1938, Cincinnati, OH
Turner piloted his yacht, Courageous, to victory in the 1977 America's Cup.
Photos: Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.
He defied the naysayers to create 24-hour cable news network, democratizing information and changing forever the way America -- and the world -- sees itself.
Ted Turner, who revolutionized news reporting and has done more than anyone to create a true "global village," was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1938. At the age of nine, his family relocated to Savannah, Georgia, where his father built a successful billboard advertising company. Young Ted spent eight years at a Tennessee military school (its motto: "Honor - Truth - Duty"), developing a love for the classics, an aggressive streak as a sailor, and a grasp of history. His depth and tenacity would later surprise those who saw him only as a boor or a philanderer -- "Captain Outrageous" or the "Mouth from the South." "I'm like a bulldog that won't let go," he would tell Playboy magazine.
After his father's suicide in 1963, Turner -- whose maverick personality harbored outsized ambitions -- took over the family business. He jumped to television broadcasting, buying a failing Atlanta-based UHF television station. He turned it around with "family" fare: old movies, sports, and sitcom reruns. In 1975, he invented the "superstation," gambling a fortune on satellite transmission. The move put Turner up against the big TV networks and Hollywood; he scored a victory for the little guy in Congressional hearings, and won Federal Communications Commission approval for his scheme. Within a decade, eighty percent of American homes were receiving his jacked-up local channel, TBS.
Turner thrived on competition. He'd purchased Atlanta's professional baseball team in 1976, and its basketball team a year later, to broadcast their games on TBS. Turner burst onto most Americans' radar screens in 1977 when he brashly usurped yacht racing's most prestigious honor, the America's Cup. And he captained his 61-foot yacht, Tenacious, through a Force 10 gale in 1979 to win a disastrous ocean race in which only 92 of the 302 boats survived, and 19 people were killed.
In 1980, Turner again stared down his critics when he founded the Cable News Network (C.N.N.). To a public used to highly-edited, 20-minute nightly news shows, the network offered something addictively novel: round-the-clock news. Though competitor Sam Donaldson dubbed it the "Chicken Noodle Network," Turner's venture was such a success that it spawned a companion network, Headline News, just two years later. C.N.N. covered worldwide news as it unfolded, bringing events like Poland's Solidarity movement, China's Tiananmen Square uprising, and the 1991 Gulf War into American living rooms. Going into the 21st century, C.N.N. would command an audience of 165 million households worldwide.
Man of Peace
Turner sold his company to Time Warner in 1996, and was removed from its management in 2000. Since then, he has thrown his energies into environmental and global peace initiatives. "I changed from being a man of war to a man of peace," he said, and pledged to donate a billion dollars to the United Nations. His Nuclear Threat Initiative works to prevent terrorists from obtaining nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War global arms marketplace.