John Kluge, who rose from modest means to become the richest man in America through the building and selling of a broadcast empire, has died at the age of 95, a few days short of his 96th birthday.
The one-time owner of Metromedia died at his home near Charlottesville, Va.
According to accounts by the Washington Post and Associated Press, Kluge (pronounced “KLOO-gee”) began building his TV and radio broadcasting empire after he left the army in 1946 with the purchase of a radio station, WGAY in Silver Spring, Md. The eventual basis of his holdings was the remains of the old DuMont TV network. Kluge never owned a large number of stations but what he owned was concentrated in major cities.
He sold the core TV stations to Rupert Murdoch in 1985 and that become the root of the Fox television network. According to sources Kluge felt that the television industry was about to become more competitive and he didn’t have the resources nor inclination to build a fourth television network.
Kluge was considered the richest man in America by Forbes magazine in 1989, 1990 and 1991; the sales of his TV and radio properties, along with a well-timed entrance into and exit from the cell phone business, were the basis of that wealth. At times Kluge also owned the Harlem Globetrotters, the Ice Capades, Playbill magazine and the Ponderosa, Bonanza and Steak and Ale restaurant chains. He also had a majority share of Orion Pictures.
Kluge was a philanthropist, leaving a large holding of land and an estate to the University of Virginia. Past gifts have included hundreds of millions of dollars to Columbia University, $60 million to the Library of Congress, numerous scholarship programs at all levels of education and even a white tiger to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
Kluge was born in Chemnitz, Germany in 1921. His family moved to the United States in 1922 and lived in the Detroit area.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications has an essay on Kluge’s role in the development of modern broadcasting, particularly television.