Advertisement
  1. News

Home shopping pioneer Roy Speer dies at 80

Published Aug. 21, 2012

NEW PORT RICHEY — Roy Speer, who co-founded what is now the television shopping giant HSN, died Sunday after a long illness, according to family friends and news accounts. He was 80.

The interactive shopping that Mr. Speer pioneered began almost by accident, multiplied beyond all expectations and turned the once-kitschy purveyor of star-shaped ice cube trays and racy playing cards into an industry standard. It catapulted Mr. Speer, a lawyer-turned-developer with myriad business interests, onto the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans.

The man who engineered the Pinellas County company's financial success has been described as brash and abrasive, a burly man with an intimidating management style who ruled the Home Shopping Network for 16 years with an iron fist.

Over the years, Mr. Speer had worked as a lawyer and lobbyist for the city of St. Petersburg, an assistant state attorney and utility company owner. He had run a beauty parlor, a boat dealership and developed homes.

But it was a failing radio station on Hercules Avenue in Clearwater that turned him into a very rich man.

Robert Circosta, known to listeners of WWQT-AM 1470 as "Budget Bob," remembers the day he sold the first item for a radio show called Suncoast Bargaineers that would later morph into HSN: an electric can opener.

The station, owned by Mr. Speer and Lowell "Bud" Paxson, acquired the 112 can openers from a merchant who could not pay an advertising bill.

"It was all built on a relationship between the host and the viewer and the product," said Circosta, 62. "Our role was to tie it all together."

The relationship at the top between Paxson, the marketer, and Mr. Speer, the lawyer with connections and know-how, drove the new model forward. The can openers sold to customers who heard them described on the radio. In 1981, the company bought local-access cable, the Home Shopping Channel.

"This was a brand-new idea, that people would see something on television instead of walking into a store or looking at a catalog," said Sam McClelland, a former radio talk-show host who worked at the company's first television studio in the 1980s.

With so much demand, the bosses called a meeting in which Mr. Speer spoke.

"He said, 'We're sitting on an oil well, and we're sucking it up with a soda straw. We need to build a derrick,' " McClelland recalled. "I'll never forget that."

The company went national in 1985, broadcasting 24 hours a day as the Home Shopping Club. It debuted on the American Stock Exchange the next year as the Home Shopping Network.

Though running a public company now, Mr. Speer maintained his reputation as a tight-fisted owner. The company's management style rubbed some employees the wrong way, resulting in 14 complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration over three years.

"I don't like people, I like machines," Mr. Speer told the Washington Post in 1988. "Machines don't call in sick. Machines don't form unions. Machines don't file EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) suits."

In 1993, Mr. Speer resigned as chairman of Home Shopping Network, having sold controlling interest in the company. In 1994, a federal grand jury closed an inquiry into alleged financial misconduct at Home Shopping Network without any indictments.

Roy Merrill Speer Jr. was born in Key West. He graduated from Stetson University in DeLand and Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport. He married Lynnda Short in 1960.

At age 30, he ran for mayor of St. Petersburg, but was disqualified because he had not met a residency requirement. He responded with a lawsuit, but lost. In 1965, he was appointed as an assistant state attorney, but left that job two years later.

"I don't have the personality for politics," he said in 1988. "You have to be very conciliatory. You have to tell everybody what they want to hear."

Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. The Pinellas County Commission moved closer Tuesday to granting a total of $20.6 million to three museums: the Salvidor Dali Museum (top), the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center (bottom left), and the St. Petersburg Museum of History. Photos courtesy of Pinellas County
    The Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg Museum of History and Tampa Bay Watch are on track to receive bed tax dollars for expansions.
  2. West Port Colony apartments in St. Petersburg C2 Design Group Inc, Chris Stevens
    The complex off Fourth Street N is convenient to both Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg.
  3. According to a forecast by PNC, business leaders feel sunny about the coming six months.
  4. Lithia Motors Inc. has acquired three dealerships from the Williams Automotive Group including Wesley Chapel Toyota near the Interstate 75 and State Road 54 interchange in Wesley Chapel. [Times (2007]
    Wesley Chapel Toyota, Wesley Chapel Honda and Tampa Honda dealerships change hands
  5. Sen. Travis Hutson presents his Job Growth Grant Fund legislation to the Senate Education Committee on Nov. 12, 2019. The Florida Channel
    The original version would have targeted charter schools only.
  6. Left: A burned Ford Taurus, found near Key Vista Nature Park, pictured in the Pasco County Sheriff's Office's forensics building. Right: 21-year-old Michael Psilakis, of Hudson, is accused of killing the unidentified man whose body was found in the car. Pasco County Sheriff's Office
    Michael Psilakis, of Hudson, faces first-degree murder and other charges. The victim has not been identified.
  7. A flag supporting President Donald Trump flutters near the University of Florida's Century Tower before an Oct. 10 appearance on campus by Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle. A controversy over the political nature of the event has led to calls for the impeachment of Student Body President Michael C. Murphy, who helped set it up. Courtesy of Chris Day
    A push to oust Student Body President Michael Murphy comes after an email surfaces, suggesting he worked with the Trump campaign to bring a political speech to campus.
  8. Tampa-based consumer data company Bridge is working to solve a specialty retailing problem that goes back to the end of Prohibition, and it’s getting help from venture capitalists at Florida Funders.
    Bridge specializes in providing detailed consumer data that helps producers of liquor, beer and wine target their advertising.
  9. Jacob "Jake" Weinert, 28, seen here holding his son Jasper in 2018, was killed Tuesday morning when a pickup truck struck him from him behind while he was riding on U.S. 301 in Tampa, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Courtesy Izabel Sgie
    Jacob Weinert, a 28-year-old father of two, was struck by a pickup near Sligh Avenue, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
  10. Morton Myers, 40, is an entrepreneur, a lifelong Clearwater resident and now a candidate for mayor who comes from a family of Scientologists. He says he is not a practicing Scientologist and is running to bring change and representation to all residents. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Morton Myers says he’s not an active member. But with family on Scientology’s staff, he says he’s uniquely positioned to find middle ground with the church.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement