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Ancil Payne: King Broadcasting's Charismatic Manager

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  • Started 3 years ago by Craig_Adams

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  1. Craig_Adams
    Radio historian

    Today on September 5, 1921 Ancil H. Payne was born in Mitchell, Oregon to Pearl Ada (Brown) & Leslie L. Payne. Ancil had two brothers Gleeson Leslie & Terril J. By 1938 the Payne family was living at: 210 West 15th St. in The Dalles. In Spring 1939 he graduated from The Dalles High School where he was Student Body President. In Fall 1939 Ancil began attending Willamette University for two years on an academic scholarship, before transferring to the University of Oregon.

    In Fall 1941 World War II interrupted his education when he joined the U.S. Navy. Ancil served three and a half years in the South Pacific theater, aboard an old destroyer and an attack transport, rising to lieutenant. The war, especially the bloody invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, invigorated him and other altruistic-minded buddies and veterans to look for a better way.

    By October 1946 Payne was earning a degree at the Univ. of Washington in Seattle and became Director of Public Affairs of Eagleson Hall. Ancil graduated in Spring 1947. On July 10, 1947 Ancil, now living in Aloha, Oregon, was named Regional Director of "American's for Democratic Action" in Oregon & Washington, with headquarters in Portland. On July 6, 1950 Ancil's brother Terril J. Payne died at age 26 in Tillamook.

    By October 1951 Payne was Executive Assistant to Congressman, Hugh Mitchell of Seattle, directing the congressman's office in Washington, D.C. for four years. In 1954 Ancil moved to Alaska to help launch a "Martin Van Lines" container program in Anchorage. Payne spent three years in Alaska and became Chairmen of the Alaska Statehood Committee.

    By October 1957 Ancil was back living in Portland as Secretary of the Pacific Northern Lumber Co. By November 1958 Payne was living at the "Ione Plaza" apartments at 1717 S.W. Park Ave. By April 1959 Payne was Secretary-Treasurer of Western Land Development Co. in Portland.

    On April 6, 1959 Ancil H. Payne married Valerie Dorrance Davies of Washington, D.C., in Portland "after an eight-year romance." On July 12, 1959 Ancil appeared on the KGW-TV program "Viewpoint" at 3:30pm on how Oregon voters may name a U.S. President in 1960 (Senator, John F. Kennedy).

    In 1960 Ancil's friend from his Seattle days, Stimson Bullitt, asked him for some help on a book he was writing. Payne subsequently was introduced to Bullitt’s mother, Dorothy S. Bullitt, Board Chairman of King Broadcasting Co. She offered him a job as Assistant to Vice-President, Henry B. Owen of the Business Division. “He didn't have a lick of broadcast experience when he was hired by executives at King. He would eventually turn an eclectic hodgepodge of businesses into a $400 million broadcasting and cable empire.”

    Also in 1960 Ancil & Valerie welcomed first daughter Anne Payne. In 1962 Ancil & Valerie welcomed second daughter Alison Payne. In early August 1963 Ancil Payne was elected Vice-President of King's Business Division, succeeding Henry B.Owen, who continued as King Exec. V.P. and board member, Chairman of administrative committee of profit sharing trust and in charge of personnel.

    On May 21, 1965 Stimson Bullitt, President of King Broadcasting Co. appointed Ancil Payne KGW Radio & TV Vice-President & General Manager (as well as KINK in 1968.). Payne directed the fledgling TV station into an aggressive style of journalism, campaigning for causes such as employment of African Americans and preservation of public beaches.

    On March 26, 1966 it was announced Gov. Mark Hatfield had pointed Ancil Payne as a board member of the State Board of Higher Education. (Senate confirmed 1-18-67). Also in 1966 Ancil & Valerie welcomed their third daughter Lucinda C. Payne.

    On January 6, 1967 Ancil Payne presented an editorial on KGW-TV that said in part "We do not agree with the administration's continuing actions in Vietnam, therefore, we feel compelled to advance our contrary views on the matter." Payne then presented a "critical evaluation" of this Country's Vietnam policy. Ancil's editorial had followed Stimson Bullitt's original statement, broadcast on all King TV stations December 23, 1966 asserting: "The intensity of our military action should be stepped down and we should stop bombing North Vietnam." This had been the first editorial opposition to the war in Vietnam on American Television.

    Ancil said KGW-TV would air an increasing number of editorials of controversial nature. "We expect we'll receive a lot of criticism. It's the price you must pay for controversy." On February 6, 1967 Ancil began answering questions from viewers on KGW-TV's "Telescope" program. On July 21, 1969 Stimson Bullitt gave Ancil Payne an additional title. Vice-President of Broadcasting for King Broadcasting Co. Ancil would supervise the G.M.'s at KING-TV Seattle & KREM-TV Spokane, from Portland.

    On June 11, 1970 Forest Amsden was appointed KGW AM/TV & KINK General Manager. Stimson Bullitt had asked Ancil to return to Seattle, to take over day-to-day management, where Payne would become Executive Vice-President and Chief Executive Officer of King Broadcasting Co. Ancil agreed, with some reluctance.

    On December 15, 1971 Ancil H. Payne was elected King Broadcasting President & Chief Operating Officer to solve a major problem: "There had been a downturn in advertising. Television had not been as productive, the Bullitt family was nervous." Payne "saved the company" finding a balance of good journalism and good business, nationally recognized for its bold approach. Under Payne, the King Broadcasting Co. became profitable and a prize-winning media empire.

    On May 5, 1972 Ancil was elected Vice-Chairman of the NBC affiliates board. In 1975, Payne was appointed Chairman. NBC had been running a comfortable second to CBS, but had been overtaken in prime time by ABC, with its hipper, youth-oriented lineup. “Ancil and a couple of previous Chairmen held the affiliate body together,” Eric Bremner said, encouraging them to stick with NBC. “Ancil literally saved NBC from disintegration,” Bremner said. Former NBC board Chairman Grant Tinker said, “When times were bleakest, Ancil stood tallest.” Ancil served as affiliate Chairman to 1979 but continued on NBC's affiliate board past his retirement with King Broadcasting.

    On November 8, 1984 the University of Oregon gave Ancil Payne its Pioneer Award in recognition of his career and community involvement.

    On June 30, 1987 Ancil H. Payne retired as King Broadcasting Co. President. Payne continued as a member of the King board until the company was sold to Providence Journal. "When you're the head of a company, there's nothing you can take credit for individually,'' Payne said. "But there are things I take a lot of pleasure in, looking back. We were employing minority members and putting them on the air before the FCC could even spell the word "minority."

    In 1999 the University of Oregon School of Journalism & Communication established an endowment, the Payne Awards for Ethics in Journalism, honoring journalists who defy economic and political pressure with their work. In addition a scholarship was introduced at Willamette University, and scholarships at The Dalles High School.

    On October 2, 2004 Ancil H. Payne died at age 83 in Seattle of cancer. "He helped people find their way, their deep rudder. He showed them how to think about controversial current issues," KING anchor Jean Enersen said. "I wish he had run for Congress. He would have been an asset to the country," said Stimson Bullitt. "I'll never know how he managed the Bullitt family, but I think he was the only one who ever did," said Charley Royer. Good-looking and charismatic, with a bawdy storytelling style and a laugh that could rattle windows, Payne was "one of the most delightful people you'd ever meet on a sidewalk," said O. Casey Corr.

    Special Thanks to Joel Miller who helped make this Radio/Television biography more complete.

    References: Broadcasting Magazine, Fairbanks Daily News, Historylink.org, The Oregonian, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Times.

    Posted on September 4, 2014 - 11:03 PM #