Elmer Lower; expanded ABC News after taking helm in ’63
NEW YORK - Elmer W. Lower, who as president of ABC News in the 1960s and early ’70s greatly expanded its coverage - making it more competitive with the network powerhouses
His son Louis confirmed his death.
When Mr. Lower, a former executive at CBS and NBC, took over ABC’s news division in 1963, it had a staff of about 250. By 1974, when he stepped down as president, the number had tripled, and the “Almost Broadcasting Company,’’ as he said some people liked to call it, had become a contender, though the other networks would continue to dominate the ratings.
He was going up against the likes of Walter Cronkite, the avuncular anchor at CBS, and Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, NBC’s popular anchor team, at a time when the two other networks were spending more than $30 million a year on news while ABC was spending $3.5 million.
Mr. Lower (rhymes with tower) proceeded to recruit, among others, Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel, Frank Reynolds, and Sam Donaldson.
Jennings was anchor at Canadian Television, Canada’s first private television network, when Mr. Lower spotted him. He “saw something in Jennings that he didn’t see in any of the people he had at the alphabet network at the time: good looks, a certain charm, and solid reporting skills,’’ Jeff Alan wrote in his 2003 book “Anchoring America.’’
Jennings, at 26, became the face of ABC’s nightly 15-minute broadcast in 1965, but critics said he was inexperienced, unpolished, and no match for his rivals, and the newscast’s ratings remained lethargic. Jennings became a foreign correspondent in 1968, but returned to share anchor duties in 1978 before becoming the sole anchor, and a popular and respected one, from the early ’80s until 2005, the year he died.
With a keen interest in political coverage, Mr. Lower was frustrated that on election nights the networks had to rely on the Associated Press, United Press International, and other news agencies for election results, as those outlets were attuned to the less immediate deadlines of newspapers. In 1964 he joined with Fred W. Friendly at CBS and William R. McAndrew at NBC, along with AP and UPI, to form a network election service, which provided a more rapid vote count.
In 1975, Mr. Lower received an Emmy for lifetime achievement, as well as the Paul White Award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association, its highest honor.
Elmer Wilson Lower was born in Kansas City, Mo., on March 7, 1913, to Elmer and Eva McConnell Lower. His father was a city alderman.
After graduating from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism in 1933, he was hired as a $10-a-week courthouse reporter for a Kentucky newspaper. He later became an editor for UPI and AP. He served in the Office of War Information during World War II, posted to Cairo, Algiers, Naples, and London. After the war he was a photo editor for Life magazine. He went into broadcasting in its early days, in 1953, joining CBS, and rose to take news executive positions there and at NBC before joining ABC in 1963.
After retiring in 1978, Mr. Lower returned to the University of Missouri to be the dean of its journalism school, serving from 1982 to 1984. He lectured widely on broadcast journalism for 20 years.
His first wife, the former Gilberte Madeleine Stengel, died in 1981. Besides his son Louis, he leaves another son, John; two grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and his second wife, Margaret Kessler, from whom he was separated.