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
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
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
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
In 1982, CBS teamed up with Columbia Pictures and HBO to form Tri-Star
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.
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
In 1996, CBS acquired the Infinity Broadcasting Corporation, and the
following year the CBS Radio network was spun off to Infinity 's Westwood
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.
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
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)