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Paley, William Samuel


PALEY, WILLIAM SAMUEL (1901–1990), U.S. radio and television executive. Born in Chicago, Paley joined his father Samuel Paley's cigar manufacturing business, in which he served as vice president from 1922 to 1928. In the course of advertising cigars over the airwaves Paley became impressed with the potential of the radio medium and in 1928 bought a financially unsuccessful chain of 16 eastern U.S. radio stations which he renamed the Columbia Broadcasting System (cbs). Under his direction cbs grew into one of the three giant coast-to-coast radio networks in the United States. After World War ii Paley led cbs into the field of television, where it once again established itself as one of the three great national networks. As chairman of the board of cbs from 1946 on, he revolutionized the television industry by taking control of all programming away from the advertising agencies and investing it in the network itself. By the mid-1960s cbs television led both nbc and abc on all national ratings, and the initial $400,000 investment with which Paley had bought the chain in 1928 was reputedly worth close to $70,000,000.

During World War ii he served as deputy chief of the psychological warfare division of the Allied command (shaef) in Europe. Paley established the William S. Paley Foundation, Inc., and as president was responsible for the foundation's generous donations to the Weizmann Institute of Science, Reḥovot, as well as to other Israel institutions and funds. In later years Paley concentrated upon improving cbs's Nielsen ratings, the standard measure of the audience share enjoyed by shows. His attention to detail was legendary, and he invested much time and energy in watching the network's shows and suggesting how they might be improved. He was also a trustee and board member of many public institutions and amassed one of the largest known private collections of French post-impressionist art. Paley's autobiography, As It Happened: A Memoir, appeared in 1979.

[Rochelle G. Saidel]

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