Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) history
One of the three major broadcasting networks, founded in 1927 and developed and expanded by William S. Paley (1901–90) from 1929. Born in Chicago, Paley studied at the University of Chicago and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1922. At age 27, using funds from his father’s investments, Paley purchased working control of the struggling CBS radio network. A year later, more family funds helped him purchase total control of the company.
After purchasing a group of independent radio stations, Paley moved his headquarters to New York to be near the heart of the ADVERTISING INDUSTRY. He began giving his radio programs to his affiliates for free in return for advertising slots, a novel concept at the time. The strategy was very successful, and he claimed more than 70 affiliates within two years of beginning operations.
CBS took the high road to broadcasting. In 1930, the network began broadcasting concerts by the New York Philharmonic and also created Columbia Records. The label pioneered the longplaying (LP) record, introduced in 1948. The large disk revolutionized the recording industry and made Columbia the leading record company in America. Other divisions were added, including news and entertainment. When television appeared and became widespread, the company was again in the forefront and produced many quality programs in addition to a host of soap operas and quiz shows. From the 1950s, the network became known as the “Tiffany network,” a compliment reflecting its high-end programming and networking standards.
The network remained at the top of the ratings race until the 1980s, when it lost its top spot to NBC, its traditional rival. Under Lawrence Tisch’s leadership, the company divested its publishing and recording divisions in an attempt to become leaner and focus on its core business. Then in 1995 Tisch sold his stake in CBS to Westinghouse Electric, and the company began to regain some of its momentum. The new CEO, Mel Karmazin, merged the company with another media giant, Viacom. Paley’s company now was part of an entertainment empire that included Paramount Pictures, MTV, VH1, and Nickelodeon cable companies, among others.
See also SARNOFF, DAVID.
- Paley, William S. As It Happened: A Memoir. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979.
- Paper, Lewis J. Empire: William S. Paley and the Making of CBS. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.
- Slater, Robert. This . . . Is CBS: A Chronicle of 60 Years. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1988.