CBS founder William Paley, who died Friday, combined unfailing programing judgment with keen business sense to build the powerful communications empire that for years was known as the "Tiffany Network." "He brought to the young business an exquisite taste, which set the pattern for the glory years of radio and the early decades of television," veteran CBS newsman Walter Cronkite said.
Mr. Paley, who bought a small, unprofitable network of radio stations in 1928 and built it into the CBS empire, remained its guiding force for more than half a century.
"He was a giant of 20th-century business, a man committed to excellence," CBS News anchor Dan Rather said.
Mr. Paley died at his home Friday at age 89.
He had been ill for several weeks and was thought to have died of a heart attack related to pneumonia, CBS spokeswoman Ann Morfogen said.
Mr. Paley could claim to have made television the medium of the 20th century. "My imagination went wild contemplating the possibilities of it," he said in later years, recalling the earliest days of television, when skeptics said it was a fad and had no future. CBS launched regular television broadcasts in 1931 and there was no turning back.
"He was brilliant, creative and elegant, a towering leader who shaped and polished the Tiffany Network in his own glittering image," said Howard Stringer, president of CBS Broadcast Group.
Mr. Paley introduced to the American living room such news legends as Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite; entertainment giants such as Jackie Gleason and Ed Sullivan, George Burns and Gracie Allen; and cultural fare, including concerts and plays.
"Bill Paley stood astride not one world but two _ the world of entertainment and the world of news. No one had ever done that before," said Don Hewitt, executive producer of CBS's 60 Minutes news program. "He collected broadcasting icons the way he collected art."
Mr. Paley also was known for snap decisions, signing up Bing Crosby in 1931 on the strength of a phonograph record heard aboard an ocean liner.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Mr. Paley's correspondents made the growing Nazi menace and the ensuing world war real to Americans through direct broadcasts from Europe and the trenches, with more than 6,000 hours of war coverage. Murrow, particularly, became famous for his broadcasts from London.
Through the 1960s, Mr. Paley oversaw CBS's coverage of the Vietnam War, this time putting cameras onto the battlefield in addition to the microphones of World War II.
Mr. Paley credited part of CBS's financial success to the mass-appeal shows the critics scorned.
"I don't think people understand that television is a mass medium," he once said. "I care about quality, but I also care about the bottom line. You want quality, but you have to know where to make the cutoff."
Mr. Paley's fortune placed him on Forbes magazine's list of the 400 richest Americans. In the 1980s his wealth totaled about $300-million.
He had been a widower since 1978 when his second wife, Barbara Cushing Mortimer, known as "Babe," died of lung cancer.
The son of a prosperous cigar company owner, Mr. Paley graduated from the Wharton School of Finance in Philadelphia in 1922 and went to work as vice president of the company.
In 1928 he bought the United Independent Broadcasters Network, which was losing money, for $400,000. It became CBS.
Mr. Paley retired as CBS's chief executive officer in 1977 but remained as chairman until 1983, when he stepped down in favor of Thomas Wyman.
But he became disillusioned with Wyman's leadership after a series of hostile takeover attempts during a period that saw NBC surpass CBS as the leader in audience ratings.
Mr. Paley backed Laurence Tisch in a board struggle to force Wyman's resignation and returned as chairman, first in a caretaker capacity in September 1986, then full time four months later.