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New FCC Boss quite and driven

October 29, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Bill Kennard’s soft-spoken demeanor disguises a lawyer as driven as most others in the nation’s capital. One image that emerges of the new FCC chairman is of him eating dinner while standing in front of his television and catching the evening news.

But is the helm of the Federal Communications Commission any place for a mild-mannered guy?

Confirmed by the Senate Wednesday, Kennard takes over during a tumultuous time. He’s already under political and public pressure to speed up telephone and cable competition, while trying to prevent rates from skyrocketing.

And he’ll play a key role in making sure all new TV sets have blocking technology that lets people zap shows they don’t want their kids to see.

In his limited spare time, the nation’s new top telecommunications cop mentors young blacks just as his father, an architect, did. He fishes, backpacks and has been known _ really _ to eat dinner standing in front of the TV.

He will succeed the flamboyant Reed Hundt, who engineered some landmark FCC decisions: forcing TV stations to air three hours of educational shows each week for children and clearing the way for super-sharp digital TV, the biggest change since color in the 1950s.

Under his leadership, the FCC also revamped telephone rates to potentially lower phone bills by billions and auctioned communications licenses for the first time in U.S. history.

Kennard, friends and colleagues say, seems more like a Sunday school teacher than the high-powered communications lawyer that he is.

``He’s not an aggressive guy who is always cutting you off at cocktail parties,″ says attorney Henry Geller.

``Bill is just a very solid guy who has been that way since childhood. Nothing too wild,″ says Colorado lawyer Stefan Stein, who has known Kennard since the 4th grade.

Virtually invisible in his previous job, Kennard will become a target for potshots from such FCC critics as radio personality Howard Stern and attacks from communications companies that assert they’ll be put out of business by any proposed change in FCC regulation.

Kennard is billed by supporters as a consensus builder and a fence mender.

``He approaches issues judicially. He probes both sides,″ says communications lawyer and friend Toni Cook Bush. ``You feel like when you talk to him that he really is listening to you and hears and values what you have to say, which is rare these days.″

As FCC chairman, Kennard will chart a course to accomplish the agency’s goals. But even some supporters wonder whether he can shift from being a good listener to becoming the visionary force shaping telecommunications policy into the next century.

One of three children of Helen, a retired school teacher, and Robert Kennard, he grew up in Los Angeles.

In 1957 Robert Kennard started Kennard Design Group, one of the oldest black architectural firms in the country. He died in 1995. The firm is now run by daughter Gail Kennard Madyun.

The younger Kennard, who will become the FCC’s first black chairman, wants to bolster minority ownership of media outlets.

``Bill has always reached out to the next generation of young African-American lawyers,″ said Larry Irving, President Clinton’s top telecommunications policy adviser, who met Kennard 21 years ago at Stanford University. ``He’s got a strong commitment to making sure that there is a generation that comes in behind us.″

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