing-room-only. He also was a longtime friend of Ernie, who had given Dotson his first job, at WKY-TV. Dotson wrote on Facebook:
 
He hired me out of college to work at the NBC station in Oklahoma City. Eventually, let me anchor the local newscasts during the TODAY Show. The microphone I wore that first morning was big as a hot dog. I struggled to snap the cord around my neck. It hooked with a T-clasp, like a necklace. The announcer’s voice boomed in the studio.

“Here’s Bob Dotson…”

CLUNK! My mike fell on the floor. I ducked down to find it. The director asked the cameraman, “Where’d he go?”

“I don’t know,” he whispered.

“Well, find him!” he yelled.

He pushed the camera toward the anchor podium, tilted up and over. Caught me searching for the mike on the floor. My rear end was on TV longer than my face.
Afterwards, I skulked back to the newsroom. Schultz pulled me aside and said, “Bob, they don’t pay us to look silly.” And then he smiled, “Let’s see how you do tomorrow.”
 
As the current Executive Director of what is now the Radio Television Digital News Association, I want to offer my profound thanks to Ernie, for getting me so excited about the organization all those years ago, and especially for having a profoundly positive effect on RTDNA and broadcast journalism.
 
Allow me to echo Lou Prato:
 
“RIP, Ern!”