Ralph M. Baruch, who escaped Nazi Europe in his teens and later became a powerful television executive, building the onetime CBS subsidiary of Viacom into a broadcasting giant in the 1970s and 1980s, and who influenced legislation that deregulated the cable industry, died March 3 at his home in New York City. He was 92.
The death was announced by his family. The cause was not disclosed.
Mr. Baruch became fascinated with the possibilities of television after watching a wrestling match on a screen in a Manhattan storefront in 1950. He soon began selling advertising for the old DuMont network before moving to CBS in 1954.
He eventually was put in charge of international distribution at CBS before being named chief executive of Viacom, a newly created cable-TV entity, in 1971. At the time, Viacom was little more than an afterthought, a company spun off from CBS because of a Federal Communications Commission ruling that broadcast networks could not own cable or syndication businesses.
At Viacom, Mr. Baruch began to acquire radio and television stations and turned the company toward original programming, launching Showtime and the Cable Health Network (now Lifetime Television).
As cable began to catch on across the country, Viacom continued to grow into one of the industry’s most powerful conglomerates. In 1985, it acquired a branch of Warner Communications, bringing MTV, Nickelodeon, the Movie Channel and VH1 under the Viacom umbrella.
As chairman of a committee of the National Cable Television Association, Mr. Baruch had a major role in lobbying Congress to pass the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984. The bill deregulated the cable industry, leading to spectacular growth. He was also among the cable executives who helped establish C-SPAN as a public service in the late 1970s.
Mr. Baruch left Viacom in 1987, when Sumner M. Redstone engineered a $3.4 billion deal to purchase the company and name himself chairman.
Rudolph Maximilian Baruch was born Aug. 5, 1923, in Frankfurt, Germany. His father was a lawyer.
In a 2007 memoir, Mr. Baruch recounted the struggles of his Jewish family under the Nazi regime in Germany. His father was jailed after striking a judge who laughed at anti-Semitic slurs in court.
In 1933, the family settled in Paris, where Mr. Baruch’s father participated in underground spy operations and was threatened with arrest. The family then set out on foot for southern France. At 17, Mr. Baruch carried his grandmother to safety across the Pyrenees Mountains, eventually arriving in Portugal.
“When you run away from Paris in a pushcart with your grandmother, fleeing the Nazis and Hitler,” Mr Baruch wrote, “you learn to never give up.”
He arrived in New York in late 1940, changed his name to Ralph and found work in a shoe factory and as a movie usher. He later became a sound engineer at a broadcast studio.
His first wife, Elizabeth “Lilo” Bachrach, a fellow refugee from Frankfurt, died in 1959.
Survivors include his wife of 52 years, the former Jean Ursell de Mountford of New York; four daughters from his first marriage; and three grandchildren.
After Redstone bought Viacom, Mr. Baruch worked as a consultant and served on many industry boards and commissions. He was a member of the executive committee of New York’s Carnegie Hall and served as chairman of the U.S. Information Agency’s television communications board of advisers.
During the 1950s and 1960s, when Mr. Baruch worked at CBS, its programming standards earned it the title of the “Tiffany Network.” Later, in the anything-goes world of cable, Mr. Baruch wrote in his memoir, he learned that the secret to success in television was “never underestimating the public’s bad taste.”
An earlier version of this story implied that a former Viacom executive was part of Sumner Redstone’s takeover bid in 1987. They were part of separate efforts to take control of the company.
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