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Ken Foote’s Radio/TV Files: William S. Paley

Broadcasting has a rich history in the United States, going back to the 1920’s.

Back then, the Congress Cigar Company of Philadelphia made a cigar called the “La Palina”, and their young advertising director was looking for a new way to market the cigar and boost its sales. Without his father’s knowledge or permission, he decided to buy an hour of time on a local radio station, sponsored by the La Palina Cigar. When his father discovered what had been done, he admonished his son, saying he was reckless and was throwing money away. But the end result proved vastly different. Sales for the La Palina skyrocketed.  The young advertising director fell in love with the new medium immediately and, in 1927, purchased a fledging group of 16 radio stations called United Independent Broadcasters. But the name was quickly changed to the Columbia Broadcasting System. And its legendary founder was none other than William S. Paley.

The company grew throughout the 1930’s and brought news and entertainment into people’s homes through the miracle of radio during the depression. Listeners could hear such great entertainers as Burns & Allen, Kate Smith, Paul Whiteman, and Major Bowes, and newscasters such as Ted Husing and H.V. Kaltenborn. The CBS World News Roundup, which is still heard today on the CBS Radio Network, started in 1938 as a result of increased hostilities in Europe.

World War II was the first major war for radio with correspondents like Edward R. Murrow, Eric Severeid, John Daly, and Winston Burdette reporting from the war zone. Mr. Paley himself was a colonel in the U.S. Army and was under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower and the SHEAF Command in London, responsible for the psychological warfare efforts of the Allies. Paley remained friends with General Eisenhower until Eisenhower’s death in 1969.

After World War II, the company became known simply as CBS, Inc. Paley became Chairman and CEO and Dr. Frank Stanton, a former professor at Ohio State University who had joined CBS in 1935 in the Research Department, became President. For the remainder of the 1940’s, CBS started to gear up for a brand new medium: television. From 1945 until his retirement in 1974, it was Stanton who ran the day to day operations of the Company, guided its strategic entry into television, and made other invaluable contributions to the company and the industry that we today have the privilege of enjoying.  Paley was still involved in any major policy decisions and with the programming on the CBS Television Network but took a less active role after the war in the day to day operations.

Television grew astronomically. People loved it. And today it still is the predominant medium in people’s lives. CBS grew through other businesses as well, such as news, sports, music, publishing, and even owned Steinway Pianos and the New York Yankees at one time!  Today the company engages in businesses such as new media, cable programming networks, and outdoor media. In future blogs, we will talk about the many people of CBS that made it great over its 84 year history.

Mr. Paley passed away in 1990 at the age of 89 but the company that he built still remains intact today under the leadership of President and CEO Leslie Moonves. Those of us who have the honor and privilege of working for CBS know our duty to be good stewards and caretakers of what is clearly one of the most successful and fascinating media company in the history of mankind.

See you next time!

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