Turner in 2007
Robert Edward Turner III|
November 19, 1938
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
|Alma mater||Brown University|
|Home town||Atlanta, Georgia|
|Net worth||US$2.3billion (February 2017)|
Julia Gale Nye
(m. 1960; div. 1964)
Jane Shirley Smith
(m. 1965; div. 1988)
(m. 1991; div. 2001)
Robert Edward 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 (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 US Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA). NTI is a non-partisan organization dedicated to reducing global reliance on, and preventing the proliferation of, nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. He currently serves as Co-Chairman of 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. His purchase of an Atlanta UHF station in 1970 began the Turner Broadcasting System. CNN 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). 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 private landowner 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 on November 19, 1938 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 in Chattanooga, 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. from Brown University in November 1989 when he returned to campus to keynote the National Association of College Broadcasters second annual conference.
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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, 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 began buying Southern radio stations. In 1969, he sold his 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 acquire it for his station at a very low price. WTCG ran mostly second- and even third-hand programming 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 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, which increased his viewers and advertising. Subscribers eventually reached 2 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. Such a move allowed Turner to strengthen the branding of his "Super-Station" using the initials TBS. Turner Communications Group was renamed Turner Broadcasting System and WTCG was renamed 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 the three major networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) up to that time.
In 1978, he contacted media executive Reese Schonfeld with his plans to found a 24-hour news channel (Schonfeld had previously approached Turner with the same proposition in 1977 but was rebuffed). Schonfeld responded that it could be done with a staff of 300 if they used an all electronic newsroom and satellites for all transmissions. It would require an initial investment of $15 million-$20 million and several million dollars per month to operate. In 1979, Turner sold his North Carolina station, WRET, to fund the transaction and established its headquarters in lower-cost, non-union Atlanta. Schonfeld was appointed first president and chief executive of the then-named Cable News Network (CNN). CNN hired Jim Kitchell, former general manager of news at NBC as vice president of production and operations; Sam Zelman as vice president of news and executive producer; Bill MacPhail as head of sports, Ted Kavanau as director of personnel, and Burt Reinhardt as vice president of the network. In 1982, Schonfeld was succeeded as CEO by Turner after a dispute over Schonfeld's firing of Sandi Freeman; and was succeeded as president by CNN's executive vice president, Burt Reinhardt.
Turner famously stated: "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 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 enormous debt and sold parts of the acquisition; Kerkorian bought back MGM/UA Entertainment. 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
Turner Entertainment Co. was established in August 1986 to oversee film and TV properties owned by Turner.
In 1988, Turner purchased Jim Crockett Promotions which he renamed World Championship Wrestling (WCW) which became the main competitor to Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation (WWF). In 2001, under AOL Time Warner, it was sold to the World Wrestling Federation.
In 1988, he introduced Turner Network Television (TNT) with Gone with the Wind. TNT, initially showing older movies and television shows, added original programs and newer reruns. TNT used World Championship Wrestling (WCW) to attract a broader audience.
Since its launch in late 1994, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) broadcast the older MGM, Warner Bros., and RKO libraries. In the mid-1980s, Turner became a force for the colorization of black-and-white films. In 1985, the film Yankee Doodle Dandy became the first black-and-white movie redistributed in color after computer coloring. Despite opposition by film aficionados, stars, and directors, the movie won over a section of the public, and Turner colorized most of films he had owned. However, in the mid-1990s, the cost of colorization led Turner to abandon the idea. In contrast with TNT, TCM has shown the unaltered versions of films.
In 1992, the pre-May 1986 MGM library, which included Warner Bros. properties including the early Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies libraries and also the Fleischer Studios and Famous Studios Popeye cartoons from United Artists, became the core of Cartoon Network. A year before, Turner's companies purchased Hanna-Barbera Productions (whose longtime parent, Taft/Great American Broadcasting, had been headquartered in Turner's original hometown of Cincinnati), adding additional content. With the 1996 Time Warner merger, the channel's archives gained the later Warner Bros. cartoon library as well as other Time Warner-owned cartoons.
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In 1990, he created the Turner Foundation, which focuses on philanthropic grants in environment and population. In the same year he created Captain Planet, an environmental superhero. Turner produced two TV series with him as featured character.
In 1993, Turner and Russian journalist Eduard Sagalajev founded The Moscow Independent Broadcasting Corporation (MIBC). This corporation operated the sixth frequency in Russian television and founded the Russian channel TV-6. The company was later purchased by Russian businessman Boris Berezovsky and an unknown group of private persons. In 2007 the license for TV-6 had expired and there was no application for renewal.
Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. merged with Time Warner, Inc. on October 10, 1996, with Turner as vice chairman and head of Time Warner and Turner's cable networks division. Turner was dropped as head of cable networks by CEO Gerald Levin but remained as Vice Chairman of Time Warner. He resigned as Time Warner vice chairman in 2003 and then from the board of directors in 2006.
On January 11, 2001, Time Warner was purchased by AOL to become AOL Time Warner, a merger which Turner initially supported. However, the burst of the dotcom bubble hurt the growth and profitability of the AOL division, which in turn dragged down the combined company's performance and stock price. At a board meeting in fall 2001, Turner's outburst against AOL Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin eventually led to the Levin's announced resignation effective in early 2002, being replaced by Richard Parsons. In contrast to Levin, who as CEO isolated Turner from important company matters, Parsons invited Turner back to provide strategic advice, although Turner never received an operational role that he sought. The company dropped "AOL" from its name in October 2003. In December 2009, AOL was spun off from the Time Warner conglomerate as a separate company.
Turner was Time Warner's biggest individual shareholder. It is estimated he lost as much as $7 billion when the stock collapsed in the wake of the merger. When asked about buying back his former assets, he replied that he "can't afford them now". In June 2014 Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox made a bid for the company valuing it at $80 billion. The Time Warner board rejected the offer and it was formally withdrawn on August 5, 2014.
Turner has a long-running grudge with fellow cable magnate Rupert Murdoch. This originated in 1983 when a Murdoch-sponsored yacht collided with the yacht skippered by Turner, "Condor", during the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, causing it to run aground 6.2 miles (10.0 km) from the finish line. At the post-race dinner, Turner verbally assaulted Murdoch, afterward challenging him to a televised fistfight in Las Vegas. In 2003, Turner challenged Murdoch to another fistfight, and later accused Murdoch of being a "warmonger", as he was backing President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq.
For most of his first decade as owner of the Braves, Turner was a very hands-on owner. This peaked in 1977, his second year as owner. With the team mired in a 16-game losing streak, Turner sent manager Dave Bristol on a 10-day "scouting trip" and Turner himself took over as interim manager--the first owner/manager in the majors since Connie Mack. He ran the team for one game (a loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates) before National League president Chub Feeney ordered him to stop running the team. Feeney cited major league rules which bar managers and players from owning stock in their clubs. Turner appealed to Commissioner of Baseball Bowie Kuhn, and showed up to manage the Braves when they returned home. However, Kuhn turned down the appeal, citing Turner's "lack of familiarity with game operations."
In the mid-1980s Turner began leaving day-to-day operations to the baseball operations staff, and in 1995 the team (still under Turner's ownership) won the World Series.
The Atlanta Braves were sold by Time Warner (which had assumed control after the merger with Turner Broadcasting) to Liberty Media in 2007.
On September 19, 2006, in a Reuters Newsmaker conference, Turner said of Iran's nuclear position: "They're a sovereign state. We have 28,000. Why can't they have 10? We don't say anything about Israel—they've got 100 of them approximately—or India or Pakistan or Russia."
In 2010, during the wake of both the devastating Deepwater Horizon environmental disaster and the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster that killed 29 miners in West Virginia, Turner stated on CNN that "I'm just wondering if God is telling us He doesn't want to drill offshore. And right before that, we had that coal mine disaster in West Virginia where we lost 29 miners... Maybe the Lord's tired of having the mountains of West Virginia, the tops knocked off of them so they may get more coal. I think maybe we ought to just leave the coal in the ground and go with solar and wind power and geothermals..."
In 2008, Turner explained he not only regretted these statements but said he had made peace with organized religion and had worked with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the United Methodist Church to fight malaria. In a 2008 MSNBC interview, Turner stated that he no longer considers himself atheist or agnostic, and prays for sick friends, but keeps it short because "I don't want to load up the wires." However, in 2013 he declared himself still to be agnostic, saying that he still prays for friends when they are sick, because "it can't hurt anything".
In 2002, Turner accused Israel of terror: "The Palestinians are fighting with human suicide bombers, that's all they have. The Israelis ... they've got one of the most powerful military machines in the world. The Palestinians have nothing. So who are the terrorists? I would make a case that both sides are involved in terrorism." He apologized for that and the remarks in 2011 about the 9/11 hijackers, but also defended himself: "Look, I'm a very good thinker, but I sometimes grab the wrong word ... I mean, I don't type my speeches, then sit up there and read them off the teleprompter, you know. I wing it."
Turner caused a stir in Montana in 2003 by funding a project to restore westslope cutthroat trout to Cherry Creek and Cherry Lake. The controversy stemmed from the poison antimycin used to kill the other fish in the stream to make way for the trout.
In 2008, Turner asserted on PBS's Charlie Rose television program that if steps are not taken to address global warming, most people would die and "the rest of us will be cannibals". Turner also said in the interview that he advocated Americans having no more than two children. In 2010, he stated that China's one-child policy should be implemented.
Turner claims to have predicted the demise of newspapers 30 years ago and has called print journalism an "obsolete way of distributing information". Turner also became more critical of media consolidation around 2004. He expressed some regret that he took advantage of the relaxed rules that allowed greater concentration of media ownership, and raised concerns about the quality of information and debate in an environment where the news is controlled by only a few corporations and individuals.
In the 1993 biography It Ain't As Easy as It Looks by Porter Bibb, Turner discussed his use of lithium and struggles with mental illness. The 1981 biography Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way by Christian Williams chronicles the founding of CNN. In 2008, Turner wrote Call Me Ted, which documents his career and personal life.
Through Turner Enterprises, he owns 15 ranches in Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. Totaling 1,910,585 acres (7,731.86 km2), his land-holdings across America make Turner one of the largest individual landowners in North America (by acreage).
In January, 2016, the Osage Nation bought Turner's 43,000 acre (170 km2) Bluestem Ranch in Osage County, Oklahoma. Turner had purchased the property in 2001 primarily to raise bison. Other important wildlife species on the property include whitetail deer, wild turkey and bobwhite quail.
One of Turner's children, Robert Edward "Teddy" Turner IV, announced on January 23, 2013, that he intended to run in the South Carolina Republican primary for the open Congressional seat vacated by Tim Scott who was appointed to the US Senate. Turner's son came in 4th, receiving 7.90% of the vote. 
When Turner was 26, he entered sailing competitions at the Savannah Yacht Club and competed in Olympic trials in 1964. He first attempted to win the America's Cup in 1974, in a losing attempt at the defender's trials, aboard Mariner. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated on July 4, 1977, after being chosen to lead the 1977 America's Cup defense as skipper of the yacht Courageous. He had been asked to join the America's Cup defense group formed by Lee Loomis and Ted Hood. That group had Courageous and planned to build another yacht, Independence, to be designed and sailed by Hood. But Courageous proved to be the faster boat. On September 18, 1977, he successfully defended the America's Cup, defeating Australia 4-0. He was inducted into the America's Cup Hall of Fame in 1993, and the National Sailing Hall of Fame in 2011.