Dr. Frank Stanton, a central figure in the development of television broadcasting in the United States and the industry's most articulate and persuasive spokesman during his nearly three decades as president of CBS, died Sunday afternoon at his home in Boston, Elizabeth Allison, a longtime friend, said today.
He was 98 and had been in declining health, she said.
Dr. Stanton was the right-hand man of William S. Paley, the legendary tycoon who built the Columbia Broadcasting System empire from a handful of struggling radio stations in 1928.
From 1946 to 1973, the two men operated as probably the greatest team in the history of broadcasting, making CBS, for a time, the most powerful communications company in the world, and the most prestigious. It was under Dr. Stanton and Paley that CBS, mixing entertainment programming with high-quality journalism and dashes of high culture, earned its reputation as "the Tiffany Network."
As both a brilliant corporate builder and a technologically-minded executive, Dr. Stanton -- everybody used the "doctor" -- played a pivotal role in CBS's rise. He did so despite a relationship with Paley that was often strained and an object of puzzlement to those around them.
In her 1990 biography of Paley , "In All His Glory," Sally Bedell Smith wrote:
"Temperamentally, the two men were opposites: Paley, the man of boundless charm, superficially warm but essentially heartless and self-absorbed; Stanton, the self-contained Swiss whose business acumen, decency, and understated humor endeared him to his colleagues.
"Paley had a restless, readily satisfied curiosity while Stanton probed more deeply and was interested in a broader range of subjects," Ms. Smith continued. "Paley acted from the gut; Stanton from the brain. Paley could be disorganized and unpredictable. Stanton was disciplined and systematic. Yet their relationship worked -- largely due to Stanton's forebearance and diligence."
Dr. Stanton did not feel secure in the glamorous social whirl that Mr. Paley dominated. The two men did not socialize. Ms. Smith wrote that Mr. Paley had resented Dr. Stanton's refusal to invite him to his home, calling his associate "a closed-off, cold man."
Dr. Stanton was admired by politicians, businessmen and fellow broadcasters as a principled executive with high aspirations. The industry turned to him time and again to lead their battles against government involvement in radio and television programming.
Armed with statistics and an encyclopedic knowledge of his subject, Dr. Stanton would appear before Congress or talk on the phone to a president or a cabinet member, gracefully and persuasively making the industry's case, usually successfully.
During the early days of television, when Mr. Paley clung to the idea that network radio would remain CBS's meal-ticket, Dr. Stanton realized that the company's prosperity would rest with television and diversification into areas like the long-playing phonograph, whose growth he guided after its development by Peter Goldmark.
In 1946, Dr. Stanton became CBS's "man of the future," charting its sometimes painful growth as a television network. He was clear about what direction the medium should take.
"Television, like radio," Dr. Stanton said in 1948, "should be a medium for the majority of Americans, not for any small or special groups; therefore its programming should be largely patterned for what these majority audiences like and want."
Frank Nicholas Stanton was born on March 20, 1908, in Muskegon, Mich., the oldest of two sons of Frank Cooper Stanton, a woodworking and mechanics teacher, and the former Helen Schmidt. After his family moved to Dayton, Ohio, when he was a boy, Frank learned electronics at his father's workbench.
Young Frank majored in zoology and psychology at Ohio Wesleyan University, graduating in 1930 intending to become a doctor. But finding medical school too expensive, he accepted a scholarship to Ohio State to study psychology and earned a master's degree in 1932. A year earlier, he married Ruth Stephenson, whom he had met at Sunday school when they were both 14.
While he pursued a doctorate, studying ways to measure mass radio audiences, he invented a kind of forerunner of the Nielsen audimeter. The device could be installed inside a radio receiver to register what programs listeners were tuning in. Paul Kersten, a CBS executive, was so impressed with the project that he ultimately offered Mr. Stanton a $55-a-week job in its two-man research department. The day after he received his doctorate, in 1935, Dr. Stanton and his wife climbed aboard their Model A Ford and headed for New York.
Dr. Stanton's research into radio listeners' habits was so sophisticated that CBS began using it to attract advertisers and audiences, to select programs and determine their content, and to persuade radio executives to switch their affiliates from NBC to CBS.
By 1938 Dr. Stanton had become CBS's research director with a staff of 100. With the social scientist Paul F. Lazarsfeld, he invented a device called the program analyzer. It enabled CBS to track simultaneously the responses of 100 listeners to a specific radio program, gauging their likes and dislikes. CBS used the analyzer for a half-century.
Noticing that one CBS station was able to boost its ratings by broadcasting similar shows back-to-back, Dr. Stanton persuaded the network to adopt the practice. Block programming thus became an industry staple.
Dr. Stanton remained with the network during World War II while serving as a consultant to the Secretary of War, the Office of War Information and the Office of Facts and Figures. By 1945 he had become vice president and general manager of CBS.
He was offered the network presidency on William Paley's return from Europe, where Paley had been an Army colonel in the Office of War Information. Mr. Paley 's first choice for the job, Mr. Kersten, declined, citing poor health, but he recommended Dr. Stanton, and Mr. Paley invited Dr. Stanton out to his Long Island estate. After dinner, they took a walk in the rain, and Mr. Paley stunned his guest by casually saying, "By the way, Frank, I want you to run the company." Mr. Paley told him he wanted to be free of the day-to-day problems of running CBS.
Dr. Stanton had been considering leaving CBS to become a partner in an opinion-research company with George Gallup and Elmo Roper, both of whom became giants in the field. But he accepted Mr. Paley's offer and, in 1946, became president of CBS at the age of 38.
As president, Dr. Stanton reorganized CBS into separate divisions for radio, television and laboratories. Programming and entertainment was Mr. Paley's domain, though Dr. Stanton was responsible for moving CBS's biggest radio star of the 1940's, Arthur Godfrey, into television and taking a chance on a hard-drinking comic named Jackie Gleason. One Stanton project was the critically acclaimed "Playhouse 90," which Mr. Paley cancelled when its ratings tailed off.
"I think if there was anything I wanted to do with the company and I proposed it, there was a pretty good chance I could go ahead and do it," Ms. Smith quoted Mr. Stanton as saying.
But his freedom was not complete. One person he could not control was Edward R. Murrow, CBS's most celebrated broadcast journalist. Mr. Murrow was close with Mr. Paley, and, to Dr. Stanton's resentment, he repeatedly went over Dr. Stanton's head to discuss his plans or problems with Paley. Mr. Murrow regarded Dr. Stanton as a numbers cruncher who knew little about television news, and he tended to blame Dr. Stanton, not Mr. Paley, when management thwarted him.
When Mr. Murrow's acclaimed weekly program, "See it Now," began to lose sponsors, Mr. Paley stepped in and, with no objection from Dr. Stanton, cut the program to 8 to 10 broadcasts a year before taking it off the air entirely in 1958. Mr. Murrow's diminishment seemed only to elevate Dr. Stanton's standing as a force to be reckoned with at CBS News.
As network president Dr. Stanton focused intently on the powerful news division. He created an executive review board to keep news policy and editorializing separate. He combined the news and public-affairs departments. He increased the news department's budget and eventually extended the 15-minute nightly news to 30 minutes. He created the weekly investigative and news-documentary "CBS Reports."
In August of 1958, the network was plunged into scandal after a contestant on the immensely popular "The $64,000 Question" revealed that he and others had been fed answers. Congressional and law-enforcement investigations were opened. Mounting his own investigation (without consulting Mr. Paley, who was in Spain), Dr. Stanton pressured the executive responsible for the show to resign and canceled the network's remaining quiz shows.
Dr. Stanton saw diversification as necessary to CBS's growth. Under his watch, the network began acquiring companies, publishing magazines and books, producing Broadway shows, including the highly successful "My Fair Lady," and buying the New York Yankees. (The Yankees fared poorly under CBS, and the team was sold to a group of investors led by George Steinbrenner.)
Dr. Stanton oversaw the development of the network's most famous symbol, the CBS Eye, designed by William Golden. And he was chiefly responsible for shepherding CBS's headquarters, the Manhattan skyscraper known as Black Rock, into existence. Dr. Stanton persuaded Mr. Paley to buy the land, at Sixth Avenue and 52nd Street, chose Eero Saarinen as the architect and fought with Mr. Paley over Saarinen's austere International-style design, with its striking black exterior. Mr. Paley wanted the building to be pink. (When Mr. Saarinen died, his chief designer, Kevin Roche, completed the building, which opened to acclaim in 1964.)
In dealing with the government, Dr. Stanton could count on a long list of high-powered friends in Washington, including Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson. Yet despite that influence, he and Paley, like other broadcasters, did not resist the anti-Communist hunts of the late 1940's and early 50's.
In 1950, to reassure advertisers and pressure groups, Dr. Stanton approved requiring CBS employees to take an oath of loyalty to the United States. The next year, with Mr. Paley's approval, Dr. Stanton created a security office staffed by former F.B.I. agents to investigate the political leanings of its employees. Writers, directors and others were often blacklisted, with CBS's approval.
In 1999, when the New York chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences gave him a lifetime achievement award for his efforts on behalf of the First Amendment, Dr. Stanton said blacklisting had been necessary to stave off pressure from advertisers and affiliates who were threatening to abandon CBS and possibly shut it down. He conceded, however, that the network's response to the pressure may not have been the best one.
"I didn't have the wisdom, nor did anyone else," Mr. Stanton said. "The head of the law department was one of the fairest people I've ever known. When he said this was the course we should follow, we went along with it."
With the 1960 Presidential election approaching, Dr. Stanton persuaded Congress to suspend the "equal time" provision in the Federal Communications Act. That made it possible for the networks to televise debates between the Democratic nominee, Sen. John F. Kennedy, and his Republican rival, Vice President Richard M. Nixon, without including candidates of smaller parties. The debates signaled the arrival of television as a dominant force in presidential politics.
Dr. Stanton bore much of the criticism when Washington objected to CBS News's coverage of the war in Vietnam, though he denied a frequently told tale that President Johnson had telephoned him at home to curse him for broadcasting a report by Morley Safer showing Marines burning down peasant huts in Cam Ne.
In 1971 Dr. Stanton was threatened with jail over his defense of his news division. CBS had broadcast an hourlong investigative report called "The Selling of the Pentagon," about a $30 million campaign by the Defense Department to improve its image, and the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee demanded that he hand over material that had been cut from the program. It wanted to see if CBS had demonstrated bias by deliberately not using material that would have been favorable to the Pentagon.
Handed a subpoena for the material at his office, Dr. Stanton refused to comply and was called before the committee. He argued that the committee was infringing on the rights of free speech and freedom of the press under the First Amendment.
"If newsmen are told their notes, films and tapes will be subject to compulsory process so that the government can determine whether the news has been satisfactorily edited," he said, " the scope, nature, and vigor of their news reporting will be inevitably curtailed."
The committee voted to cite him for contempt. But after an emotional floor debate, the full House rejected the committee's citation.
When the Nixon administration began attacking the networks over their coverage of the war, it was usually Dr. Stanton who answered back. "Stanton was a firewall between the presidency and the reporters covering the White House," said Robert Pierpoint, a former CBS White House correspondent.
For years as president, Dr. Stanton believed he would get the top job at CBS -- chairman and chief executive -- when Mr. Paley reached the age of 65 in 1966. Mr. Paley had promised him, after all. Indeed, Dr. Stanton was so convinced that he rejected an opportunity to become head of the University of California and turned down President Johnson's offers to make him Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare or Undersecretary of State.
But Mr. Paley went back on his promise and continued as chairman past his retirement age, and the relationship between the two men was never the same. In 1967, Dr. Stanton signed a new contract, which required him to step down as president in 1971 to become vice chairman and to remain in that post until his retirement at 65 in 1973.
After his retirement, Dr. Stanton was chairman and chief operating officer of the American National Red Cross for six years. He served on the boards of the Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Institution, the Stanford Research Institute and Lincoln Center. He was also the first non-Harvard graduate in the 20th century to serve on the board of Harvard University, and he spent much of the rest of his life in Cambridge, Mass.. working on projects for Harvard. He sat on the CBS board until he reached retirement age in 1978, then became a highly paid consultant until 1987, though he was seldom called on to consult.
For all his accomplishments as an architect of CBS, Dr. Stanton had left the network in disillusion, disappointment and sorrow, assessing it as "just another company with dirty carpets."
When he retired in 1973, he left Black Rock quietly, refusing to allow Paley to give him a party. His parting words were quoted by Lillian Ross in The New Yorker: "I think I'll make it home in time for the seven o'clock news."
Mrs. Allison, who with her husband, Graham, helped care for Dr. Stanton in recent years, said that his wife, Ruth, had died about a decade ago and that there were no survivors.
She said that Dr. Stanton had directed that there be no memorial service and no donations in his memory, which she said reminded her of his attitude upon his departure from CBS.
"When he left, he just left," Mrs. Allison said. "He was consistent, right to the end."