Broadcasting Magazine: History

"70 & Counting"
The History of Broadcasting Magazine

For thousands of readers, for dozens of years, Donald V. West and BROADCASTING magazine were synonymous. He started at the magazine in 1953 and, except for a brief stint at CBS, has been here ever since, for many years as the magazine's editor. Now BROADCASTING & Cable's editor at large, West looks back at the history this magazine witnessed, and his own role in the process.
By Donald V. West -- Broadcasting & Cable, 11/11/2001

I was born to work for BROADCASTING magazine. I didn't know it at the time, and there were times when I fought against it, but we were meant for each other. At least for a while, which in my case turned out to be 43 years. Or 48, if you count from day one: April 6, 1953. Of the present staff, only Doris Kelly preceded me, and she won't tell by how much.

I was born a year before Sol Taishoff and Marty Codel started their magazine. They were Washington newspapermen who had worked for David Lawrence's United States Daily, later to become U.S. News and World Report. They each had written a radio column under the byline Robert Mack; in those days, bylines often belonged to management, so columns could be written by a legion of underpaid journalists.

Both Marty and Sol had the entrepreneurial bug, and they set about raising money for a magazine to cover the emerging radio medium. The Federal Radio Act had been passed in 1928 to establish a regulatory framework for the industry, and both felt that Washington would always be the center of power for the electronic arts. Also, they were hometown boys and liked it there.

They found their backer in Harry Shaw, a broadcaster and banker from Waterloo, Iowa, who had ambitions to be president of the National Association of Broadcasters. He promised them $52,000 and gave them a 10% advance. They would never see the other 90%; Shaw's bank closed even before President Franklin Roosevelt declared a bank holiday. Undeterred, Sol and Marty kept going on their $5,200 bankroll and never needed any more capital. BROADCASTING was a hit. And, in 1932, Harry Shaw became president of the NAB.

(Actually, the magazine wasn't meant to be called BROADCASTING. Following on the tradition set by Editor & Publisher, the Magazine of the Fourth Estate, Sol and Marty set out to call it The Fifth Estate. At some point, launching BROADCASTING, THE NEWS MAGAZINE OF THE FIFTH ESTATE, as a biweekly on Oct. 15, 1931. The BROADCASTING YEARBOOK came along in 1935, and the magazine became a weekly on Jan. 13, 1941.)

Marty was the first editor, with Sol the managing editor. But it was Sol—born in Minsk in Czarist Russia—who burst on the broadcasting industry with his energy, enthusiasm and determination, and it wasn't long before the two partners were speaking to each other through intermediaries. Sol bought Marty out in 1944 for $750,000, and, from then on, the magazine was a Taishoff family production.

Although Sol was the dominant figure, whose influence continues two decades after his death, there have been memorable editors along the way. Robert K. Richards, editorial director in the '40s, came over from the Office of Censorship and later went on to the NAB. Then there were Art King, the managing editor who hired me, and Ed James, the magazine's executive editor and mentor to several generations of staffers. Ed might well have been the most elegant journalist who ever graced a business publication, and the most demanding steward of the English language.

In the early days, Sol was the magazine's premier reporter, and his byline—often in 24-point type—was in every issue. Later, he shared reportorial glory with a succession of journalists, none more notable than Rufus Crater in New York and Leonard Zeidenberg in Washington. Between them, they accounted for decades worth of scoops, which were all Sol lived for. Mondays were hell for the staff, when he distributed his copy of BROADCASTING, with every error circled in green grease pencil, and copies of competing publications, with their scoops similarly emblazoned.

No reporter so raised his ire as Dawson B. (Tack) Nail, who, like me, committed the cardinal sin of leaving the magazine but, unlike me, went to the competition—Al Warren's Television Digest—and never came back. Tack and I arrived at BROADCASTING within six months of each other, he from Oklahoma and I from New Mexico, both just out of the Korean War, and our friendship has transcended our competition.

The history would not be complete without mention of Earl B. Abrams, J. Frank Beatty, Larry Christopher, Fred Fitzgerald and Bruce Robertson, who all arrived before me and devoted most of their professional lives to what we considered a cause.

Besides Sol, the only employee to make the first 50 years was Harry Stevens, our production manager for almost that long. We once counted 596 individuals who had worked here during the first 60 years.

Most of them I hired as pups, and many went their way before I could claim them for life. But four stayed for the count and, by the end of my tenure, were virtually running the book without me. Harry Jessell, of course, who won his spurs at BROADCASTING and succeeded me as editor in chief with a commitment to the tradition and a command ability that could lead an Army corps. Mark Miller, a managing editor who produced weeklies and dailies and yearbooks and faxes no matter the conditions. Kira Greene, the most objective of editors in a field populated by ego and bias, as well as the most agonizingly meticulous. John Eggerton, whose intelligence and talent never cease to amaze those privileged to work with him, and to whom the editorial page owes much of its present luster.

There was a fifth we miss to this day: J. Daniel Rudy, an editor and once my No. 2, who died in an automobile accident. He contributed this truism to our journalistic lexicon: Everything looks better in type.

Later, after Sol stopped contributing regularly to the news pages, he dropped bylines altogether—he didn't want readers to know who was writing all those stories, lest the reporters be hired away. That brand of competitiveness was hard to live with and harder still to emulate, but it made BROADCASTING what it is today.

It was the same drive that spurred that early generation of broadcasters who were Sol's close friends: David Sarnoff at RCA, Bill Paley and Frank Stanton at CBS, Stanley E. Hubbard and later Stanley S. of KSTP-AM-FM-TV Minneapolis-St. Paul, J. Leonard Reinsch of Cox, Jack Harris of KPRC Houston, L.B. Wilson of WCKY Cincinnati, Ward Quaal of WGN Chicago, Jack Fetzer of Kalamazoo. They, too, took few prisoners.

I will let Jack Harris, one of the best station operators until his death in 1994, speak for BROADCASTING's editorial page influence. He had this to say at our 50th anniversary dinner on Oct. 19, 1981:

"When others have wavered, Sol Taishoff and BROADCASTING have been steadfast. When others have been tempted to trim their sails, or temper their arguments, or be discreet in asserting the rights of the electronic media to first-class citizenship, they have been unyielding, and demanding, and loud. The result has been a fearless and unambiguous editorial voice that has been the industry's standard for half a century. As one editor later wrote: 'From the first issue, the magazine fought against undue government regulation, and there was little regulation Taishoff did not regard as undue.'"

Larry Taishoff, Sol's son and his better as a businessman, was responsible for the magazine's second generation, including hiring me the second time around. I had incurred Sol's disfavor by leaving to join Frank Stanton at CBS, and, when Larry asked me back, Sol disassociated himself from the deed. Nevertheless, with a few exceptions, we got along, albeit with different perspectives on the industry. I had come in time for the 25th anniversary and stayed around until the 70th, but I was covering a maturing and expanding medium as opposed to one struggling for its first breaths.

My first act as managing editor, in 1971, was to introduce a cable column, and my first real battle with Sol was over expanding into the international area. It took me 13 years—until Cahners took over—to convince a succession of managements that the times had changed. The first issue as BROADCASTING & CABLE was March 1, 1993, when we also broke with tradition by removing the ad from the front cover. It took a publisher with guts and vision to make that call, and Peggy Conlon filled the bill. She has since gone on to head the Advertising Council.

(While we're giving nods to the business side, history is served by crediting a still earlier Cahners' generation publisher, David Persson, with initiating the BROADCASTING &CABLE Hall of Fame, which has achieved a stature in the industry of which he and others may be duly proud.)

It's worth noting that BROADCASTING tried its hand at diversification once. In 1960, Broadcasting Publications Inc. purchased the monthly Television from the estate of Fred Kugel, and I took over as managing editor, based in New York. It was a critical success but a business failure, never achieving the one dimension that separated BROADCASTING from the field: urgency.

Sol would never have thrown in the towel, but, when he first fell victim to lung cancer in 1968, Larry delivered the coup de grace. Sol lived to see our 50th anniversary before succumbing on Aug. 15, 1982.

A number of accolades have come the magazine's way. Sol Taishoff was awarded the National Association of Broadcasters Distinguished Service Award in 1966—a unique and, I think, appropriate honor for a journalist who held the NAB's feet to the fire as often as he supported it. One of the best—if oblique—compliments was a newspaper association's mock issue of Editor & Publisher deploring the fact that the broadcasting industry had by far a better trade magazine than did newspapers.

The Taishoff family ownership ended in 1986, when Larry sold the magazine to Times Mirror for the highest price ever paid for a business publication: $75 million. TM, in turn, sold it to Cahners Business Information for $32 million in 1990.

Yes, there was radio before BROADCASTING, but there was no true radio industry. It took years of owners and managers who read from the front and professionals who read from the back (where we keep the classifieds) to weld radio and then television into forces with a national mission. That's less true today, given the onslaught of new and competing media, but it may well be truer tomorrow. Sol used to say, "It's all broadcasting." And, by any other name, it still is.