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Sumner Redstone

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Redstone, Sumner M. 1923–

Sumner M. Redstone

Chairman and chief executive officer, Viacom International; chairman and chief executive officer, National Amusements

Nationality: American.

Born: May 27, 1923, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Education: Harvard University, BA, 1944; Harvard Law School, LLB, 1947.

Family: Son of Michael Rothstein, a salesman then owner of Northeast Theater Corporation, and Bella Ostrovksy; married Phyllis Raphael, a schoolteacher, 1947 (divorced); children: two.

Career: U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, 1947, law clerk; U.S. Justice Department, 19481950, special assistant to the Attorney General; Ford, Bergson, Adams, Borkland & Redstone, 19501954, partner; Northeast Theater Corporation, 19541967, executive; National Amusements, 1967, president and CEO; Viacom International, 19871996, chairman and president; 19962003, chairman, president, and CEO; 2003, chairman and CEO.

Awards: Commendation Medal, U.S. Army and Military Intelligence Division, 1945; 10 Outstanding Young Men in New England, Boston Chamber of Commerce, 1958; William J. German Human Relations Award, American Jewish Committee, 1977; Silver Shingle Award, Boston University Law School, 1985; Man of the Year, Entertainment Industries Division, United Jewish Appeal Federation, 1988; Graduate of the Year, Boston Latin School, 1989; New England Humanitarian Award, Variety, 1989; Communicator of the Year, B'nai B'rith Communications and Cinema Lodge, 1991; Pioneer of the Year, Motion Picture Pioneers, 1991; Golden Plate Award, American Academy of Achievement, 1993; Business Excellence Award, University of Southern California School of Business Administration, 1994; Honorary LLD, Boston University, 1994; Stephen S. Wise Award, American Jewish Congress, 1994; Allan K. Jonas Lifetime Achievement Award, American Cancer Society, 1995; Hall of Fame, Broadcasting and Cable, 1995; Humanitarian Award, Variety Club International, 1995; Legends in Leadership Award, Emory University, 1995; Expeditioner's Award, New York City Outward

Bound Center, 1996; Honorary LHD, New York Institute of Technology, 1996; Patron of the Arts Award, Songwriter's Hall of Fame, 1996; Vision 21 Award, New York Institute of Technology, 1996; Trustees Award, National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, 1997; Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Ripple of Hope Award, 1998; Humanitarian Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1998.

Publications: A Passion to Win (with Peter Knobler), 2001.

Address: Viacom International, 1515 Broadway, New York, New York 10036; National Amusements, 200 Elm Street, Dedham, Massachusetts 02026;;

Sumner M. Redstone left a lucrative Washington law partnership in 1954 to work for his father's company, Northeast Theater Corporation. The younger Redstone built the company up from a regional operator of drive-in theaters in New England and New York into National Amusements, one of the largest movie theater chains in the United States. In the 1980s, following his recovery from life-threatening injuries suffered in a fire, he made a series of investments in movie studios and other companies and emerged as a powerful figure in the entertainment industry. In 1987 Redstone gained a controlling interest in the communications conglomerate Viacom International. Under his leadership Viacom acquired a wide-ranging collection of entertainment properties, including Paramount Pictures, CBS, Blockbuster Entertainment, and Simon & Schuster. As of 2004 Redstone was believed to be among the 50 wealthiest Americans, with a personal fortune estimated in excess of $8 billion.


The son of second-generation, American-born parents, Redstone grew up in the Charlesbank Homes, a public housing project in the predominantly Jewish West End neighborhood of Boston. In his autobiography he recalled, "Our apartment had no toilet; we had to walk down the corridor to use a water closet we shared with the neighbors. That was all I knew and I never felt less privileged than anyone else" (2001). By the time Redstone was 12 his father had prospered sufficiently to move the family to the Brighton area. Educational achievement was stressed, especially by Mrs. Redstone, who encouraged rivalries between Redstone and his younger brother.

A precocious student, the elder Redstone son graduated with the highest grade point average ever attained at the Boston Latin School, which ranks among the most competitive public high schools in the United States. Admitted to Harvard in 1940, Redstone focused on foreign languages, including German and Japanese. He so impressed his teachers that he was recruited by his Japanese professor, Edwin Reischauer, for a special U.S. Army intelligence unit charged with decrypting Japanese military and diplomatic codes during World War II. Redstone was decorated with several commendations and attained the rank of first lieutenant. Though he had left college in his junior year to join the army, Redstone was not asked to fulfill further graduation requirements and was awarded a bachelor's degree by the university's Board of Overseers in 1944. He was admitted to Harvard Law School the following year.

After receiving his LL.B. degree in 1947, Redstone clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco and, during evening hours, taught classes in labor-management law at the University of San Francisco. In less than a year he was called to Washington, D.C., by the Truman administration to work for the Justice Department as special assistant to U.S. Attorney General Tom C. Clark, working mainly in tax litigation. Redstone decided to leave government service in 1951 and, though not yet thirty years old, was invited to join the Washington law practice of several former senior Justice Department colleagues who had taken notice of him. While with Ford, Bergson, Adams, Borkland & Redstone, he successfully argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that effectively ended the Internal Revenue Service practice of charging citizens with criminal tax evasion based on no other evidence than sudden large increases in personal net worth, forcing the IRS to present specific evidence.

Perhaps a more important case for the young attorney in terms of career development was his representation of United Paramount Theaters (UPT) in its merger negotiations with the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), a process that took place from 1951 to 1953. UPT was a movie-theater chain that had been divested by Paramount Pictures under a 1948 federal antitrust order, and ABC was the weakest of the three national radio-and-television broadcasting networks. The negotiation issues and the antitrust objections to the merger exposed Redstone to the intricacies of both the film and the broadcasting businesses as he helped to cobble together two relatively weak companies into an early prototype of a contemporary integrated multimedia corporation. The trajectory of Redstone's career would take him to the pinnacle of American corporate power as the head of just such a company some four decades later.

In 1954 Redstone made an abrupt decision to withdraw from his law partnership and return to the Boston area to work for his father's company, Northeast Theater Corporation, a chain of drive-in movie theaters. As a result, his annual salary declined from $100,000 to $5,000. Furthermore, television had put the movie business into steep decline during the early 1950s, making the decision even more mystifying to family and friends alike. In his autobiography Redstone explained the unlikely career move in terms of a personal loss of innocence. He had been motivated by social idealism to study law, but his stints at the Justice Department and in private practice had changed his view of the profession: "Law is just a business, not a crusade for humanity. When I reached that conclusion, I decided I was going to go into business" (2001). It is also likely that Redstone learned some important lessons from a former client, Leonard Goldenson of UPT, who became head of ABC after the merger. Goldenson, who sold off many of his theaters to raise capital for more lucrative entertainment projects, demonstrated that the true value of a chain of movie theaters was best understood when considered as a real-estate portfolio, a principle that Redstone would exploit profitably as head of Northeast Theater.


Among Redstone's first accomplishments for the family business was his successful antitrust litigation against movie distributors who denied drive-in operators access to first-run films. The company grew steadily under his direction, changing its name to National Amusements in 1967 to reflect its expanding chain of properties, which now included indoor theaters as well as drive-ins and a growing real-estate portfolio.

During the late 1960s Redstone took the company in a radical direction based on his analysis of the changing circumstances under which Americans chose to attend the movies. He concluded that the increasingly suburban, automobile-oriented character of American life demanded a different kind of exhibition venue: a single building holding multiple viewing spaces and a centralized concession area, all surrounded by a large parking lot. The preferred location would not be in a commercial downtown or family neighborhood area but rather at a junction of major roadways. To draw a new generation of moviegoers who were accustomed to watching television in their homes, he emphasized comfort in theater seats. Loudspeaker systems, which had changed little since the introduction of sound cinema in the late 1920s, were replaced by state-of-the-art stereophonic systems. Redstone coined the term "multiplex" to describe this new type of movie theater. With so many spacious drive-in movie locations among its real-estate holdings, the company was particularly well-positioned for multiplex development. Competitors were forced to imitate the model Redstone created.

As the multiplex became the industry standard in the 1970s, Redstone began to invest National Amusement's spiraling profits in the production end of the movie business. From his suburban headquarters in Dedham, Massachusetts, outside of Boston, Redstone bought and sold his way through Hollywood, banking substantial profits on stock deals involving Twentieth CenturyFox (sold in 1981 for $20 million), Columbia Pictures (1982, $25 million), and MGM/UA (1985, $15 million).

In 1979 Redstone miraculously survived a hotel fire in Boston by holding on to a third-floor building ledge with one arm while severe burns covered nearly half his body. Saved by fire-fighters, he was given little chance of surviving or, if he did, of ever walking again. But after undergoing five major operations and scores of skin grafts during the ensuing months, he made a full recovery. In 1981 he was elected president of the Theater Owners of America and received a thunderous ovation from his industry colleagues at his inaugural address in Los Angeles. It is worth noting that Redstone sued the Copley Plaza Hotel for negligence in the fire and donated the entire settlement to the Burn Center of Massachusetts General Hospital, where his life had been saved. Though he had been a successful businessman by almost any measure up until this time, Redstone's earlier business accomplishments would pale in comparison to his achievements following his recovery. He wrote, "The most exciting things that have happened to me in my professional life have occurred after the fire, but not because of it. Life begins whenever you want it to begin" (2001).


During the 1980s Redstone used his growing war chest of investment profits to prove the wisdom of another of his insights into the changing nature of consumption patterns in the American entertainment business. Recognizing the consequences of the mass diffusion of the videocassette recorder (VCR) and of cable television, he switched his focus from theater development to home entertainment products and services. The principal target of his investing strategy became Viacom International, an integrated communications company that operated local cable franchises in many parts of the country and offered its own cable channels to a national audience. Viacom's premier programming service was Showtime, a paycable channel that was the chief competitor of the industry's leader, Time-Warner's HBO. Viacom also held a collection of basic cable services, including MTV, Nickelodeon, and The Comedy Channel.

In 1987 Redstone succeeded in pulling off a leveraged buyout of Viacom, something that other top investors, including Carl Icahn and Ivan Boesky, had been unable to do. Upon acquiring majority stock ownership for a price believed to be more than $3 billion, he became chairman of the board at Viacom and began dividing his work week between his long-time home in Newton, Massachusetts, and Viacom's midtown-Manhattan headquarters. In 1996 he became Viacom's chief executive officer. National Amusements, the parent company of Viacom, remains a privately held company, owned by Redstone and other members of his family. Operating under the brand names of Multiplex Cinemas, Showcase Cinemas, and Cinemas de Lux, National Amusements owns more than 1,400 movie screens in North America, South America, and the United Kingdom.

In the late 1990s Redstone refocused Viacom on the production end of the entertainment industry, de-emphasizing its role as a cable franchise operator and turning it into a brand-name entertainment company. Even the pronunciation of the company's name was changed (from "vie" to "vee") in order to roll more easily off the public tongue. In 1994, following a now-legendary corporate slugfest with another media titan, Barry Diller, Redstone gained control of Paramount Pictures, one of Hollywood's oldest movie studios. Paramount's properties at the time included television stations, theme parks, and two sports franchisesthe New York Knicks of the National Basketball Association and the New York Rangers of the National Hockey Leagueboth of which Redstone sold in 1994 for phenomenal profits.

Redstone's 1999 acquisitions of CBS and Infinity Broadcasting, the latter with holdings in radio stations and billboard advertising, were believed to have cost some $46 billion. The additions of these companies put Viacom on solid ground in all four of the areas identified by Redstone as the centers of advertising growth in the early 21st century: cable television, broadcast television, broadcast radio, and outdoor advertising. As the only company so positioned, Viacom could offer large corporations "one-stop shopping" for integrated advertising campaigns. The point was driven home in a 2002 deal in which Procter & Gamble, the household-products giant, purchased a $300 million diversified advertising package from Viacom.

International expansion was also emphasized by Redstone. In 2001 he made a trip to China to personally promote new Viacom satellite-television services, including a new Asian MTV channel. He was warmly received by Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who lauded the opportunities Redstone was creating for better communication between China and the other nations of the world. Through the mid-2000s, Viacom would be able to offer advertisers access to tens of millions of Asian households.

Redstone wrote that his material desires were always minimal, and this remained true despite the size of his personal fortune and the fact that his combined business interests generated more than $10 billion in transactions each year. He enjoyed teaching, an avocation he practiced ever since he led courses at the University of San Francisco's College of Law in the late 1940s. Over the years he served as a visiting professor at the law schools of Boston University and Harvard University and at the International Business School of Brandeis University.

In politics Redstone was an active supporter of the Democratic Party. He contributed heavily to the presidential candidacies of Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis, and Bill Clinton, and was an enthusiastic supporter of Edmund Muskie's campaigns to gain the party's presidential nomination during the 1970s. President Jimmy Carter appointed Redstone to the Presidential Advisory Committee of the Arts, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; and as a director of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library Foundation.

A generous philanthropist, Redstone channeled much of his wealth to support medical institutions and other organizations in the Boston area. He was a founder and trustee of the American Cancer Society Foundation and a board officer for dozens of organizations, including the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; the Will Rogers Memorial Fund; the Corporation of the Massachusetts General Hospital; the Children's Cancer Research Foundation ("The Jimmy Fund"); and the Corporation of the New England Medical Center. He was also a member of the executive board of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston and the former chair of its Metropolitan Division.

In his work for the arts Redstone sat on the Board of Over-seers of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Board of Directors of the Boston Arts Festival, and the Board of Trustees of the Museum of Television and Radio. In the legal profession he was a member of the American Bar Association, the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Harvard Law School Association, and the American Judicature Society. He maintained affiliations in the entertainment industry with the National Association of Theatre Owners, as former president; the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, as a board member; Theatre Owners of America, as former president; and the Motion Picture Pioneers. The social clubs to which he belonged included the Masons, the University Club, and the Harvard Club.

See also entries on National Amusements Inc. and Viacom International Inc. in International Directory of Company Histories.

sources for further information

"Joint Statement of Sumner M. Redstone, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Viacom Inc., and Mel Karmazin, President and Chief Executive Officer of CBS Corp.," Federal Communications Law Journal, 52, no. 3 (May 2000), pp. 499511.

Kim, Hank, "Sumner Redstone's Global Sprawl," Advertising Age Global, July 2002, pp. 1213.

Koch, John, "Sumner Redstone," Boston Globe, October 26, 1997.

Leonard, Devin, "Who's the Boss?" Fortune, April 16, 2001, pp. 122138.

Picker, Ida, "Sumner Redstone Fights Back," Institutional Investor, November 1995.

Redstone, Sumner, A Passion to Win, with Peter Knobler, New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Villa, Joan, "Redstone Rejects Rev-Share Deals as Being Exclusive," Video Store, June 1622, 2002.

Voss, Gretchen, "The $80 Billion Love Affair," Boston Magazine, January 2000.

David Marc

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Sumner Murray Redstone

Sumner Murray Redstone

Sumner Redstone (born 1923) built a multi-billion-dollar media empire starting with a string of movie theatres in the Boston area. After fighting successfully for ownership of a little-known cable TV company, Viacom, in 1987, Redstone went on to build Viacom into a personal kingdom that controlled MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1, TV Land, Comedy Central, UPN, TNN, Country Music Television, Showtime/ TMC, CBS, Paramount Pictures, Simon & Schuster, Blockbuster, Infinity Broadcasting, and Paramount Parks. In 2002, Redstone's personal fortune was valued at $9 billion.

Early Interests

Sumner Murray Redstone was born on May 27, 1923, to Max and Belle Rothstein in Boston, Massachusetts. Redstone's father got his start selling newspapers on the streets of Boston, then became a linoleum salesman and eventually got into the nightclub business, buying Boston's Latin Quarter from Lou Walters, the father of Barbara Walters. Max Rothstein, who later changed the family name to Redstone, opened the third drive-in theater in the United States, on New York's Long Island, and built a small chain of drive-ins that did well in the years after World War II. But Redstone insisted the real driving force in the family was his mother, who used to turn the clock back when he was practicing piano to make him work a little bit longer.

After spending his early years in a tenement which had a bathroom shared with other tenants, Redstone attended the Boston Latin School. There he headed the debating team and graduated at the top of his class. Redstone pursued undergraduate studies at Harvard. During World War II, with classes interrupted, he worked with his professor of Japanese, Edwin Reischauer, on a project aimed at deciphering Japanese military code. After the war, he attended Harvard Law School.

In 1951 Redstone became a partner in the Washington, D.C. law firm of Ford, Bergson, Adams, Borkland & Redstone. But in 1954 he abandoned law and returned to Boston to work with his father in the movie theater business.

National Amusements

At that time his father's company, National Amusements, was able to attract only second-run movies from Hollywood. But after Redstone brought a lawsuit against the Hollywood studios, National Amusements acquired access to Hollywood's best films. Under Redstone's direction, National Amusements would grow from 59 screens in 1964 to 129 in 1974.

In 1972, Redstone, by then reasonably wealthy, served as co-chairman of Senator Edmund Muskie's presidential campaign. A liberal Democrat, Redstone also became a friend and supporter of Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

During a screening of Star Wars in 1977 Redstone reportedly rushed out of the theatre to place an order for 25,000 shares of stock in Twentieth Century Fox. The investment would bring him $20 million when he sold the stock in 1981. He picked up another $40 million by buying and selling stock in Columbia Pictures and MGM/UA.

Trial By Fire

In 1979, the 55-year-old Redstone checked into Boston's Copely Plaza Hotel, where he planned to attend a party for a Warner Brothers Pictures branch manager. Sometime after midnight, Redstone awoke to the smell of smoke. After opening the door to his room, he found himself engulfed in flames. Making his way to the window, he climbed out on a tiny ledge and hung on until a hook-and-ladder fire truck rescued him. He suffered third-degree burns on over 45 percent of his body.

Doctors initially feared for his life, then said he'd never walk again, and later expressed concern that he might lose an arm to infection. After five operations, lasting a total of sixty hours, one of his doctors told him, according to an article in Broadcasting, "Listen, everything we know is on your body. Bone grafts, skin grafts, and the reason you're alive is you."

In 2001, Redstone wrote in his autobiography, A Passion to Win, "The most exciting things that have happened to me in my professional life have occurred after the fire but not because of it. It doesn't take near death to bring you to life. Life begins whenever you want it to begin." He eventually recovered fully except for a right arm that hung limply from his shoulder and a purplish cast to the skin on his hand.

Viacom Acquisition

In 1987, at the age of 63, Redstone set out to buy Viacom, which at that time operated the tenth-largest cable system in the country and owned several cable networks, including MTV, Nickelodeon, and The Movie Channel. Although Redstone had no experience with cable television or rock videos, he saw them as competitors to movie theaters. He was also astute enough to realize that the home entertainment market was poised for tremendous growth.

Acquiring Viacom was easier said than done. Redstone was forced to raise his offer for the cable company three times in a bitter takeover war with Viacom executives before he finally seized control.

Paramount Merger

By 1993, Redstone's original stake in Viacom was worth $5.5 billion, and he had set his sights on acquiring Paramount Communications, which owned Paramount Pictures, the Paramount television production unit, and a library of nearly 900 films. Also held by Paramount was the publisher Simon & Schuster, which owned Prentice-Hall, Macmillan, Scribner, and Pocket Books; Madison Square Garden; the National Hockey League's New York Rangers; the National Basketball Association's New York Knicks; and cable's MSG Networks. Redstone's stated goal in acquiring Paramount was to create the leading software-driven media company in the world.

But when Paramount indicated it was willing to be acquired by Viacom, Redstone wondered why. He concluded that Paramount's CEO Martin Davis trusted and had a genuine affection for him and that Davis preferred to do business with him rather than with others who were also trying to take over Paramount. But Redstone also gave Davis credit for recognizing the combined strength of the company that a merger would create. When Redstone announced Viacom's acquisition of Paramount and the creation of Paramount Viacom International on September 12, 1993, he said "This is a deal only a nuclear war will tear asunder."

But with the merger Redstone had on his hands an unwieldy giant burdened by debt. However, by selling off Madison Square Garden and some cable systems and radio stations and a video game company, Redstone slashed his debts from $11 billion to less than half that. He also scored a coup with his sale of Simon & Schuster's educational division to Pearson for $4.6 billion, far more than industry analysts expected him to get.

New Directions

In the late 1990s, with Viacom's Blockbuster Video in trouble, it appeared that Redstone's fortunes would diminish along with those of his company. But Redstone hung on, redesigning Blockbuster's business mode, patching up marketing and distribution problems, and bringing in a new chief executive. As a result, new life was pumped into the video subsidiary.

Redstone, meanwhile, required that Paramount make movies developed by its Viacom cousins, MTV and Nickelodeon, against initial opposition from the reluctant partners. But the arrangement worked, and Paramount and MTV made a string of profitable movies, while Nickelodeon did very well with its Rugrats movies.

Making movies was the most difficult side of Viacom's business. Its bread was buttered by its cable networks and their strong brands, low overhead, and high profit margins. Nickelodeon ranked at the top in children's viewing; MTV received top billing for those between 12 and 24; and VH1 gained popularity among baby boomers with its music offerings. There was also growing interest in TV Land and Comedy Central.

MTV and Nickelodeon began reversing losses overseas as Redstone looked abroad for Viacom's future. He told Fortune in 1999, "Anybody who ignores the fact that 96% of the world's eyeballs are outside the U.S. is going to pay for it."

On September 7, 1999, Viacom and CBS announced the merger of the two companies, with Viacom purchasing the television network for $37.3 billion. Although Redstone until that time had shown no interest in purchasing a major television network, he was attracted by CBS's assets, which included production houses and radio stations. Redstone later wrote in his autobiography, "Bigger is not necessarily better, although it is certainly true that bigger is better than smaller. But this merger was not about bigness; it was about putting together two groups of assets that would produce an extraordinary company."

About the time the merger between CBS and Viacom was falling into place, Redstone's wife decided to divorce him after 52 years of marriage. According to Redstone, the divorce hit him "like a bullet," even though he claimed the marriage had been troubled for a long time.

Proving Critics Wrong

Redstone met success through relentless persistence, not by marketing a new technology or selling a personal vision. He reportedly viewed his company's stock price as a public scorecard. And rather than wearing him down, work seemed to rejuvenate the entertainment mogul. For the tightly focused Redstone, there was reportedly no life outside his company. He told Fortune magazine, "Viacom is me … I'm Viacom. That marriage is eternal, forever."

Redstone encountered plenty of naysayers along his path to success. Initially dismissed as a "two-bit theater operator from Boston" by the Viacom old guard, he was later called "the foolish boss of a bloated empire" after the troubles at Blockbuster surfaced.

But Redstone always enjoyed proving his critics wrong. And he did not seem to hold a lot of grudges; he even suggested future business deals with those who opposed him in the past. He told Fortune, "It's a mistake, if you want to run your company right, to let history get in the way of the future." The much-maligned Paramount merger paid off. Redstone told Fortune, "The deal from hell has become a helluva deal!"

Simple Tastes

Redstone reportedly had no designated heir apparent waiting to take over upon his departure. He assured investors that neither his son Brent, a Denver attorney, nor his daughter Shari, who presides over National Amusements, would assume the Viacom reins when he left.

Although Redstone made more money from the entertainment industry than any other human being, he spent most of his life out of the glare of publicity. Part of the reason is that Viacom lacked the romantic appeal of Disney or AOL Time Warner. But in his trademark cheap suits, Redstone also lacked the charisma of Ted Turner.

Redstone kept an apartment in New York's Pierre Hotel, but he still lived in the same home in the Boston suburbs that he bought for $43,000. His wants seemed simple, his aspirations without bound. He told Fortune magazine, "To me, staying in a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel, walking out and being surrounded by flowers, and then going down the path to play tennis—that's the height of my material aspirations … Then I get in the car to go to the studio."


Redstone, Sumner, with Peter Knobler, A Passion to Win, Simon& Schuster, 2001.


Broadcasting, November 14, 1988.

Electronic Media, April 26, 1999.

Forbes, October 17, 1994.

Fortune, April 26, 1999.

Time, September 27, 1993. □

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