CBS Visionary Dead at Age 98

Frank Stanton Helped Move Network Into TV Era

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NEW YORK ( -- Frank Stanton, the right-hand man to William S. Paley who helped turn CBS into a broadcasting powerhouse, died Dec. 24 at his home in Boston. He was 98.
Frank Stanton
Frank Stanton

Mr. Stanton, who had a doctorate in psychology, started at CBS in 1938 as the network's research director, helping establish a program that allowed the company to track the interests of listeners to its myriad radio programs -- a precursor, of sorts, to today's Nielsen Ratings.

Grabbed 'Lucy'
By 1946, he had risen through the ranks and was named by Mr. Paley as president of the network, a position he held for 26 years. A visionary, Mr. Stanton immediately grasped the concept and power of TV. Where Mr. Paley was still very much married to radio, Mr. Stanton saw the potential for the new medium, signing such luminaries as Jackie Gleason and making sure a fledgling, but funny, sitcom called "I Love Lucy" signed with CBS, not NBC.

But Mr. Stanton's most notable contributions came in the CBS News division. He increased the department's budget and created the 30-minute nightly newscast, an extension of the 15-minute version. CBS News became the gold standard for broadcast journalism.

His lobbying of Congress in the late 1950s helped pave the way for the suspension of the "equal time" provision of the Communications Act, meaning the network did not have to give candidates of lesser parties the same amount of air time as those from the Democratic and Republican parties. That led to the historic 1960 TV debates between presidential candidates Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy.

Conflicts with Paley
Mr. Stanton was also responsible for selecting noted architect Eero Saarinen for the design of the unique CBS headquarters in New York City known as "Black Rock." Mr. Stanton clashed with Mr. Paley over the design, and it wasn't the first time the two didn't see eye to eye.

It was well documented that Messrs. Paley and Stanton were never friends, though there was a mutual respect. In her 1990 biography of Mr. Paley, "In All His Glory," author Sally Bedell Smith wrote that "Paley needed Stanton; he made the machine run and understood many of the complexities that eluded Paley."

Mr. Stanton believed he would someday replace Mr. Paley as chairman-CEO of CBS, but Mr. Paley surprised many in 1965 by staying on past the retirement age. Mr. Stanton stepped down as president in 1971, and became vice chairman for two years. He then became the chairman-chief operating officer of the American Red Cross for six years.
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