Elmer W. Lower

Broadcasting Giant

    Elmer Wilson Lower, an Emmy Award-winning broadcaster who served as president of ABC News from 1963 to 1974, died on Tuesday at a hospice in Vero Beach, Fla. He was 98.
    Mr. Lower’s distinguished career stretched over five decades, as he once said, from Roosevelt through three wars to Reagan. He had a solid reputation as an innovator and organization builder throughout his 25 years as a television executive. He helped steer ABC News from a small, uncompetitive network operating on a slim budget in the early 1960s to a competitive one with a large budget and three times the staff by 1974.
    He was credited at ABC with assembling a world-class news team, including Peter Jennings, Sam Donaldson, Ted Koppel, Howard K. Smith, Edward P. Morgan, Frank Reynolds, John Scali, William Lawrence, and Robert Clark. He also had been the director of operations and special projects for CBS and vice president and general manager of NBC.
    “We are saddened, of course, but he had such a phenomenal life. Sadness soon turned to celebration,” his son Louis G. Lower of Winnetka, Ill., said. Mr. Lower is also survived by another son, John Lower of Tourrettes-sur-Loup, France, and by two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
    Mr. Lower lived on Fieldview Lane in East Hampton for 20 years in a house he bought for summer use that eventually became his year-round residence. His first wife, the former Gilberte Madeleine Stengel of Nancy, France, died in 1981. A second marriage, to Margaret Kessler, ended in separation.
    Elmer W. Lower was born in Kansas City, Mo., in 1913, a son of Elmer X. Lower and the former Eva McConnell. Before entering television broadcasting in its formative years, Mr. Lower had devoted 20 years to print journalism, starting as a courthouse reporter in Louisville, Ky., and earning $10 a week after graduating from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1933. Given the Great Depression, he would later say he had been lucky to get the job.
    He believed, and his achievements helped prove, that “street reporting” was the basis of a solid career in news. In a few years, as photojournalism was creating new challenges and opportunities, Mr. Lower cut his teeth at Acme Newspictures (UPI Photos) and at Associated Press Wirephoto. His early photojournalism career took him to Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, and New York.
    After the liberation of Paris in World War II, Mr. Lower joined Life magazine, serving first as photo editor and bureau chief in Paris, then being assigned to Los Angeles and Bangkok, where he directed the magazine’s photo coverage of the Korean War.
    He had previously served his country during World War II in the Office of War Information, coordinating United States wartime propaganda and building radio photo operations from scratch in Cairo, Algiers, and Naples. He went on to London, serving in the Office of War Information as well as the Psychological Warfare Division, and helping prepare for and provide coverage of the Allied D-Day assaults on the beaches of Normandy.
    In the early 1950s, during the closing years of the occupation of Germany, he was head of the information division of the Office of the U.S. High Commission for West Germany. In 1953, he moved to television and began to shape television news.
    His first post was as head of the two-person CBS Washington news bureau. Moving to New York, he soon was given responsibility for the network’s sports coverage. He led what he called the “marriage of the pigskin and the TV picture tube,” signing the first national contract between a network and the National Football League.
    He also became increasingly involved in the coverage of politics and elections. In 1964, he created tabulation and projection systems for all three major networks, with the networks and wire services agreeing to form a tabulation pool. Toward that end, Mr. Lower was one of the co-founders of News Election Services, along with Fred W. Friendly of CBS and William R. McAndrew of NBC.
    War, assassinations, and domestic violence marked the news beat during Mr. Lower’s 11 years as president of ABC News. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1963) and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon (1974) book-ended his tenure there.
    Over the years, he also led broadcasters to in-depth coverage of the space program and to expand international news. He received a lifetime achievement Emmy Award for “personal standards of ethical and professional excellence” and the Radio and Television News Directors Assication’s highest honor, the Paul White Award.
    After Mr. Lower’s retirement from broadcasting in 1978, he launched another career, becoming a teacher at a dozen college campuses and lecturing on a worldwide circuit over the next 20 years. He returned to his alma mater, becoming dean of the University of Missouri School of Journalism for a year, and also served on the board of directors of the Public Broadcasting Service. He was the recipient of the prestigious Broadcast Journalism Educator of the Year Award in 1999 and many honorary doctorate degrees. 
    A private funeral is to be held in Kansas City, and a memorial service will take place at a future date. Memorial contributions were suggested for the University of Missouri School of Journalism, 120 Neff Hall, Columbia, Mo. 65211-1200.