I’ve been lucky enough to know Ralph Baruch for a long, long time. As his Viacom grew in cable and cable programming, I watched and reported. One of the earliest editions of CableVision had a cover story on the San Francisco system and how it cut up the city’s streets.
He made news.
And accomplished much.
And is justifiably proud of it.
Last October, it was my (unexpected) privilege to introduce Brian Lamb as Brian inducted Ralph into the Cable TV Hall of Fame.
An overdue induction. I was in it already, and felt like an interloper, as I mentally reviewed his life. Lots of others who owed a bit to Ralph were already members, too. John Goddard, Gerry Laybourne, Tom Freston, John Sie and (same class as Ralph) Judy McGrath.
Ralph has lived a slightly more eventful life than many of us. A refugee from Hitler’s Germany and Vichy France, Ralph struggled with a new country (ask him about making shoes sometime) and found his real loves: television and selling. He first saw TV at an exposition at the Eiffel Tower, and eventually became a senior executive at CBS and the second leader of the spun-off Viacom.
Viacom was syndication and cable. Not so exciting? But it was. And Ralph had a hand in a lot that happened to the industry.
He’s got a new book called Television Tightrope: How I Escaped Hitler, Survived CBS and Fathered Viacom. Ralph sent me a copy, with a nice inscription. It’s worth reading. While a bit self-serving (and it fails to mention folks who made a difference in cable, like Doug Dittrick — who will join Ralph in the Hall this year — as well as Chris Derick, Sam Street, Ray Joslin and others), it highlights Ralph’s many contributions.
Such as helping in ’84 with that Cable Act and warning about excesses tainting cable (can you say ’92 Cable Act?), founding the CableACE Awards, heading the NCTA’s Pay TV Committee. And much, much more.
Like being the second guy to back Brian Lamb’s dream of C-SPAN. Like tirelessly jumping in to make the very first Walter Kaitz Foundation dinner a big success…at the behest of Ray Joslin, Spencer Kaitz and me.
A solid businessman, Ralph behaved with great grace and, as he put it, "European manners" — or, as others might say, old-fashioned stubbornness.
That’s why, as readers will note, it is enlightening to read about his protégé Terrence Elkes, and the shock of betrayal as Terry led the leveraged buyout attempt — pointedly leaving Ralph out — that resulted in Sumner Redstone’s victory and ultimate irony: Viacom’s purchase of CBS.
One hell of a life. One accomplishment after another (thanks often to Jean). One significant contribution after another to the cable business.