Ralph Baruch 1923-2016 (and me)


Ralph BaruchRalph Baruch died on Thursday, March 3, 2016, at age 92.

A giant of our industry, after escaping the Nazis in Europe, he was a movie-theater usher, an engineer at Empire Broadcasting, and an ad seller for Channel 5 in New York before joining CBS in 1954, heading the newly spun-off Viacom in 1971, creating such networks as Showtime and Lifetime, and acquiring others, such as MTV and Nickelodeon, that are household names today. He was brilliant. But even the best can have off days.

One of those happened at a National Cable Television Association executive summit meeting in Arizona in the 1980s at which I spoke. After TelePrompTer proved the viability of satellite delivery of programming and HBO started doing it, the cable-television industry was based largely on that form of networking. I cautioned the executives present that the FM-capture effect meant that someone with a slightly more powerful signal could capture a satellite transponder.
The room was silent. Baruch broke the tension by announcing that he was not worried that HBO would try to take over Showtime.

Captain Midnight transmissionHe was right. They never did. But a self-styled “Captain Midnight” later briefly took over HBO.

My “prediction,” unfortunately, came true.

But it was Baruch who built Viacom into a huge force in the industry, not me.

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