Frank Stanton, at 98; led CBS through the dawn of television age
NEW YORK -- Frank Stanton, who as CBS president for a quarter century helped transform a string of radio stations and a recording company into an entertainment powerhouse and helped build its broadcast news operation into the nation's most respected, died Sunday at his home in Boston. He was 98.
A longtime friend, Elisabeth Allison, said he succumbed during an afternoon nap.
Dr. Stanton once summarized his duties as "keeping the company going." But during his long association with the CBS founder, William S. Paley, the psychologist helped build a communications empire whose centerpiece became the nation's leading TV network.
"If broadcasting had a patron saint, it would be Frank Stanton. If CBS is the Tiffany Network, Frank Stanton deserves the lion's share of the credit," said Don Hewitt, creator of the network's "60 Minutes."
As the head of CBS beginning in 1946, Dr. Stanton oversaw varied enterprises that included Columbia Records, CBS Laboratories, a book publisher, a toy maker, and, for a brief time, the New York Yankees. Paley, who had dealt mostly in radio, did not initially grasp the potential of television.
"He thought it would hurt radio," said Dr. Stanton, who took a chance on the new medium by signing a comic with untested appeal named Jackie Gleason, then by nailing down a new sitcom, "I Love Lucy," which might otherwise have gone to NBC.
"Who else had the opportunity to take a new medium, television, and plot its future?" Dr. Stanton once said. He called the job so interesting that "I would have almost paid them to do it."
While he led CBS to leadership status among the skyrocketing numbers of television viewers, Dr. Stanton also made CBS News a priority.
His belief in the First Amendment was genuine. In 1971, subpoenaed by Congress to produce unaired footage from a CBS News documentary, "The Selling of the Pentagon," Dr. Stanton risked jail by refusing. A contempt motion failed, but only narrowly.
Walter Cronkite, the face and voice of CBS News for much of Dr. Stanton's tenure, once said his boss had a "passionate and courageous commitment to a free press."
"He was a communicator, the standard bearer for our industry in any fight against limiting a free press or the flow of information," Leslie Moonves, president and chief executive of CBS, said.
Colleagues said Dr. Stanton often insulated their work from attacks by both special interests and the government, particularly during the Vietnam War. "Stanton was a firewall between the presidency and the reporters covering the White House," Robert Pierpoint, a former CBS White House correspondent, told The
Last night, Cronkite also credited Dr. Stanton with recruiting an "all-star cast" of broadcasters, producers, reporters, and writers to the network, which featured the pre-eminent broadcast journalist, Edward R. Murrow.
"Stanton recognized the role that broadcast news would play in providing the American public with the essential news of what its governments were doing in its name," Cronkite said.
Dr. Stanton expanded the evening news show from 15 minutes to 30 and created an investigative arm, CBS Reports.
A less admirable chapter of Dr. Stanton's career found him overseeing CBS's blacklisting policies in the 1950s and 1960s. These included the creation in 1951 of a security office to investigate political leanings of CBS employees.
Despite the evanescent world of broadcasting to which he devoted his life, one of Dr. Stanton's proudest achievements was the stone-and-mortar edifice of CBS's Manhattan headquarters, designed by Eero Saarinen and completed in 1964. He guided its design, from the stone that inspired its "Black Rock" nickname to the typography of elevator numerals.
His long duet with Paley was both richly fruitful and problematical. Never friends, the two titans were polar opposites in many ways, with Paley the charming dreamer, while Dr. Stanton was the thinker and doer.
"Paley needed Stanton; he made the machine run and understood many of the complexities that eluded Paley," according to "In All His Glory," Sally Bedell Smith's Paley biography. But as Paley recognized this dependence, he grew to resent Dr. Stanton."
In 1966, Dr. Stanton had counted on rising to the CEO title upon Paley's retirement at age 65, but Paley, exempting himself from the mandatory retirement age, stayed on.
Five years later, at 63, Dr. Stanton was forced to step down as president, then served as vice chairman until his ignominious retirement in 1973. After CBS, Dr. Stanton chaired the American Red Cross for six years.
In 1999, he was given a lifetime achievement award for his First Amendment work by the New York chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
In his retirement, Dr. Stanton worked closely with Harvard University on several public policy and communications programs. He established a professorship in Urban and Policy Planning, and CBS helped establish the Frank Stanton Professorship of the First Amendment at the Kennedy School of Government.
In 1978, he became the first person elected to the university's Board of Overseers who had not attended Harvard.
Working with the Harvard Alcohol Project, Dr. Stanton helped promote the use of "designated driver," a concept developed at the project. He enlisted the help of TV producers to incorporate the term into prime-time scripts.
Dr. Stanton's path to CBS started at Ohio State University, where his studies led him to devise a scientific method for measuring radio audiences and invent the forerunner of what A.C. Nielsen would one day use to gather ratings. In 1934, CBS invited Dr. Stanton to New York City to explain his technique. He stayed on, building a three-person research office into a 100-strong department.
Dr. Stanton, whose wife, Ruth, died more than a decade ago, has no immediate survivors .