In 1970, he bought the struggling independent UHF TV station WJRJ-TV in Atlanta. He changed the company's name to Turner Broadcasting System and the station's call letters to WTBS, and quickly beefed up its programming. His acquisition of local sports franchises, such as Major League Baseball's Atlanta Braves in 1976 and the National Basketball Association's Atlanta Hawks in 1977, brought their televised games to WTBS, along with a mix of vintage TV series and films.
With satellite communications extending the station's early cable base, Mr. Turner used WTBS as the foundation for an empire that grew from 2 million to more than 34 million national viewers and more than $70 million in profits by 1986. His love of sports led to the origination of the annual, televised Olympics-style international Goodwill Games, which he began in Moscow in 1986.
Mr. Turner launched the 24-hour Cable News Network in 1980, setting in motion a rigorous competition in TV news between cable operators and traditional broadcasters and thriving on major breaking news such as the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster and the 1991 Persian Gulf War. His creation of CNN and the first national "superstation," TBS Superstation, made cable TV a more competitive, interesting venue than it had been before.
After paying $1.6 billion for MGM/UA Entertainment Co. in 1986, the company began colorizing many of the 4,000 classic black-and-white films in the studio's library. Turner Network Television was launched in 1988 as a major showcase for the films. Under the strain of debt, Mr. Turner eventually was forced to sell the film library to retain control of TBS Inc. He made the unusual move of selling large stakes in his company to major cable operators that were his primary customers.
Still, he continued to expand and build on his program holdings with the creation of the Cartoon Network in 1992. His key acquisitions included Hanna-Barbera animation and the motion picture-production companies Castle Rock Entertainment and New Line Cinema.
A failed takeover of CBS in the mid-1980s cost him $20 million; subsequent efforts to launch a women's network and a cable channel serving southern lifestyles, art and sports were later abandoned.
With the sale of TBS Inc. to Time Warner in 1996, Mr. Turner became vice chairman of Time Warner, allowing him to make a freewheeling mark on parts of the company's vast business empire, such as program syndication, news and sports coverage. In January 2001, Time Warner merged with AOL.
Mr. Turner found himself in the center of new controversy in late 2001, when longtime Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin announced plans to retire by May 2002. Mr. Turner's public feud with Mr. Levin over Mr. Turner's suppressed role at the combined company, prompted CEO-Elect Richard Parsons, AOL Time Warner's diplomatic co-chief operating officer, to publicly woo Mr. Turner into signing up again as the company's vice chairman, which Mr. Turner did.
Early in 2003, AOL Time Warner announced that Mr. Turner was leaving the company. That May, he sold more than half of his stake AOL Time Warner for $789 million.
Born in Cincinnati, Nov. 19, 1938; took over his family's ailing billboard business following his father's suicide, 1963; bought UHF independent TV station WJRJ-TV, which later became superstation WTBS, 1970; bought the Atlanta Braves baseball team, 1976; purchased the Atlanta Hawks basketball team, 1977; launched Cable News Network, 1980; paid $1.6 billion for MGM/UA Entertainment Co., 1986; launched the Goodwill Games, 1986; sold his cable TV and entertainment empire to Time Warner for $7.5 billion, 1996; pledged $1 billion to the United Nations, 1997.