History of the Major Television Networks CBS Part 1

About the early history of CBS or the Columbia Broadcasting System which started in radio and became one of the major television networks.



Origin: A fit of pique brought the network into being in 1926. Impresario Arthur Judson, manager of the New York Philharmonic and other illustrious clients such as Jascha Heifetz, had been done in by David Sarnoff of NBC, who reneged on a vague promise to sign Judson and his stars to a chain broadcasting agreement. Furious, Judson said he would start his own radio network. His credentials were modest. He was a would-be violinist, an expert on Elizabethan literature, and a manager of classical musicians. Undaunted, he began a company called United Independent Broadcasters, Inc., with promoter George A. Coats, who fast succeeded in signing contracts with radio stations, including Philadelphia's WCAU. The two were joined by dignified radio pioneer J. Andrew White.

It is amazing that the network made it through its infancy. Several times it was close to bankruptcy, only to be saved by kindly benefactors, among them Betty Fleischmann (the yeast people) Holmes, who came up with $45,000 and later recouped $3 million from her investment. A short affiliation with Columbia Phonograph kept them afloat for a while. When the record company sold them back their interest, they retained the name: Columbia Broadcasting System. (Oddly enough, in 1938 CBS bought Columbia Records and still owns it.)

The company's debut was a presentation of Metropolitan Opera artists performing a new work by Deems Taylor and Edna St. Vincent Millay, called The King's Henchman. The sound was monitored from the WOR men's room, and an electrical storm knocked out the transmission wires west of the Alleghenies. But it was nonetheless a success.

It was radio advertising for La Palina cigars that brought William S. Paley, the most important person in CBS's past and present, into the picture. His father owned the company that made the cigars. William, who was something of a playboy, put an estimated $275,000 into CBS, then decided to help run it.

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