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Thomas Murphy, Head of Capital Cities, Dies at 96

Thomas Murphy, chairman emeritus, Save the Children and Capital Cities/ABC attends the 3rd Annual Save the Children Illumination Gala on November 17, 2015 in New York City.
Thomas Murphy at a Save the Children gala in 2015. (Image credit: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Save the Children)

Thomas Murphy, who acquired ABC in 1985 as chairman and chief executive of Capital Cities Communications, has died at 96. Capital Cities acquired the network for $3.5 billion and sold it a decade later for $19 billion.

Murphy began working at an ad agency after college, then managed a radio station and UHF TV station in Albany, New York. He moved up to chief operating officer for the small company, known as Hudson Valley Broadcasting. The station later shifted to a VHF frequency, expanding its reach.

Hudson Valley Broadcasting merged with a station in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, according to the New York Times, to become Capital Cities, the name reflecting Albany and Raleigh being the capitals in their states.

Murphy became chairman and CEO of Capital Cities, and the group had seven stations when it acquired ABC, along with a dozen radio stations and cable and newspaper properties. A key piece of the deal for Capital Cities were ABC’s owned stations.

Daniel Burke was president of Capital Cities, and Warren Buffett came on board as a major investor. 

The Walt Disney Co. acquired ABC from Capital Cities for $19 billion in 1995. At the time, it was the second-largest corporate takeover ever, according to The New York Times.

Murphy died in Rye, New York. ■ 

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.