How William Paley Became a Powerful Media Mogul

On this day, September 28 in the year 1901, one of the most powerful media executives in the world was born in Illinois, United States of America. His name was William Samuel Paley, the man who made Columbia Broadcasting System a dominant force in the American communications industry.

William S. Paley
William S. Paley (Credit: wiki commons)

William Paley was the son of a Jewish family who owned a cigar company. He studied at the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1922. While working at the family-owned cigar company, he understood the power of advertising. Together with family members, he purchased 16 struggling radio stations under the Columbia Phonographic Broadcasting Company in 1927. Later, the word phonographic was dropped. After a decade, the number of radio stations increased to more than 110.

In 1939, William Paley acquired the Columbia Record Company. After World War II, he moved into television broadcasting and soon CBS became the number one TV network in the US, beating its perennial rivals NBC and ABC. His focus on the two aspects of broadcasting, entertainment and news, allowed him to capture viewers from all segments of the population. In the entertainment department, he was able to hire the most popular stars, most of them lured from other networks. On the news front, he built an outstanding staff.

William Paley died of renal failure in 1990. He married twice and had 2 children. In 1995, Columbia Broadcasting was sold to Westinghouse Electric. In 1999, it was acquired by Viacom. At present, it is owned by CBS Corporation which is controlled by Sumner Redstone who also controls Viacom.


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