Thursday, December 25, 2008

Ed Noble, Pt. 2

Originally published in the December, 2008, Old Radio Times.

Sweet Dreams: Noble Visions of a Confectioner
by Jim Cox

The $8 million figure was the largest sale in broadcasting history. It topped bids of such formidable contenders as fabled Chicago haberdasher Marshall Field, the storied Pittsburgh Mellon financiers and Paramount Pictures. McGraw of McGraw-Hill Publishing Company soon withdrew as joint owner leaving Noble as sole Blue network purchaser. Despite his enormous personal wealth, to complete the transaction, Noble put up $4 million of his own money; then he borrowed $1 million from Commercial Bank and Trust Company of New York, and $1.5 million from each of New York’s Bankers Trust Company and Central Hanover Bank and Trust Company. RCA, meanwhile, spent $1.1 million on the radio series proffered in the exchange. And Noble did become Woods’ boss—Woods was named president of the network while Noble was chairman of the board.

Included in the transaction, furthermore, were three pivotal stations in the Blue’s operation: New York’s WJZ, the web’s flagship outlet; Chicago’s WENR; and San Francisco’s KGO. Following hearings, the FCC granted approval for the transfer of those stations’ licenses. At the same time, Noble’s new venture included 143 Blue network affiliates.

RCA publicly announced the sale of the Blue web on July 30, 1943, to Noble’s American Broadcasting System, Inc. It was approved by the FCC on October 12, 1943. The network retained most existing staff and signed leases on two theaters plus equipment and studios at NBC. For the present, principally due to wartime shortages, flagship outlet WJZ continued to air from Radio City on a 10-year lease.

Seeking more prestigious nomenclature instead of mere hue, Noble acquired the appellation American Broadcasting Company (ABC) for his enterprise. The changeover involved tricky negotiations with broadcasting czar George B. Storer who owned—and retained—title to a then defunct American Broadcasting System. The Blue chain was officially rebranded on June 15, 1945.

Edward John Noble, the new network’s owner, was suitably well-heeled and politically connected. Born in upstate New York at Gouveneur on August 8, 1882, he was educated at Syracuse and Yale universities. In 1913, he and partner J. Roy Allen purchased the Life Saver mint candy business from a Cleveland manufacturer and turned it into a multimillion-dollar enterprise. Investing heavily in the Life Savers Corporation, Noble became its president while his brother, Robert P. Noble, was vice president. By 1937 their titles and responsibilities were respectively upgraded to chairman of the board and executive vice president. Still chairman in 1949, Edward Noble saw his sibling rise to president of the corporation.

On the way to incredible wealth, he formed the Edward J. Noble Company in 1915 in New York City, shepherding it for eight years, capitalizing on manufacturing and distributing advertising devices and novelties. Having also taken up yachting and flying as sideline interests, on July 9, 1938, Ed Noble was appointed by U. S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt as chairman of the newly created Civil Aeronautics Authority. He resigned April 13, 1939, to become Under Secretary of Commerce, a post occupied from June 1939 to August 1940. He left it to support an unsuccessful presidential bid by Wendell L. Willkie.

- Jim Cox is the award-winning author of numberous books on broadcasting history, including Sold on Radio (2008), Radio Speakers (2006), The Daytime Serials of Television, 1946-1960 (2006), Music Radio (2005), Frank and Anne Hummert’s Radio Factory (2003), Radio Crime Fighters (2002), and The Great Radio Audience Participation Shows (2001), all from McFarland. He is a retired college professor living in Louisville, Kentucky.


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