As it Happened: A Memoir

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Doubleday, Jan 1, 1979 - Broadcasting - 418 pages
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About the author (1979)

William Paley heard radio for the first time on a crystal set in 1925. He was then 24 and working for his father's prosperous cigar-manufacturing company. The Paley family bought advertising time on the new medium and saw sales of their La Palina cigars increase tremendously as a result. In 1928, Paley became the owner of the struggling Columbia radio network. From this humble beginning, he built the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), branching out into television in the 1950s. CBS became a central player, first in radio, then in television. For years its chief rival was the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). The American Broadcasting Company (ABC) joined them later. Bill Paley had a consummate feel for both the advertising possibilities of radio and television and the tastes of their audiences. Programming, he said, "must appeal to either the emotions or the self-interest [of the audience member], not merely to his intellect." His approach was hugely successful: CBS attracted enormous audiences, which enabled it to attract big-spending advertisers. While Paley concentrated on developing lowbrow popular programming, his deputy, Frank Stanton, and his star journalist, Edward R. Murrow, developed superior news, educational, and cultural programming, thereby giving CBS an image of class, so that it was called "the Tiffany network." Paley lived the life of a socialite and art collector as well as businessman. He was married several times and was father and stepfather to four children. As he aged and network dominance of broadcasting declined, he lost or ceded (depending on the analysis) control of his empire to Laurence Tisch, chairman of the Loewes Corporation, and CBS went through a period of internal battling and retrenchment. But Paley was a strong leader and left the important legacy of using some of the huge profits of popular programming to support superior news programming.

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