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CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) is a major radio and television network in the United States. CBS was one of the three commercial television networks that dominated broadcasting in the United States before the rise of cable television. In the days of radio, it grew to acquire one of its original founders, Columbia Records, which it sold many years later. Viacom, itself founded by CBS, owns the network today.

Les Moonves is chairman of CBS and vice-chairman of parent company Viacom. Prior to 1998, Moonves was president of CBS Entertainment.

The network was the second of the three major networks to begin broadcasting in color; most of the networks did so in the fall of 1965.


What became CBS was founded as United Independent Broadcasters in 1927 by New York City talent agent Arthur Judson. It originally went on the air on with 47 radio stations. Columbia Records became a partner later in the year, and the network was renamed the Columbia Phonographic Broadcasting System.

In November of 1928, Columbia paid $390,000 to A.H. Grebe's Atlantic Broadcasting Company for what would become its New York flagship station, WABC, which moved to a clear channel frequency, 860 kHz, on November 8. WABC would finally become WCBS on November 3, 1946 and move to its present location at 880 kHz. (The classic CBS owned-and-operated station lineup for many years consisted of WCBS, KNX Los Angeles, KCBS San Francisco, WBBM Chicago, WCAU Philadelphia, KMOX St. Louis, and WCCO Minneapolis.)

This radio network lost money in its first year, and on January 18, 1929, Columbia Records sold out its interests in the radio network to a group of private investors for US$400,000, headed by William S. Paley, a Philadelphia cigar manufacturer. The radio network was renamed The Columbia Broadcasting System. For the next nine years Columbia Records and CBS were independent unrelated companies.

This third radio network soon had more affiliates than either of the NBC networks, though the signals were weaker than NBC Red. (Ironically, the radio network now called "NBC" is owned by Westwood One, the operations of which are conducted under a management contract by Viacom. Although Viacom now owns many of the original NBC Red Network radio stations, the current "NBC Radio" is not related to the original NBC radio networks.)

Meanwhile, the core CBS Radio network exists to this day, primarily providing national news to stations such as flagship WCBS, WBBM and KNX, as well as features such as "The Osgood File" and "Harry Smith Reporting."

Founder Paley saw an opportunity to win audiences through news programming, and spent substantial amounts of money to achieve dominance in that area. He hired Edward R. Murrow as "Director of Talks" as part of this effort. Together with William L. Shirer, Murrow practically invented broadcast journalism as we know it today.

Expansion and businesses

In 1938 radio was a major force in entertainment while the record industry was still in the doldrums from the Great Depression, and CBS purchased its former parent company Columbia Records.

CBS first broadcast television in 1939, with 1 hour of programming per day in New York City. CBS made the first color broadcasts in 1941, but using technology incompatible with existing black-and-white television. This technology was rejected by the FCC a few years later in favor of a competing color television standard developed by RCA. Television would remain a minor part of CBS until after World War II.

Under the leadership of Paley and Frank Stanton, CBS was known for its strong, distinctive standards of branding and graphic design. Many of the hallmarks of this design live on today, such as CBS Television's unblinking eye logo (designed by William Golden and introduced in 1951), while others have gone by the wayside. (For example, in the Paley/Stanton era, it would never have been acceptable to use the CBS television eye in association with a CBS radio station or service, whereas today their eye logo is used for everything.) One well-known example of CBS's graphic-design particularity: on all official CBS letterhead, a tiny dot (at most a point in diameter) was pre-printed to indicate to a secretary where the typewriter carriage should be positioned for the salutation of a letter. (Elements of the CBS eye logo later inspired the logo for Lew Grade's British television company, ATV.)

From the 1940s until the 1970s, CBS was considered the most prestigious of the three major television networks and as a result was known as the Tiffany network. Much of the success for this is attributable to the hard-charging CBS network president, James T. Aubrey, Jr., who served from 1959 to 1965. CBS's dominance was broken in the 1970s by ABC, although CBS retook the top ratings spot from 1979 to 1984 and again during periods in the early 1990s and 2000s.

In 1965 CBS acquired Fender Guitars from Leo Fender, who felt that his health was taking a turn for the worse and decided to sell the company. Between 1965 and 1985 the quality of Fender guitars and amplifiers declined significantly. This prompted Fender fans to band together in 1985 and purchase Fender back from CBS and create FMIC, the Fender Musical Instrument Corporation.

In 1982, CBS teamed up with Columbia Pictures and HBO to form Tri-Star Pictures.

In 1988, CBS sold the CBS Records Group (including the venerable Columbia label) to Sony, which renamed the group Sony Music Entertainment in 1991. The company's corporate name had already been shortened to "CBS Inc." in 1974.

New owners

By the early 1990s, profits had fallen as a result of competition from cable companies, video rentals, and the high cost of programming.

In 1995 Westinghouse Electric Corporation acquired CBS for $5.4 billion. An industrial giant for much of the 20th century, Westinghouse sought to transform itself into a major media company with its purchase of CBS. It continued its expansion in 1997 with the $4.9-billion purchase of Infinity Broadcasting Corporation, one of the largest owners of radio stations in the United States (second only to Clear Channel Communications). Also that year Westinghouse acquired two television channels, The Nashville Network (TNN), now known as Spike TV and Country Music Television(CMT).

In 1996, CBS acquired the Infinity Broadcasting Corporation, and the following year the CBS Radio network was spun off to Infinity 's Westwood One subsidiary.

In late 1997 Westinghouse changed its name to CBS Corporation and began to sell all of its non-entertainment assets. The new company moved its corporate headquarters from Pittsburgh to New York City. In 1998 CBS added to its broadcasting empire by paying about $2.6 billion to acquire American Radio Systems Corporation, a company that owned more than 90 radio stations. A year later CBS paid $2.5 billion to acquire King World Productions, a television syndication company whose programs include The Oprah Winfrey Show and Wheel of Fortune. By 1999 CBS Corporation had shed the last of the industrial businesses of the old Westinghouse.

In 1999, entertainment conglomerate Viacom, once part of the CBS television network, announced its intention to acquire CBS Corporation in a deal valued at $37 billion. The merger was completed in 2000 and made the combined firm the second largest entertainment company in the world.

It was estimated in 2003 that CBS is viewable by 96.98% of all American households, reaching 103,421,270 houses in the United States. CBS has 204 VHF and UHF owned-and-operated or affiliate stations in the U.S. and U.S. possessions.

On June 14, 2005 Viacom announced it would split itself into two companies. CBS will become the focus of one company, which would retain the broadcasting units, TV production operations, Viacom Outdoor advertising, Showtime, Simon & Schuster, and Paramount Parks. Moonves would head the new company, which will be known as CBS Corporation. Another company, which would retain the Viacom name, would be focused on Paramount Pictures and include MTV Networks, BET, Home Entertainment and Famous Music.


In 2004 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) imposed a record $550,000 fine on CBS for its broadcast of a Super Bowl halftime show in which singer Janet Jackson's breast was briefly exposed. It was the largest fine ever for a violation of federal decency laws. Following the incident CBS apologized to its viewers and denied foreknowledge of the event, which was broadcast live.

The Eye Device

CBS unveiled its Eye Device logo on October 17, 1951. The Eye Device was designed by William Golden based on a Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign as well as a Shaker drawing. First drawn by graphic artist Kurt Weiss, it made its broadcasting debut on October 20, 1951. The following season, as Golden prepared a new logo, CBS President Frank Stanton insisted on keeping the Eye Device and using it as much as possible ("just when you're beginning to be bored by what you've done is when it's beginning to be noticed by your audience").

The CBS eye is now an American icon. While the symbol's settings have changed, the Eye Device itself has not been redesigned in its 50 year history. Some television networks in the world, had (or still have) similar logos.



courtesy of CBS

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