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Jim Howard, Jr

Jim Howard, Jr.

James Joseph Howard, Jr. (born May 5, 1961) was the Chief Executive Officer and President of Pompano Helicopters, Inc., which was once the second-largest news-helicopter subcontractor in the United States, and the largest in the southeastern United States. Only Helicopters, Inc. had a larger fleet, catering specifically to the television and radio industry, according to Rotor & Wing Magazine, a helicopter industry trade publication.

Mr. Howard told Rotor and Wing, "News events like the O.J. Simpson chase and the Reginald Denny beating, viewed from a TV helicopter, brought Middle Town America into the picture.

Jim Howard, Jr. started Pompano Helicopters in 1991 with his wife, Darlene, with only $800.00 and a single small helicopter to perform flight instruction. He also decided to continue performing some aerial photography, after shooting construction photography for SunCoast Helicopters, which was owned by H. Wayne Huizenga.

At the beginning of 1999, after eight years of business operations, Pompano Helicopters had become a major vendor to television stations and news networks, including FOX, ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates, as well as Westwood One, a supplier of radio programming. The company operated a fleet of helicopters in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Nevada, Rhode Island and Maryland. The company operated two bases for its electronic news gathering helicopters, with hangars in Pompano Beach, Florida and Houston, Texas. Metro Networks Communications, one of Pompano Helicopter’s major clients, also used the company for the installation of television equipment along interstate highways, as part of a company’s nationwide traffic camera system. Much of that system remains in use today.

Biography

Personal life and education

Mr. Howard was born in 1961 in Jamaica, Queens, New York City, to Regina and James Joseph Howard, Sr. The family moved to a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, in 1970. He graduated from high school in 1979. The same year, Mr. Howard elected to join the United States Navy.

He was assigned to serve as an operations specialist aboard the destroyer USS Du Pont DD 941, under Commander Harlan K. Ullman, who later co-wrote the book, Shock and Awe. Under Cmdr. Ullman’s tutorship, Mr. Howard became a Naval intelligence photographer while serving in Beirut and Iran during the early to middle 1980’s. During his service, he became the youngest enlisted man, at the time an E-3, to earn the Enlisted Surface Warfare Medal. Mr. Howard was given the award on September 11, 1981, when he was advanced to the rank third-class petty officer, E-4.

At the end of his enlisted obligated service in the Navy, Mr. Howard started a yacht maintenance dive company in South Florida, called Barnacle Busters. It was during this time he started flying helicopters, deciding to follow his father’s footsteps. His father, James Joseph, Sr., had been a helicopter pilot in California.

Professional endeavors

Pompano Helicopters, Inc.

Jim Howard, Jr. started Pompano Helicopters, Inc. in 1991 at the Pompano Beach Airpark, in Florida, with only $800.00 and a single Robinson 22 Helicopter. Mr. Howard eventually negotiated a deal in 1992 with WPTV (TV) Channel 5 in West Palm Beach, an NBC affiliate, to cover news and traffic.

Electronic news gathering

Within a year the station managers decided to sign a long-term contract with Pompano Helicopters. Mr. Howard became known as “Chopper Jim” to audiences in the West Palm Beach market.

In 1995, WPBF Channel 25, an ABC affiliate, agreed to a deal with Pompano Helicopters to provide reports, but station managers did not provide a contract.

By the time WPTV Channel 5 renewed Pompano Helicopters’ contract in 1996, Pompano Helicopters was utilizing more stable turbine helicopters, and was flying a Bell Jet Ranger to provide its news and traffic reports to WPTV. Pompano Helicopters also purchased a FLIR camera system and other broadcasting equipment to outfit the news helicopter for live television coverage, in addition to the audio broadcasts he had been providing since 1992.

Metro Networks

Additionally, Metro Networks Communications, a broadcasting company devoted primarily to providing traffic and weather reports to its broadcast affiliates, began to take notice of Pompano Helicopters’ service in the West Palm Beach television market. Managers at Metro Networks’ office contacted Mr. Howard and negotiated a deal to permit a reporter to fly with in the same helicopter “Chopper Jim” was using to provide service to WPTV. When station management voiced no objection, Mr. Howard agreed. Within a year, Mr. Howard was then given new contracts in Atlanta and Miami, and Pompano Helicopters, Inc. began to expand its fleet of news helicopters.

With the continued expansion of the electronic news gathering industry, and his expanding role in it, Mr. Howard elected to start and trademark, News Copters of America, Inc. However, all of the business operations, including contractual negotiations, billings and payments to vendors, remained under the aegis of Pompano Helicopters while the embryonic News Copters was being established.

Network demands on PHI

Pompano Helicopters continued negotiating deals, directly, with television and radio stations. Managers at Metro Networks asked Mr. Howard and Pompano Helicopters to utilize the network to provide affiliate contracts, rather than negotiate directly with radio and television stations. Mr. Howard agreed, after receiving assurances that Metro Networks would continue granting new contracts.

At its peak, Pompano Helicopters had been flying for Metro Networks and various television stations in Baltimore; Atlanta; Providence, Rhode Island; Las Vegas; Houston; Miami; West Palm Beach; Tampa; and Orlando. Pompano Helicopters was ranked by Rotor and Wing Magazine, a helicopter industry publication, as the second largest news-helicopter subcontractor in the United States, the largest in the State of Florida, and the largest in the southeastern United States.

Westwood One and Metro Networks

As Pompano Helicopters was reaching its peak in September 1999, Westwood One, the nation’s largest syndicated content provider to radio stations in the United States, and a subsidiary of CBS, purchased Metro Networks and made the entity a wholly-owned subsidiary of Westwood One.

Only nine months later, in June 2000, Metro Networks’ management in Atlanta, which governed the southeastern United States, hired the Executive Vice President of Engineering from Pompano Helicopters to work for the network. By the end of 2000 Metro Networks began cancelling Pompano Helicopters’ news contracts.

At the end of 2002, Pompano Helicopters was no longer providing any radio or television news reports, and within less than a year, the one-time helicopter-news powerhouse was closed.

Lawsuits and controversy

As Metro Networks was cancelling Pompano Helicopters’ news contracts, PHI filed a lawsuit in Broward County alleging tortious interference by Metro Networks with personnel employed at Pompano Helicopters. The suit seeks monetary damages of approximately $362 million.

In the suit, Pompano Helicopters contends Metro Networks hired Steve Lentz, Pompano Helicopter’s Vice President of Engineering, in order to gain trade secrets and establish its own helicopter news company. According to the Broward County Court records, the suit shows Lentz was under contract at Pompano Helicopters at the time Metro Networks hired Lentz.

The suit also alleges tortious interference with business contracts being negotiated with other companies, including Anthony Holdings, International, a multi-billion dollar, international aviation, yacht sales and automotive conglomerate.

In late 2007, as the Metro Networks lawsuit prepared to continue into its sixth year, Pompano Helicopters filed a separate lawsuit against Westwood One, which brought the case into United States District Court. Both lawsuits are still pending.

Safety record

In court documents at the Broward County Circuit Court, Metro Networks’ managers contend they cancelled Pompano Helicopters’ news contracts because of safety concerns, citing issues with the Federal Aviation Administration.

The Helicopter Association International (HAI), presented Pompano Helicopters with a special citation in 1999 when the company and its pilots had flown a total of 50,000 hours of flight time without an accident or incident.

Political activism

Jim Howard, Jr., like his father, has long supported Republican political candidates, and was a major supporter of President George W. Bush during campaigns in 2000 and 2004.

Jim Howard, Sr. had been, in 1980, a Florida delegate to the Republican National Convention to support Ronald Reagan, and later ran against former Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro in 1996. Navarro had been unseated as sheriff of Broward County four years earlier, in elections held shortly after the landfall of Hurricane Andrew.

Jim Howard, Jr. helped his father organize and run the campaign, eventually leading to Navarro’s defeat in the county’s Republican Primary, however, he lost the general election to the Democratic candidate, Ron Cochran, who later died in office as a result of a cancer.

Plans

Despite his political interests, Jim Howard, Jr. remains primarily a business man and entrepreneur; but having worked full-time on his legal cases for the past three years, he is currently looking at various law schools.

References

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