Friday, December 26, 2008

Ed Noble, Pt. 3

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

Sweet Dreams: Noble Visions of a Confectioner
by Jim Cox

In 1941 Noble bought New York’s WMCA Radio for $850,000. When he purchased the Blue web coupled with a trio of influential affiliates in 1943, he allowed that he hoped to make the Blue “a sort of New York Times of the industry,” adding, “I’d be perfectly happy with meager profits.” The Federal Communications Commission rulings prohibited him from continuing to own WMCA while adding WJZ to his portfolio as both stations served the same market. Thus he, too, looked for a buyer. He found one in Nathan Straus, ex-U. S. housing chief, who purchased WMCA for $1,255,000 in September 1943.

Three months later, Noble sold 12.5 percent of his interest in the Blue Network to Time, Inc., headed by chairman Henry R. Luce, and 12.5 percent to advertising executive Chester J. LaRoche. He repurchased all of those shares in October 1945. In addition, in late 1943, he sold small percentages of interest in the Blue Network to the web’s president, Mark Woods, and Edgar Kobak, executive vice president. Kobak, incidentally, resigned from the Blue in 1944 to cast his lot with MBS.

It became obvious to many observers quite early that—coupled with the business acumen that made him prosperous—Noble was eager to share his time and talents to benefit millions who weren’t as fortunate. While he was deeply involved in numerous nonprofit endeavors, including more than space permits, some examples suffice. The nobleman gave freely to St. Lawrence University at Canton, New York, from which he received an honorary doctor of laws in 1939, and was that institute’s trustee chairman. In August 1945, he was appointed chairman of the service division of the New York National War Fund. In October 1946, Noble was named head of the Salvation Army’s annual fundraising drive for 1947, a role that was extended to 1948. He was general chairman of the 1953 March for Dimes crusade for Greater New York. For a while Noble was chairman of the board of North Country Hospitals, Inc., operating medical centers in three upstate New York cities.

The American Broadcasting Company’s purchase of the King-Trendle Broadcasting Corporation in 1946, including Detroit’s WXYZ and Grand Rapids’ WOOD (the latter resold a short time afterward), gave Ed Noble an opportunity to diffuse any lingering stability issues in the trade about intentions for his nascent network. Revelations from the Candy Man-turned-broadcaster, while brief, put to rest whatever concerns the industry may have harbored for the short term. His declarations hinted that Noble accorded his responsibility to a high plateau in influencing the national landscape.

“I did not buy the Blue Network as a speculation,” he told The New York Times in July 1946. “I bought it to acquire an opportunity to build a great radio network. I am not interested in selling the company at any price…. I am not selling and have no intention of selling any of my shares this year or next or any future year so far as one can humanly know. It is my desire and ambition to help develop the still unrealized potentialities of radio as one of our nation’s richest assets—bringing entertainment, enlightenment and education to all people.”

Some seven years later Noble did relinquish control of ABC as American Broadcasting merged with United Paramount Pictures in 1953, although he remained with the parent firm as a director. He was chairman of the executive committee of the Life Savers Corporation in 1956 when it combined with Beech-Nut Packing Company, a manufacturer of baby foods, chewing gum, peanut butter and coffee. Death overtook him at 76 on December 29, 1958, at his home in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Noble possessed the physical assets, abilities and zeal to form ABC at the time they were needed. He secured a foundation for a future media empire that was to gradually rival juggernaut chains exhibiting decades of history, experience, affiliates and acclaim. In an arena in which it convincingly challenged its rivals—while it would take some time—ABC was to compete fairly and to eventually win. Whether those were Noble’s objectives or some other, all who labor for ABC today owe him a debt of gratitude. They may be proud of the legacy of Ed Noble, a determined Johnny-Come-Lately who was at the right place at the right time to secure the prospects of legions of workers in the generations that followed.

- 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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