U.S. Media Executive

Frank Stanton is a distinguished broadcast executive known for the leadership he brought to CBS, Inc. during his 25 year presidency (1946--71). His guidance gave CBS crucial stability during the company's critical growth period. More than just a corporate president, however, Stanton acquired a reputation as the unofficial spokesperson for the broadcasting industry. His opinions were routinely sought, his speeches repeatedly quoted, and his testimony before Congress recognized as a major part of any debate in the broadcasting field.

Stanton was fascinated with radio from his days in graduate school at Ohio State, chiefly by the question of why people reacted positively to certain radio shows but negatively to others. He used his doctoral research in the Psychology department to answer this question, examining why and how people perceive various stimuli. He analyzed the audio and visual effectiveness of information transmission and established test procedures for making rough measurements of their effectiveness. His dissertation, "A Critique of Present Methods and a New Plan for Studying Radio Listening Behavior," caught the attention of CBS, and launched his career in the audience research department in 1935.

In 1937, Stanton began a collaboration with Dr. Paul Lazarsfeld of Columbia University. They devised a program analysis system nicknamed "Little Annie." While Stanton tends to downplay the importance of the machine, others have credited it with being the first qualitative measurement device. "Little Annie" determines the probability of a program's appeal by suggesting how large an audience that program would be likely to attract. The system was devised for radio, but continues to be used for television, reporting an accuracy rate of 85%.

Stanton was promoted to vice president of CBS in 1942, and in 1946, at the age of 38, to the presidency. In this position, he guided CBS through a period of diversification and expansion. He reorganized the company in 1951, creating separate administrations for radio, TV and CBS Laboratories, a plan that served as a model for other broadcast companies. He helped CBS expand its operations by decentralizing its administration and creating autonomous divisions with a range of new investments, including the purchase of the New York Yankees in 1964. CBS also bought the book publisher, Holt, Rinehart and Winston and Creative Playthings, manufacturer of high-quality educational toys. Diversification paid off for CBS; the company earned $1 billion in annual sales in 1969.

As president of CBS, Stanton concentrated on organizational and policy questions, leaving the entertainment programming and the discovering and nurturing of talent to Chairman, William S. Paley. Stanton was also responsible for the political issues growing out of the network's news department. He was instrumental in bringing about the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon televised presidential debate and is known for his efforts to repeal Section 315 of the Federal Communications Act, which requires networks to grant equal time to all political candidates. A staunch proponent of broadcast journalism and defender of broadcasting's First Amendment rights, he led campaigns before Congress and in the courts on behalf of the broadcast industry for access and protection equal to that of the printed press.

Stanton's greatest battle with the government occurred in 1971, and focused on just this parallel to print press rights. The controversy surrounded The Selling of the Pentagon, a CBS News documentary, which exposed the huge expenditure of public funds, partly illegal, to promote militarism. The confrontation raised the issue of whether television news programming deserved protection under the First Amendment. Against threat of jail, Stanton refused the subpoena from the House Commerce Committee ordering him to provide copies of the outtakes and scripts from the documentary. He claimed that such materials are protected by the freedom of the press guaranteed by the First Amendment. Stanton observed that if such subpoena actions were allowed, there would be a "chilling effect" upon broadcast journalism.

But long before this particular case, and long before Watergate or Vietnam, CBS was the first broadcasting network to seriously examine the negative side of Washington politics on television. One of the earliest of these explorations occurred on the news program See It Now, in which host Edward R. Murrow confronted U.S. Senator, Joseph McCarthy. The program was constructed using film clips of McCarthy's accusatory speeches and Murrow refuting his charges. McCarthy demanded, and was granted, time for a response, and in that blustery performance many observers see the downfall of McCarthyism. In retrospect, the two programs were among the most important in the history of television.


Frank Stanton
Photo courtesy of Frank Stanton

Documentaries, even of this immediate sort, however, had a more difficult time attracting sponsors than did entertainment programs and for this reason See It Now was canceled following the 1958 season. Appalled by what the broadcasting industry had become, Murrow spoke before the Television News Directors Association and delivered what was to become known as one of the most famous public tongue lashings in media history, aimed directly at Stanton and Paley. The relationship between Stanton and Murrow soured into accusations and name-calling and was widely reported in the press.

Stanton received the title of vice chairman in 1972, one year before the mandatory retirement age of 65. Upon retiring Stanton still held $13 million worth of CBS stock and he remained a director of CBS and consultant to the corporation under a contract that lasted until 1987.

-Garth Jowett and Laura Ashley

FRANK STANTON. Born in Muskegon, Michigan, U.S., 20 March 1908. Educated at Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio, B.A. 1930; Ohio State University, Ph.D. 1935; diplomate from American Board of Professional Psychology. Worked in CBS research department (later CBS-TV), New York City, 1935-45; president, CBS Inc., 1946-71 (was cited by three committees of the House of Representatives for contempt of Congress for refusal to grant access to CBS News' "outtakes" in connection with the CBS broadcast of The Selling of the Pentagon, 1971), vice-chair, 1971-73, president emeritus, since 1973; chair, Rand Corporation, Santa Monica, California, 1961-67, trustee, 1957-78; U.S. Advanced Communications Info., Washington, 1964-73; chair, ARC, Washington, 1973-79, vice chair, League of Red Cross Societies, Geneva, Switzerland, 1973-80; chair, visiting committee, Kennedy School of Government, 1979-85; chair (now retired), Broadcast International Inc.; director, Capital Income Builder, Inc., Capital World Growth & Income Fund, Inc., Sony Music Entertainment, Inc. Member: founding member and chair, Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California, 1953-60, trustee, 1953-71; Business Council, Washington, since 1956 (honorary); National Portrait Gallery Commission, Washington, since 1973; board of overseers, Harvard College, 1978-84; President's Committee on Arts and Humanities, Washington, 1983-90; honorary director and trustee, William Benton Foundation, Bryant Park Restoration Corporation, Educational Broadcasting Corporation; emeritus trustee and director, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Rockefeller Foundation, Carnegie Institution Washington. Recipient: Paul White Memorial Awards, Radio and TV News Directors Association, 1957 and 1971; Peabody Awards, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1964, and 1972; Trustees Awards, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, 1959 and 1972; Special Honor Award, AIA, 1967; International Directorate Award, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, 1980; named to TV Academy Hall of Fame, 1986, Market Research Council of New York, 1988. Address: 25 West 52nd Street, New York City, New York, 10019-4223, U.S.

Some Physiological Reactions to Emotional Stimuli, 1932;
Factors in Visual Depth Perception, 1936.

Editor, with Paul Lazarsfeld. Radio Research, 1941.
New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1941.

Editor, with Paul Lazarsfeld. Radio Research, 1942-43. New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1943.

Editor, with Paul Lazarsfeld. Communications Research, 1948-49. New York: Harper, 1949.

Smith, Sally Bedell. In All His Glory: The Life of William S. Paley, the Legendary Tycoon and His Brilliant Circle. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.


See Also Audience Research, Industry and Marketing Perspective; Columbia Broadcasting System; Murrow, Edward; Paley, William S.; See It Now; Selling of the Pentagon