“You should set goals beyond your reach so you always have something to live for.”
Robert Edward “Ted” Turner III (born November 19, 1938) is an American media mogul and philanthropist. As a businessman, he is known as founder of the Cable News Network more popularly known as CNN, the first 24-hour cable news channel. In addition, he founded WTBS, which pioneered the superstation concept in cable television.
As a philanthropist, he is known for his $1 billion gift to support the United Nations, which created the United Nations Foundation, a public charity to broaden domestic support for the UN. Turner serves as Chairman of the United Nations Foundation board of directors. Additionally, in 2001, Turner co-founded the Nuclear Threat Initiative with U.S. Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA). NTI is a non-partisan organisation dedicated to reducing global reliance on, and preventing the proliferation of, nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. He currently serves as Co-Chairman on the Board of Directors.
Turner’s media empire began with his father’s billboard business, Turner Outdoor Advertising, which he took over in 1963 after his father’s suicide. It was worth $1 million at the time (roughly $7.7 million in present-day terms). His purchase of an Atlanta UHF station in 1970 began the Turner Broadcasting System. Cable News Network revolutionized news media, covering the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 and the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Turner turned the Atlanta Braves baseball team into a nationally popular franchise and launched the charitable Goodwill Games. He helped revive interest in professional wrestling by buying World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and starting the Monday Night Wars in 1995, airing Monday Nitro on his TNT head-to-head against the World Wrestling Federation‘s Monday Night RAW on USA.
Turner’s penchant for controversial statements earned him the nicknames “The Mouth of the South” and “Captain Outrageous”. Turner has also devoted his assets to environmental causes. He was the largest privatelandowner in the United States until John C. Malone surpassed him in 2011. He uses much of his land for ranches to re-popularize bison meat (for his Ted’s Montana Grill chain), amassing the largest herd in the world. He also created the environmental-themed animated series Captain Planet and the Planeteers.
Turner was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Florence (née Rooney) and Robert Edward Turner II, a billboard magnate. When he was nine, his family moved to Savannah, Georgia. He attended The McCallie School, a private boys’ preparatory school inChattanooga, Tennessee. Turner attended Brown University and was vice-president of the Brown Debating Union and captain of the sailing team. He became a member of Kappa Sigma. Turner initially majored in Classics. Turner’s father wrote saying that his choice made him “appalled, even horrified”, and that he “almost puked”. Turner later changed his major to Economics, but before receiving a diploma, he was expelled for having a female student in his dormitory room. Turner was awarded an honorary B.A. fromBrown University in November 1989 when he returned to campus to keynote the National Association of College Broadcasters second annual conference.
After leaving Brown University, Turner returned to the South in late 1960 to become general manager of the Macon, Georgia branch of his father’s business. Following his father’s March 1963 suicide, Turner became president and chief executive of Turner Advertising Company when he was 24 and turned the firm into a global enterprise. He joined the Young Republicans, saying “he felt at ease among these budding conservatives and was merely following in Ed Turner’s far-right footsteps,” according to It Ain’t As Easy As It Looks.
During the Vietnam War Era, Turner’s business prospered; it “had virtual monopolies in Savannah, Macon, Columbus,[clarification needed] and Charleston” and was “the largest outdoor advertising company in the Southeast”, according to It Ain’t As Easy As It Looks. The book observed that Turner “discovered his father had sheltered a substantial amount of taxable income over the years by personally lending it back to the company” and “discovered that the billboard business could be a gold mine, a tax-depreciable revenue stream that threw off enormous amounts of cash with almost no capital investment”. In the late 1960s, Turner used the profits to buy Southern radio stations.
In 1969, he sold his several radio stations to buy a struggling television station in Atlanta, WJRJ, Channel 17. At the time, UHF stations did well only in markets without VHF stations, like Fresno, California, or in markets with only one station on VHF. Independent UHF stations were not ratings winners or that profitable even in larger markets, but Turner had the foresight that this would change as people wanted more than several choices. He changed the call sign to WTCG (standing for “Watch This Channel Grow”). Initially, the station ran old movies from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, along with theatrical cartoons and very old sitcoms and old drama shows. As better syndicated product fell off the VHF stations, Turner would pick it up for his station at a very low price. WTCG ran mostly second- and even third-hand product of the time, including fare such as Gilligan’s Island, I Love Lucy, Star Trek, Hazel, and Bugs Bunny. WTCG acquired rights to telecast the Atlanta Braves baseball games in 1973. Turner also purchased UHF Channel 36 WRET (now WCNC) in Charlotte, North Carolina and ran it with a format similar to WTCG.
In 1976, the FCC allowed Turner’s WTCG to use a satellite to transmit content to local cable TV providers around the nation. On December 17, 1976, the rechristened WTCG-TV Super-Station began to broadcast old movies, situation comedy reruns, cartoons, and sports nationwide to cable-TV subscribers. As cable systems developed, many carried his station to free their schedules. This increased his viewers and advertising. Subscribers eventually reached two million subscribers and Turner’s net worth rose to $100 million. He bought a 5,000-acre (20 km2) plantation in Jacksonboro, South Carolina, for $2 million.
In 1978, Turner struck a deal with a student-operated radio station at MIT, Technology Broadcasting System to obtain the rights to the WTBS call sign for $50,000. This allowed Turner to strengthen the branding of his “Super-Station” using the acronym TBS; Turner Communications Group was renamed Turner Broadcasting System and WTCG was renamed as WTBS.
In 1976, Turner bought the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks, partially to provide programming for WTCG. Using the rechristened WTBS’ superstation status to beam Braves games into nearly every home in North America, Turner made the Braves a household name even before their run of success in the 1990s and early 2000s. At one point, he suggested to pitcher Andy Messersmith, who wore number 17, that he change his surname to “Channel” to promote the television station.
In 1986, Turner founded the Goodwill Games. Broadcasting the events of these games provided his super-station the ability to provide Olympic-style sports programming that had been offered by only one of the three major networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) up to that time.
Turner created the Cable News Network in 1980. He said: “We won’t be signing off until the world ends. We’ll be on, and we will cover the end of the world, live, and that will be our last event . . . we’ll play ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee‘ before we sign off.”
After five years, CNN outgrew its home, a former country club on the outskirts of Midtown, Atlanta. Turner purchased the Omni International from developer Tom Cousins and moved CNN there. The complex was rechristened the CNN Center. As Omni International, the complex had never succeeded. Cousins sold it to Turner along with the Atlanta Hawks. CNN moved into the end of the tower that once housed The World of Sid and Marty Krofft. CNN was a considerable force in the revival of Atlanta‘s downtown.
After a failed attempt to acquire CBS, Turner purchased the film studio MGM/UA Entertainment Co. from Kirk Kerkorian in 1986 for $1.5 billion. Following the acquisition, Turner had an enormous debt and sold parts of the acquisition. MGM/UA Entertainment was sold back to Kirk Kerkorian. The MGM/UA Studio lot in Culver City was sold to Lorimar/Telepictures. Turner kept MGM’s pre-May 1986 and pre-merger film and TV library, which included nearly all of MGM’s material made before the merger, and a small portion ofUnited Artists‘ film and TV properties which included few UA pictures, the TV series Gilligan’s Island, the U.S. and Canadian distribution rights to the RKO Radio Pictures library, and the pre-1950 Warner Bros. library and the Fleischer Studios/Famous StudiosPopeye cartoons that both were once the property of Associated Artists Productions, which merged with United Artists Television in 1958.