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Nelson Poynter

Poynter was born in Sullivan, Indiana in 1903. Nine years later, when his father bought the St. Petersburg Times newspaper, his family moved to Florida. After receiving his B.A. from Indiana University and his Master’s degree from Yale in 1927, he worked at various newspapers across the country as a reporter, advertising salesman, editor, and business manager. In 1935 he began buying stock from his father and three years later became general manager of the St. Pete paper, then editor in 1939. Upon his father’s death in 1953, he assumed the position of president and, in 1969, chairman of the board.

In 1940 he purchased St. Petersburg radio station WTSP for $80,000 and moved the station’s studios into the newspaper’s downtown headquarters. During World War II, in addition to his newspaper work, he helped organize the Foreign Information Service, which started the Voice of America, and with his wife, Henrietta, co-founded the Congressional Quarterly.

Poynter always had hopes of owning a TV station and, in case he was awarded the area’s first licensed station (on Channel 38) which was up for grabs in the early 1950’s, he went so far as to buy a transmitter and all the other necessary equipment, and include an area for a TV studio in the Times building. Unfortunately, he lost out to the City of St. Petersburg which owned WSUN radio. A few years later he lobbied the FCC for the license for Tampa’s Channel 8 but it was instead awarded to the company that owned WFLA radio and the rival Tampa Tribune. By the early 1960’s, he was part of a bitter three-way fight for Channel 10, but he lost that one, too, to the Rahall brothers, Sam, Joe, and Ferris, owners of WLCY radio. Ironically, it was the Rahalls who had bought WTSP from him back in 1956.

With a desire to improve journalism and better society, Poynter established the Poynter Fund in 1954 in honor of his father, and committed monies to found and endow the Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions at Indiana University in the 1970’s. He also funded the Poynter Fellowship of Journalism at Yale and provided funding for the Modern Media Institute, now the Poynter Institute, at the St. Petersburg campus of the University of South Florida. When he died in 1978, all of his shares in the Times Publishing Company went to the Institute.

 

Station History

1940 - 1956 Other Tampa Bay Area Stations (Management)

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