The radio and television station owner and creator of the Home Shopping Network and Pax TV (later Ion TV) died on Jan. 9 at the age of 80. NAB President Gordon Smith commented: “Broadcasters have lost a friend and a legend in the passing of Bud Paxson, who was a tenacious advocate for over-the-air radio and televsion.”
Lowell Paxson, a radio and TV entrepreneur who launched TV’s home shopping industry and then went on to create the network that became Ion Media, died at his home in Montana on Jan. 9. He was 80.
Born in Rochester, New York to Maybelle and Donald Paxson, Bud developed an early passion for television, radio and showmanship. He was the star deejay on radio show Kiddie Go Round at 14 years old and post-graduation from Syracuse University, owned his first TV station by his early twenties.
It was as the owner of WWQT-AM in Clearwater, Fla., that Paxson, known to most as Bud, discovered the power of selling products directly to consumer over the airwaves. In 1977, when on of his station’s advertisers could not pay his bill, Paxson accepted 118 avocado green can openers instead of money. Needing to make payroll the next day without the funds to do so, he went on the air and announced he would sell the $30 can openers for $10 each to anyone who could come to the station and pay cash. In three hours he sold them all.
With partner Ray Speer, Paxson took the retailing concept to cable in Florida and built the Home Shopping Club. Sales boomed. It went national as the Home Shopping Network. By 1985, HSN was grossing $1 billion annually. But unhappy with the direction of the company, Paxson walked away to form another media company in 1991.
The new company, Paxson Communications, accumulated radio and TV stations. Paxson sold the radio stations to Clear Channel in 1997 for nearly $700 million, but continued to buy TV stations and they became the backbone of Pax TV, a broadcast network promising family-friendly programming, an alternative to the sex and violence he thought was rife on TV.
The programming philosophy was an outgrowth of his evangelistic Christianity.
With off-network shows like The Father Dowling Mysteries, Highway to Heaven and Eight Is Enough and a smattering of original programming, Pax TV debuted in August 1998.
But the network never drew sufficient viewership to sustain the original programming. In 2005, it rebranded itself as i:independent Television and fell back on more off-network and a heavy schedule of infomercials.
In 2005, Paxson was forced out of the company by NBCUniversal, which had acquired a 32% stake in the company. Paxson Communications became Ion Media and Pax TV became Ion Television.
In addition to his programming and sales accomplishments, Paxson was a driving force behind the landmark must-carry language in the 1992 Cable Act and the 1996 Communications Act, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1997 and transformed television in the modern age to ensure local community voices were not lost. He became the largest owner of broadcast properties in Florida, started the 7th largest broadcast television network in the United States.
NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith said in a statement: “Broadcasters have lost a friend and a legend in the passing of Bud Paxson, who was a tenacious advocate for over-the-air radio and televsion. Bud’s support for program carriage rules as part of the 1992 Cable Act helped sustain diverse voices on the airwaves and allowed free and local broadcasting to remain a competitive force in today’s multichannel world. NAB mourns the loss of a true giant of broadcasting.”
Services will be held at Christ Fellowship Church in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., at 4 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 22.