Unable to sell enough air time to advertisers, on September 25, 1927, Columbia sold the network for $500,000 to William S. Paley, son of a Philadelphia cigar manufacturer. With Columbia Phonographic's removal, Paley streamlined the corporate name to Columbia Broadcasting System. Paley believed in the power of radio advertising; his family's company had seen their La Palina cigar become a best-seller after young William convinced his elders to advertise it on Philadelphia radio station WCAU.
In November of 1927, Columbia paid $390,000 to A. H. Grebe's Atlantic Broadcasting Company for a small Brooklyn station, WABC, which would become the network's flagship station. WABC was quickly upgraded, and the signal relocated to a stronger frequency, 860 kHz. In 1946 WABC was re-named WCBS; the station moved to a new frequency, 880 kHz, in the Federal Communications Commission's 1941 re-assignment of stations. As the network's flagship, WCBS was where much of CBS's programming originated; other owned-and-operated stations were KNX Los Angeles, KCBS San Francisco, WBBM Chicago, WJSV Washington, DC (later WTOP), KMOX St. Louis, and WCCO Minneapolis.
Later in 1928, another investor, Paramount Pictures Corporation (who ironically would eventually be co-owned with CBS), bought shares in Columbia stock, and for a time it was thought the network would be re-named Paramount Radio. Any chance of further Paramount involvement ended with the Stock Market Crash of 1929; the near-bankrupt studio sold its shares back to CBS in 1932.
As the third national network, CBS soon had more affiliates than either of NBC's two, in part because of a more generous rate of payment to affiliates. NBC's owner and founder of RCA, David Sarnoff, believed in technology, so NBC's affiliates had the latest RCA equipment, and were often the best-established stations, or were on "clear channel" frequencies. But Paley believed in the power of programming, and CBS quickly established itself as the home of many popular musical and comedy stars, among them Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, George Burns, and Gracie Allen. In 1938, NBC and the Columbia Broadcasting System each opened studios in Hollywood to attract top talent to their networks—NBC at Radio City on Sunset and Vine, CBS two blocks away at Columbia Square.
In the hard times of the early 1930s, CBS radio broadened its offerings; having refused an Associated Press (AP) franchise for news, Paley launched an independent news division, shaped in its first years by Paley's vice-president, former New York Times man Ed Klauber, and news director Paul White. Another early hire, in 1935, was Edward R. Murrow, brought in as "Director of Talks." It was Murrow's reports, particularly during the dark days of the London Blitz, which contributed to CBS News's image for on-the-spot coverage. As European news chief and later head of the news division, Murrow assembled a team of reporters and editors that propelled CBS News to the forefront of the industry.
As long as radio was the dominant advertising medium, CBS dominated broadcasting. All through the 1930s and 1940s, CBS programs were often the highest-rated. much-publicized "talent raid" on NBC in the mid-1940s brought Jack Benny, Edgar Bergen, and the Amos 'n' Andy show into the CBS fold. Paley also was an innovator in creating original programming; since broadcasting's earliest days, time had been sold to advertising agencies in half- or full-hour blocks. The agencies, not the networks, would then create the program to fill the time, thus it was "The Johnson's Wax Program, with Fibber McGee & Molly," or "The Pepsodent Show, with Bob Hope." At Paley's urging, beginning in the mid-1940s, CBS began creating its own programs; among the long-running shows that came from this project were You Are There (born as CBS Was There), My Favorite Husband (starring Lucille Ball; the show proved a kind of blueprint for her big CBS television hit I Love Lucy), Our Miss Brooks (whose star, Eve Arden, was encouraged personally by Paley to try out for the title role), Gunsmoke and the Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet. In time this idea was carried further, selling ad time by the minute, so that the agencies no longer had complete control over what went out over Mr. Paley's air.
CBS was slow to move into television; as late as 1950 it owned only one station; radio continued to be the backbone of the company. But gradually, as the television network took shape, the big radio stars began to drift to television. The radio soap opera The Guiding Light became the first television soap when it began to air on CBS in 1950. Burns & Allen made the move in 1950; Lucille Ball a year later; Our Miss Brooks in 1952 (though it continued simultaneously on radio for its full television life). The high-rated Jack Benny radio show ended in 1955, and Edgar Bergen's Sunday-night show went off the air in 1957. But when CBS announced in 1956 that its radio operations had lost money, while the television network had made money, it was clear where the future lay. The last of CBS's daytime serials went off the air November 25, 1960, and prime-time radio ended on September 30, 1962 when a CBS offering, the legendary Suspense. aired for the final time.
After the retirement of talk-show pioneer Arthur Godfrey in 1972, CBS radio programming consisted of hourly news broadcasts, occasional news features, and commentaries, and the nightly CBS Mystery Theater, the lone holdout of old-style programming. The CBS Radio Network continues to this day, but offers primarily newscasts and news-related features.
The first CBS television broadcasts were experimental, often only for one hour a day, and reaching a limited area in and around New York City (over station W2XAB channel 2, later called WCBW and finally WCBS-TV). To catch up with rival RCA, CBS bought Hytron Laboratories in 1939, and immediately moved into set production and color broadcasting. Though there were many competing patents and systems, RCA dictated the content of the FCC's technical standards, and stole the spotlight from CBS, DuMont, and others by introducing television to the general public at the 1939 New York World's Fair. The FCC began licensing commercial television stations on July 1, 1941; the first license went to RCA and NBC's WNBT (now WNBC); the second license, issued that same day, was to WCBW, (now WCBS). CBS-Hytron offered a practical color system in 1941, but it was not compatible with the black-and-white standards set down by RCA. In time, the FCC rejected CBS's technology in favor of that backed by RCA.
During World War II years, commercial television broadcasting was reduced dramatically. Toward the end of the war, the level of programming increased again, evident in the 1945-1947 period on the three New York television stations which operated in those years (the local stations of NBC, CBS and DuMont). But as RCA and DuMont raced to establish networks and offer upgraded programming, CBS lagged, advocating an industry-wide shift and re-start to UHF for their incompatible (with black and white) color system. Only in 1950, when NBC was dominant in television and black and white transmission was widespread, did CBS begin to buy or build their own stations (outside of New York) in Los Angeles, Chicago, and other major cities. Up to that point, CBS programming was seen on such stations as KTTV Channel 11 in Los Angeles, in which CBS—as a bit of insurance and to guarantee program clearance in Los Angeles—quickly purchased a 50 percent interest. CBS then sold their interest in KTTV and purchased outright Los Angeles pioneer station KTSL (Channel 2) in 1950, renaming it KNXT (after sister CBS radio station KNX), later to become KCBS.
The "talent raid" on NBC of the mid-1940s had brought over established radio stars; they now became stars of CBS television as well. One reluctant CBS star refused to bring her radio show, My Favorite Husband, to television unless the network would re-cast the show with her real-life husband in the lead. Paley and network president Frank Stanton had so little faith in the future of Lucille Ball's series, re-dubbed I Love Lucy, that they granted her wish and allowed the husband, Desi Arnaz, to take financial control of the production. This was the making of the Ball-Arnaz Desilu empire, and became the template for series production to this day.
In the late 1940s, CBS offered imaginative and historic live television coverage of the proceedings of the United Nations General Assembly 1949. This journalist tour-de-force was under the direction of Edmund A. Chester, who was appointed to the post of director for news, special events, and sports at CBS Television in 1948. The broadcast clearly underscored CBS's long term commitment to excellence in broadcast journalism in the post-World War II era.
All of our pieces are original - we do not sell reproductions. If you ever find out that one of our pieces is not authentic, you may return it for a full refund of the purchase price and any associated shipping charges.