With all of her work as First Lady on highway beautification and the environment, not to mention her husband’s political career, it’s easy to forget that Lady Bird Johnson was the instigator of the family business of broadcasting.
From the New York Times obituary
posted shortly after she died today:
“She also became a successful businesswoman in those years, using the final $21,000 of her $67,000 inheritance in 1942 to buy KTBC, a small radio station in Austin.
“Although the station was bought in Mrs. Johnson’s name, her husband’s political influence, even though limited at the time, helped in acquiring the license from the Federal Communications Commission. Johnson became the commission’s champion at a time when Congress was about to cut its budget. Mrs. Johnson’s application was speedily approved.
“Within 20 years, the station and the affiliates bought with its profits became a multimillion-dollar radio and television enterprise. At one time, the Johnson interests included KTBC Television, which was sold to Times Mirror in 1973; Austin cable interests, which were sold to Time Warner Cable, and Karnack Cable System, cable interests outside Austin, which were sold to Tele-Communications Inc.”
Jack Valenti, who died earlier this year, wrote affectionately about Lady Bird in his memoir, “This Time, This Place”:
“Her political judgments were sound. She had definite opinions, and she expressed them lucidly, with a gentleness that took the edge off those moments when what she said was at variance with the opinions of everyone else in the room. From every encounter, she retrieved all the thorns. When it came to crunch time, LBJ valued her opinion more than those of his counselors, because he knew that, alone among his entourage, she delivered her views without any agenda of her own.”
According the Valenti, documentary filmmaker Charles Guggenheim had been making a movie with Lady Bird at the LBJ Library in Austin, walking through a park named in her honor, when “a young fellow in his mid-twenties, who was not yet born when LBJ was president, braked his bicycle to a stop and said, ‘Aren’t you Mrs. Johnson?’ She nodded pleasantly. He broke into a wide smile. ‘OK, thank you Mrs. Johnson, for this wonderful park. My friends and I are grateful to you every day.’ Then he smiled wider, got back on his bike, and pedaled off.”
Lady Bird Johnson was also the first First Lady to got on the trail solo to campaign alone for her spouse.