ATLANTA (AP) — Burt Reinhardt, one of CNN’s first presidents and a television pioneer who is credited with helping to build the global news network in its formative years, died at his home near Atlanta on Tuesday. He was 91.
Reinhardt suffered from a series of strokes before his death in Marietta, Ga., said his daughter, Cheryl Reinhardt.
“Without Burt Reinhardt, it is doubtful that CNN would exist today,” said Tom Johnson, who in 1990 succeeded Reinhardt as the 24-hour network’s chief.
Reinhardt joined CNN in 1979 as the start-up network prepared to launch its new idea, his daughter said. Turner Broadcasting founder Ted Turner named Reinhardt as president in January 1982. During his tenure, he oversaw the beginning of “Larry King Live,” which just ended its run late last year, and much of the network’s expansion.
“Burt’s career in the news business is a long and very distinguished one, and the job he’s done for us has been tremendous,” Turner said when Reinhardt was hired. Turner could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Though many Americans associate Ted Turner with CNN, colleagues at the station say Reinhardt played a crucial role in the network’s success.
“Burt was Ted’s co-pilot and that plane wouldn’t have taken off arguably if Burt hadn’t been there because he gave it the steady hand,” said Frank Sesno, a former CNN anchor, White House correspondent and Washington Bureau Chief.
“Burt built CNN in many ways, he really did,” Sesno said. “He was a powerhouse of determination and discipline.”
Reinhardt stayed with the network until he retired in 2003, his daughter said.
Reinhardt began his journalism career as a World War II combat photographer in the Pacific. He also was managing editor of Fox Movietone News, which is how many people used to get their visual news at movie theaters before TV.
He also spent time as executive vice president of UPI Television News and supervised the establishment of UPI’s global television operations in the 1960s.
At CNN in Atlanta, he exercised strict fiscal discipline when money was tight during the network’s early years, Johnson said.
“He negotiated contracts with talent, purchased engineering equipment with suppliers, and watched the business side so the news side could flourish,” Johnson said.
Former CNN journalist Lou Dobbs said Reinhardt put together his first contract in 1980, and “I just feel privileged to have known him.”
Dobbs is now host of “Lou Dobbs Tonight” on the Fox Business Network.
“What a wonderful guy,” Dobbs said in an interview Tuesday night. “He was a tough, smart executive who always kept his sense of humor.”
Reinhardt was born April 19, 1920, in New York, his daughter said.
He is survived by his wife, Diana Shaw Reinhardt of Marietta; Cheryl Reinhardt of Chapel Hill, N.C., who has been living in Marietta since January; a son, Gary Reinhardt of Provincetown, Mass; and a grandson, Benjamin Reinhardt, 23.
Dressler’s Funeral Service in Atlanta is handling arrangements, and a graveside service is planned for later this week in Union, N.J., Cheryl Reinhardt said.