Lowell W. Paxson, a broadcasting mogul who was a co-founder of the Home Shopping Network, a TV paradise for bargain hunters, and who later launched a family-friendly television network, died Jan. 9 at his home in Lakeside, Mont. He was 79.
His death was announced by the National Association of Broadcasters, but no other details were disclosed.
Mr. Paxson, who was known as Bud, was a restless entrepreneur who bought his first radio station when he was 21. He had more than 30 business ventures of varying success before coming up with the idea for the Home Shopping Network in the 1980s.
In the late 1970s, Mr. Paxson was the struggling owner of a radio station in Clearwater, Fla., when one of his advertising sponsors couldn’t pay his bill.
“I had an advertiser owe me $1,000,” Mr. Paxson told an Indiana business magazine in 2005. “He couldn’t pay, so he told me, ‘I’ll give you 112 Rival electric can openers.’ I had a van at the time, so I put them in the van, marked his bill paid and took them back to the station. The next morning, we had a talk show on, and I thought, ‘Well, I wonder if anybody would want to buy one of these?’ ”
Listeners flocked to the station, eagerly paying $10 apiece for the can openers. The entire stock was gone in three hours.
Mr. Paxson concluded that there was a market for selling items directly over the airwaves without the guise of commercials. He and a business partner, Roy Speer, founded the Florida-based Home Shopping Club, later renamed the Home Shopping Network, in 1982.
The network’s 24-hour marketing of low-cost items proved to be an irresistible TV formula. Hosts such as “Budget” Bob Circosta and “Bubblin’ ” Bobbi Ray developed large followings, and the network’s toll-free lines were jammed with calls.
Sales hit $1 billion by 1990, and other shopping and infomercial networks, such as QVC, followed HSN’s lead. Mr. Paxson cashed out his shares in the company in 1991, walking away with more than $70 million.
In 1986, after his second wife left him, Mr. Paxson found himself in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve and had an epiphany. He stayed up all night reading a Gideon Bible in his hotel room and by morning had experienced what he called a spiritual rebirth.
He began to combine his newfound faith with an equally energetic form of capitalism. He bought dozens of radio and television stations and in 1992 founded the Christian Network, now called the Worship Network, to produce religious programming.
In 1997, Mr. Paxson sold his chain of 46 radio stations and other properties to Clear Channel for $693 million. He used the money to finance his expanding television empire, which grew to as many as 78 stations nationwide, making him the owner of more TV outlets than anyone else in the country.
On the wall of each of his stations, Mr. Paxson had a plaque with the following slogan: “You are not here just to make a living. You are here as part of a team to show that a Christian approach to business can succeed in a secular world.”
He sought to fill what he considered an underserved market by launching a new television network, Pax TV, focused on family fare and uplifting values.
“Our promise is no gratuitous sex, no violence, no obscene language,” Mr. Paxson told The Washington Post in 1998, when the network debuted. One of its slogans was “Parental Discretion Unnecessary.”
Pax TV carried infomercials and shows such as “Touched by an Angel,” “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and a remake of “Flipper,” but the network failed to catch on the way Mr. Paxson had envisioned. The company ended up burdened with debt, and the stock price fell to less than 40 cents a share.
After a series of legal battles, Mr. Paxson sold his interests to NBC in 2005. His various enterprises, including Pax TV, are now under the umbrella of Ion Media Networks.
Lowell White Paxson was born April 17, 1935, in Rochester, N.Y. His father was a machinist for Eastman Kodak.
Mr. Paxson began working in radio at 14, playing records on a teen show in his home town. He graduated from New York’s Syracuse University in 1956, the same year he bought his first station, and worked at different times as a radio announcer, station manager and owner.
He had an unsentimental view of broadcasting, saying, “It’s no different than a fast-food operation.”
He was a notable contributor to Republican political campaigns and in 2004 held a fundraiser for George W. Bush that raised more than $1 million. He was close to Arizona Sen. John McCain (R), who sometimes used Mr. Paxson’s corporate jet for campaigning.
McCain, who chaired the Senate Commerce Committee, encountered some backlash after it was revealed that he wrote letters to the Federal Communications Commission, urging it to act promptly on Mr. Paxson’s bid to purchase a TV station in Pittsburgh.
In the early 1990s, Mr. Paxson bought a historic mansion on Millionaire’s Row in Palm Beach, Fla., for $12 million. He also bought an $8 million house in Beverly Hills and had another home in Montana. He drove a white Rolls-Royce and a black Bentley and toured the Mediterranean on his oceangoing yacht.
He often said his favorite biblical passage was that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.
His first two marriages, to Jean Blauvelt and Barbara Chapman, ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 25 years, Marla Bright; three children from his first marriage; a stepdaughter from his third marriage; and six grandchildren.
Mr. Paxson was a champion of wholesome, morally upright television, but there was one kind of programming he never ran on his stations: televangelism.
“Christian television stinks,” he said. “If it were any good, it would get ratings.”