Ted Turner: Bringing TV News to Cable

Ted Turner started as a billboard salesman in the family business, Turner Communications. The company’s merger with Rice Communications in 1970 added Atlanta’s WTCG Channel 17 into the business portfolio. Ted Turner took the helm of the perennial money-losing station and turned it into a cash-cow, from a $900,000 pre-merger loss in 1970 to $1.8 million in revenues by 1973, Turner proved to be a visionary in the still-nascent cable and satellite tv industry.

With a line-up of old movies and TV series, Turner turned WTCG into the first cable “superstation” becoming a mainstay of basic cable at a time the industry experienced unprecedented growth. In 1979, the station’s call letter were changed to WTBS and the station is still a basic cable leader some 33 years later.

Turner’s success with WTBS served as a warm-up act for his most profound success, CNN. A true visionary, Turner not only thought there could be a demand for a 24-hour news channel on cable, but he saw it to fruition in less than two years. Debuting on June 1, 1980, Cable News Network became television’s first all-news channel. Often derided by its network peers (CNN was routinely referred to as “Chicken Noodle News”), the spread of cable and the rising demand for instant news eventually turned CNN into a major force.

The Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986 and the saga of “Baby Jessica” a year later brought CNN into the mainstream of news coverage as the network saw a slow but steady rise in viewership. But in 1991, CNN leapt to the top of the charts thanks to its coverage of the first Gulf War. As the only broadcaster transmitting from Baghdad during the initial American bombing salvo, networks around the US and the world picked up CNN’s coverage of the first hours, cementing the global impact of CNN and the 24-hour news cycle.

Throughout the 1990s, CNN cemented its position as one of the most respected broadcast news outlets in America.

In 1996, Turner sold CNN (and Turner Broadcasting) to Time Warner. Ted Turner remained as chairman of the merged organization but was pretty much sidelined following the ill-fated AOL-Time Warner merger in 2000. The merger occurred just when the original dot.com bubble burst and Turner, whose share value was initially valued at $7 billion, suffered huge losses.

Turner severed his relationship with AOL Time Warner in 2005 and remained on the sidelines as CNN slipped from first to second (and sometimes third) in the ratings behind Fox News and MSNBC.

If you want to know more about the man who created 24 hour news, check out:


Museum of Broadcast Communications

And I highly recommend his autobiography, Call Me Ted


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