Columbia Broadcasting System
The History of the CBS Eye Logo
To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the CBS eye in 2001, Charles Osgood did this report on the creation of the famous logo.
CBS (an initialism of the network’s former name, the Columbia Broadcasting System; corporate name CBS Broadcasting, Inc.) is an American commercial broadcast television and radio network that is the flagship property of CBS Corporation. The company is headquartered at the CBS Building in New York City, with major production facilities and operations in New York City (at the CBS Broadcast Center) and Los Angeles (at CBS Television City, CBS Columbia Square and the CBS Studio Center).
CBS is sometimes referred to as the “Eye Network”, in reference to the company’s iconic logo, in use since 1951. It has also been called the “Tiffany Network”, alluding to the perceived high quality of CBS programming during the tenure of its founder William S. Paley. It can also refer to some of CBS’s first demonstrations of color television, which were held in a former Tiffany & Co. building in New York City in 1950.
The network has its origins in United Independent Broadcasters Inc., a collection of 16 radio stations that was purchased by Paley in 1928, and renamed the Columbia Broadcasting System. Under Paley’s guidance, CBS would first become one of the largest radio networks in the United States, and eventually one of the Big Three American broadcast television networks. In 1974, CBS dropped its full name and became known simply as CBS, Inc. The Westinghouse Electric Corporation acquired the network in 1995, renamed its corporate entity to the current name CBS Broadcasting, Inc. in 1997, and eventually adopted the name of the company it had acquired to become CBS Corporation. In 2000, CBS came under the control of Viacom, which was formed as a spin-off of CBS in 1971. In late 2005, Viacom split itself into two separate companies, and re-established CBS Corporation – through the spin-off of its broadcast television, radio and select cable television and non-broadcasting assets – with the CBS television network at its core. CBS Corporation is controlled by Sumner Redstone through National Amusements, which also controls the current Viacom.
CBS continues to operate a radio network, which now mainly provides news and features content for its portfolio of owned-and-operated radio stations in large and mid-sized markets, and affiliated radio stations in various other markets. The television network has more than 240 owned-and-operated and affiliated television stations throughout the United States.
History – Radio Years
The origins of CBS date back to January 27, 1927, with the creation of the “United Independent Broadcasters” network in Chicago by New York City talent-agent Arthur Judson. The fledgling network soon needed additional investors though, and the Columbia Phonograph Company, manufacturers of Columbia Records, rescued it in April 1927; as a result, the network was renamed the “Columbia Phonographic Broadcasting System” on September 18 of that year. Columbia Phonographic went on the air on September 18, 1927, with a presentation by the Howard Barlow Orchestra from flagship station WOR in Newark, New Jersey, and fifteen affiliates.
Operational costs were steep, particularly the payments to AT&T for use of its land lines, and by the end of 1927, Columbia Phonograph wanted out. In early 1928, Judson sold the network to brothers Isaac and Leon Levy, owners of the network’s Philadelphia affiliate WCAU, and their partner Jerome Louchenheim. None of the three were interested in assuming day-to-day management of the network, so they installed wealthy 26-year-old William S. Paley, son of a Philadelphia cigar family and in-law of the Levys, as president. With the record company out of the picture, Paley quickly streamlined the corporate name to “Columbia Broadcasting System.” He believed in the power of radio advertising since his family’s “La Palina” cigars had doubled their sales after young William convinced his elders to advertise on radio. By September 1928, Paley bought out the Louchenheim share of CBS and became its majority owner with 51% of the business.
Turnaround: Paley’s First Year
During Louchenheim’s brief regime, Columbia paid $410,000 to A.H. Grebe’s Atlantic Broadcasting Company for a small Brooklyn station, WABC (no relation to the current WABC), which would become the network’s flagship station. WABC was quickly upgraded, and the signal relocated to 860 kHz. The physical plant was relocated also – to Steinway Hall on West 57th Street in Manhattan, where much of CBS’s programming would originate. Other owned-and-operated stations were KNX in Los Angeles, KCBS in San Francisco (originally KQW), WBBM in Chicago, WCAU in Philadelphia, WJSV in Washington, D.C. (later WTOP, which moved to the FM band in 2005; the AM facility is now WFED, also a secondary CBS affiliate), KMOX in St. Louis, and WCCO in Minneapolis. These remain the core affiliates of the CBS Radio Network today, with WCBS (the original WABC) still the flagship, and all except WTOP and WFED (both Hubbard Broadcasting properties) owned by CBS Radio. By the turn of 1929, the network could boast to sponsors of having 47 affiliates.
Paley moved right away to put his network on a firmer financial footing. In the fall of 1928, he entered into talks with Adolph Zukor of Paramount Pictures, who planned to move into radio in response to RCA’s forays into motion pictures with the advent of talkies. The deal came to fruition in September 1929: Paramount acquired 49% of CBS in return for a block of its stock worth $3.8 million at the time. The agreement specified that Paramount would buy that same stock back by March 1, 1932 for a flat $5 million, provided CBS had earned $2 million during 1931 and 1932. For a brief time there was talk that the network might be renamed “Paramount Radio”, but it only lasted a month – the 1929 stock market crash sent all stock value tumbling. It galvanized Paley and his troops, who “had no alternative but to turn the network around and earn the $2,000,000 in two years…. This is the atmosphere in which the CBS of today was born.” The near-bankrupt movie studio sold its CBS shares back to CBS in 1932. In the first year of Paley’s watch, CBS’s gross earnings more than tripled, going from $1.4 million to $4.7 million.
Much of the increase was a result of Paley’s second upgrade to the CBS business plan – improved affiliate relations. There were two types of program at the time: sponsored and sustaining, i.e., unsponsored. Rival NBC paid affiliates for every sponsored show they carried and charged them for every sustaining show they ran. It was onerous for small and medium stations, and resulted in both unhappy affiliates and limited carriage of sustaining programs. Paley had a different idea, designed to get CBS programs emanating from as many radio sets as possible: he would give the sustaining programs away for free, provided the station would run every sponsored show, and accept CBS’s check for doing so. CBS soon had more affiliates than either NBC Red or NBC Blue.
Paley was a man who valued style and taste, and in 1929, once he had his affiliates happy and his company’s creditworthiness on the mend, he relocated his concern to sleek, new 485 Madison Avenue, the “heart of the advertising community, right where Paley wanted his company to be” and where it would stay until its move to its own Eero Saarinen-designed headquarters, the CBS Building, in 1965. When his new landlords expressed skepticism about the network and its fly-by-night reputation, Paley overcame their qualms by inking a lease for $1.5 million.
CBS takes on the Red and the Blue (1930’s)
Since NBC was the broadcast arm of radio set manufacturer RCA, its chief David Sarnoff approached his decisions as both a broadcaster and as a hardware executive; NBC’s affiliates had the latest RCA equipment, and were often the best-established stations, or were on “clear channel” frequencies. Yet Sarnoff’s affiliates were mistrustful of him. Paley had no such split loyalties: his – and his affiliates’ – success rose and fell with the quality of CBS programming.
Paley had an innate, pitch-perfect, sense of entertainment, “a gift of the gods, an ear totally pure,” wrote David Halberstam. “He knew what was good and would sell, what was bad and would sell, and what was good and would not sell, and he never confused one with another.” As the 1930’s loomed, Paley set about building the CBS talent stable. The network became the home of many popular musical and comedy stars, among them Jack Benny, (“Your Canada Dry Humorist”), Al Jolson, George Burns & Gracie Allen, and Kate Smith, whom Paley personally selected for his family’s La Palina Hour because she was not the type of woman to provoke jealousy in American wives. When, on a mid-ocean voyage, Paley heard a phonograph record of a young unknown crooner, he rushed to the ship’s radio room and “cabled” New York to sign Bing Crosby immediately to a contract for a daily radio show.
While the CBS prime-time lineup featured music, comedy and variety shows, the daytime schedule was a direct conduit into American homes – and into the hearts and minds of American women; for many, it was the bulk of their adult human contact during the course of the day. CBS time salesmen recognized early on that this intimate connection could be a bonanza for advertisers of female-interest products. Starting in 1930, astrologer Evangeline Adams would consult the heavens on behalf of listeners who sent in their birthdays, a description of their problems – and a box-top from sponsor Forhan’s toothpaste. The low-key murmuring of smooth-voiced Tony Wons, backed by a tender violin, “made him a soul mate to millions of women” on behalf of the R. J. Reynolds tobacco company, whose cellophane-wrapped Camel cigarettes were “as fresh as the dew that dawn spills on a field of clover.” The most popular radio-friend of all was M. Sayle Taylor, The Voice Of Experience, though his name was never uttered on air. Women mailed descriptions of the most intimate of relationship problems to The Voice in the tens of thousands per week; sponsors Musterole ointment and Haley’s M–O laxative enjoyed sales increases of several hundred percent in just the first month of The Voice Of Experience ’s run.
As the decade progressed, a new genre joined the daytime lineup: serial dramas – soap operas, so named for the products that sponsored them, by way of the ad agencies that actually produced them. Although the form, usually in quarter-hour episodes, proliferated widely in the mid- and late 1930’s, they all had the same basic premise: that characters “fell into two categories: 1) those in trouble and 2) those who helped people in trouble. The helping-hand figures were usually older.” At CBS, Just Plain Bill brought human insight and Anacin pain reliever into households; Your Family and Mine came courtesy of Sealtest Dairy products; Bachelor’s Children first hawked Old Dutch Cleanser, then Wonder Bread; Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories was sponsored by Spry Vegetable Shortening. Our Gal Sunday (Anacin again), The Romance of Helen Trent (Angélus cosmetics), Big Sister (Rinso laundry soap) and many others filled the daytime ether.
Thanks to its daytime and primetime schedules, CBS prospered in the 1930s. In 1935, gross sales were $19.3 million, yielding a profit of $2.27 million. By 1937, the network took in $28.7 million and had 114 affiliates, almost all of which cleared 100% of network-fed programming, thus keeping ratings, and revenue, high. In 1938, CBS even acquired the American Record Corporation, parent of its one-time investor Columbia Records.
In 1938, NBC and CBS each opened studios in Hollywood to attract the entertainment industry’s top talent to their networks – NBC at Radio City on Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street, CBS two blocks away at Columbia Square.
CBS launches an Independent News Division
The extraordinary potential of radio news showed itself in 1930, when CBS suddenly found itself with a live telephone connection to a prisoner called “The Deacon” who described, from the inside and in real time, a riot and conflagration at the Ohio Penitentiary; for CBS, it was “a shocking journalistic coup.” Yet as late as 1934, there was still no regularly scheduled newscast on network radio: “Most sponsors did not want network news programming; those that did were inclined to expect veto rights over it.” There had been a longstanding wariness between radio and the newspapers as well; the papers had rightly concluded that the upstart radio business would compete with them on two counts – advertising dollars and news coverage. By 1933, they fought back, many no longer publishing radio schedules for readers’ convenience, or allowing “their” news to be read on the air for radio’s profit. Radio, in turn, pushed back when urban department stores, newspapers’ largest advertisers and themselves owners of many radio stations, threatened to withhold their ads from print. A short-lived attempted truce in 1933 even saw the papers proposing that radio be forbidden from running news before 9:30 a.m., and then only after 9:00 p.m. – and that no news story could air until it was 12 hours old.
It was in this climate that Paley set out to “enhance the prestige of CBS, to make it seem in the public mind the more advanced, dignified and socially aware network.” He did it through sustaining programming like the New York Philharmonic, the thoughtful drama of Norman Corwin – and an in-house news division to gather and present news, free of fickle suppliers like newspapers and wire services. In the fall of 1934, CBS launched an independent news division, shaped in its first years by Paley’s vice-president, former New York Times columnist Ed Klauber, and news director Paul White. Since there was no blueprint or precedent for real-time news coverage, early efforts of the new division used the shortwave link-up CBS had been using for five years to bring live feeds of European events to its American air.
A key early hire was Edward R. Murrow in 1935; his first corporate title was Director of Talks. He was mentored in microphone technique by Robert Trout, the lone full-time member of the News Division, and quickly found himself in a growing rivalry with boss White. Murrow was glad to “leave the hothouse atmosphere of the New York office behind” when he was dispatched to London as CBS’s European Director in 1937, a time when the growing Hitler menace underscored the need for a robust European Bureau. Halberstam described Murrow in London as “the right man in the right place in the right era.” Murrow began assembling the staff of broadcast journalists – including William L. Shirer, Charles Collingwood and Eric Sevareid – who would become known as “Murrow’s Boys.” They were “in [Murrow’s] own image, sartorially impeccable, literate, often liberal, and prima donnas all.” They covered history in the making, and sometimes made it themselves: on March 12, 1938, Hitler boldly annexed nearby Austria and Murrow and Boys quickly assembled coverage with Shirer in London, Edgar Ansel Mowrer in Paris, Pierre Huss in Berlin, Frank Gervasi in Rome and Trout in New York. This bore the News Round-Up format, which is still ubiquitous today in broadcast news.
Murrow’s nightly reports from the rooftops during the dark days of the London Blitz galvanized American listeners: even before Pearl Harbor, the conflict became “the story of the survival of Western civilization, the most heroic of all possible wars and stories. He was indeed reporting on the survival of the English-speaking peoples.” With his “manly, tormented voice,” Murrow contained and mastered the panic and danger he felt, thereby communicating it all the more effectively to his audience. Using his trademark self-reference “This reporter,” he did not so much report news as interpret it, combining simplicity of expression with subtlety of nuance. Murrow himself said he tried “to describe things in terms that make sense to the truck driver without insulting the intelligence of the professor.” When he returned home for a visit late in 1941, Paley threw an “extraordinarily elaborate reception” for Murrow at the Waldorf-Astoria. Of course, its goal was more than just honoring CBS’s latest “star” – it was an announcement to the world that Mr. Paley’s network was finally more than just a pipeline carrying other people’s programming: it had now become a cultural force in its own right.
Once the war was over and Murrow returned for good, it was as “a superstar with prestige and freedom and respect within his profession and within his company.” He possessed enormous capital within that company, and as the unknown form of television news loomed large, he would spend it freely, first in radio news, then in television, taking on Senator Joseph McCarthy first, then eventually William S. Paley himself, and with a foe that formidable, even the vast Murrow account would soon run dry.
Panic: The War of the Worlds radio Broadcast
On October 30, 1938, CBS gained a taste of infamy when The Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcast a radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds, performed by Orson Welles. Its unique format, a contemporary version of the story in the form of faux news broadcasts, had panicked many listeners into believing invaders from Mars were actually invading and devastating Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, despite three disclaimers during the broadcast that it was a work of fiction. The flood of publicity after the broadcast had two effects: an FCC ban on faux news bulletins within dramatic programming, and sponsorship for The Mercury Theatre on the Air – the former sustaining program became The Campbell Playhouse to sell soup. Welles, for his part, summarized the episode as “the Mercury Theater’s own radio version of dressing up in a sheet and jumping out of a bush and saying ‘Boo!'”
CBS recruits Edmund A. Chester
Before the onset of World War II, in 1940, CBS recruited Edmund A. Chester from his position as Bureau Chief for Latin America at the Associated Press to serve as Director of Latin American Relations and Director of Short Wave Broadcasts for the CBS radio network. In this capacity, Mr. Chester coordinated the development of the Network of the Americas (La Cadena de las Americas) with the Department of State, the Office for Inter-American Affairs (as chaired by Nelson Rockefeller) and Voice of America. This network provided vital news and cultural programming throughout South America and Central America during the crucial World War II era and fostered diplomatic relations between the United States and the less developed nations of the continent. It featured such popular radio broadcasts as Viva América which showcased leading musical talent from both North and South America, accompanied by the CBS Pan American Orchestra under the musical direction of Alfredo Antonini. The post-war era also marked the beginning of CBS’s dominance in the field of radio as well.
Zenith of network radio (1940’s)
As 1939 wound down, Bill Paley announced that 1940 would “be the greatest year in the history of radio in the United States.” He turned out to be right by more than anyone could imagine: the decade of the 1940s would indeed be the apogee of network radio by every gauge. Nearly 100% of the advertisers who made sponsorship deals in 1939 renewed their contracts for 1940; manufacturers of farm tractors made radios standard equipment on their machines. Wartime rationing of paper limited the size of newspapers – and effectively advertisements – and when papers turned them away, they migrated to radio sponsorship. A 1942 act by Congress made advertising expenses a tax benefit and that sent even automobile and tire manufacturers – who had no products to sell since they had been converted to war production – scurrying to sponsor symphony orchestras and serious drama on radio. In 1940, only one-third of radio programs were sponsored, while two-thirds were sustaining; by the middle of the decade, the statistics had swapped – two out of three shows now had cash-paying sponsors and only one-third were sustaining.
The CBS of the 1940’s was vastly different from that of the early days; many of the old guard veterans had died, retired or simply left the network. No change was greater than that in Paley himself: he had become difficult to work for, and had “gradually shifted from leader to despot.” He spent much of his time seeking social connections and in cultural pursuits; his “hope was that CBS could somehow learn to run itself.” His brief to an interior designer remodeling his townhouse included a requirement for closets that would accommodate 300 suits, 100 shirts and had special racks for a hundred neckties.
As Paley grew more remote, he installed a series of buffer executives who sequentially assumed more and more power at CBS: first Ed Klauber, then Paul Kesten, and finally Frank Stanton. Second only to Paley as the author of CBS’s style and ambitions in its first half-century, Stanton was “a magnificent mandarin who functioned as company superintendent, spokesman, and image-maker.” He had come to the network in 1933 after sending copies of his Ph.D. thesis “A Critique Of Present Methods and a New Plan for Studying Radio Listening Behavior” to CBS top brass and they responded with a job offer. He scored an early hit with his study “Memory for Advertising Copy Presented Visually vs. Orally,” which CBS salesmen used to great effect bringing in new sponsors. In 1946, Paley appointed Stanton as President of CBS and promoted himself to Chairman. Stanton’s colorful, but impeccable, wardrobe – slate-blue pinstripe suit, ecru shirt, robin’s egg blue necktie with splashes of saffron – made him, in the mind of one sardonic CBS vice-president, “the greatest argument we have for color television.”
Despite the influx of advertisers and their cash, or perhaps because of them, the 1940’s were not without bumps for the radio networks. The biggest challenge came in the form of the FCC’s chain broadcasting investigation – the “monopoly probe,” as it was often called. Though it started in 1938, the investigation only gathered steam in 1940 under new-broom chairman James L. Fly. By the time the smoke had cleared in 1943, NBC had already spun off its Blue Network, which became the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). CBS was also hit, though not as severely: Paley’s brilliant 1928 affiliate contract which had given CBS first claim on local stations’ air during sponsored time – the network option – came under attack as being restrictive to local programming. The final compromise permitted the network option for three out of four hours during certain dayparts, but the new regulations had virtually no practical effect, since most all stations accepted the network feed, especially the sponsored hours that earned them money. Fly’s panel also forbade networks from owning artists’ representation bureaus, so CBS sold its bureau to Music Corporation of America and it became Management Corporation of America.
On the air, the war had an impact on almost every show. Variety shows wove patriotism through their comedy and music segments; dramas and soaps had characters join the service and go off to fight. Even before hostilities commenced in Europe, one of the most played songs on radio was Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”, popularized by CBS personality Kate Smith. Although an Office of Censorship sprang up within days of Pearl Harbor, censorship would be totally voluntary. A few shows submitted scripts for review; most did not. The guidelines that the Office did issue banned weather reports (including announcement of sports rainouts), news about troop, ship or plane movements, war production and live man-on-the-street interviews. The ban on ad-libbing caused quizzes, game shows and amateur hours to wither for the duration.
Surprising was “the granite permanence” of the shows at the top of the ratings. The vaudevillians and musicians who were hugely popular after the war were the same stars who had been huge in the 1930’s: Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Burns and Allen, and Edgar Bergen all had been on the radio almost as long as there had been network radio. A notable exception to this was relative newcomer Arthur Godfrey who, as late as 1942, was still doing a local morning show in Washington, D.C. Godfrey, who had been a cemetery-lot salesman and a cab driver, pioneered the style of talking directly to the listener as an individual, with a singular “you” rather than phrases like “Now, folks…” or “Yes, friends….” His combined shows contributed as much as 12% of all CBS revenues; by 1948, he was pulling down $500,000 a year.
In 1947, Paley, still the undisputed “head talent scout” of CBS, led a much-publicized “talent raid” on NBC. One day, while Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll were hard at work at NBC writing their venerable Amos and Andy show, a knock came on the door; it was Paley himself, with an astonishing offer: “Whatever you are getting now I will give you twice as much.” Capturing NBC’s cornerstone show was enough of a coup, but Paley repeated in 1948 with longtime NBC stars Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy and Red Skelton, as well as former CBS defectors Jack Benny, radio’s top-rated comedian, and Burns and Allen. Paley achieved this rout with a legal agreement reminiscent of his 1928 contract that caused some NBC radio affiliates to jump ship and join CBS. CBS would buy the stars’ names as a property, in exchange for a large lump sum and a salary. The plan relied on the vastly different tax rates between income and capital gains, so not only would the stars enjoy more than twice their income after taxes, but CBS would preclude any NBC counterattack because CBS owned the performers’ names.
As a result of this, Paley got in 1949 something he had sought for 20 years: CBS finally beat NBC in the ratings. But it was not just to one-up rival Sarnoff that Paley led his talent raid; he, and all of radio, had their eye on the coming force that threw a shadow over radio throughout the 1940s – television.
Prime time radio gives way to television (1950’s)
In the spring of 1940, CBS staff engineer Peter Goldmark devised a system for color television that CBS management hoped would leapfrog the network over NBC and its existing black-and-white RCA system. The CBS system “gave brilliant and stable colors,” while NBC’s was “crude and unstable but ‘compatible.'” Ultimately, the FCC rejected the CBS system because it was incompatible with RCA’s; that, and the fact that CBS had moved to secure many UHF, not VHF, television licenses, left CBS flatfooted in the early television age. In 1946, only 6,000 television sets were in operation, most in greater New York City where there were already three stations; by 1949, the number had increased to 3 million sets, and by 1951, had risen to 12 million. 64 American cities had television stations, though most of them only had one.
Radio continued to be the backbone of the company, at least in the early 1950’s, but it was “a strange, twilight period.” NBC’s venerable Fred Allen saw his ratings plummet when he was pitted against upstart ABC’s game show Stop The Music!; within weeks, he was dropped by longtime sponsor Ford Motor Company and was shortly gone from the scene. Radio powerhouse Bob Hope’s ratings plunged from a 23.8 share in 1949 to 5.4 in 1953. By 1952, “death seemed imminent for network radio” in its familiar form; most telling of all, the big sponsors were eager for the switch.
Gradually, as the television network took shape, radio stars began to migrate to the new medium. Many programs ran on both media while making the transition. The radio soap opera The Guiding Light moved to television in 1952 and ran another 57 years; Burns & Allen, back “home” from NBC, 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 Program ended its radio run in 1955, and Edgar Bergen’s Sunday night show went off the air in 1957. 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. When the soap opera Ma Perkins went off the air on November 25, 1960, only eight, relatively minor series remained. Prime time radio ended on September 30, 1962, when Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar and Suspense aired for the final time.