PASSINGS: James C. Dowdle

 PASSINGS: James C. Dowdle
James C. Dowdle, former Tribune Co. executive

James C. Dowdle

Executive helped expand Tribune's TV, Internet operations


James C. Dowdle, 79, an executive who played a key role in the transformation of Tribune Co. into a major media conglomerate, died Monday of congestive heart failure at his home in Wilmette, Ill., his family said.

When Dowdle joined the company in 1981, Tribune was focused, as it had been for more than a century, on its newspaper holdings, particularly its flagship Chicago Tribune.

By the time Dowdle retired nearly 19 years later as the company's second-ranking executive, Tribune owned 18 television stations, reached more than 75% of U.S. households, held a minority share in the WB network and was also aggressively involved in nearly every aspect of the information industry, including cable television, the Internet and new media. The Times is part of Tribune's newspaper group.

The son of a building contractor, Dowdle was born March 12, 1934, and raised with his sister and three brothers in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood. At the University of Notre Dame, he played varsity basketball and graduated in 1956 with an accounting degree.

In 1956, Dowdle married a South Shore neighbor, Sally Sayers. The same year, Dowdle got his first job, as a classified advertising salesman for the Chicago Tribune, and entered the Marines.

After leaving the Marines in 1959, Dowdle launched a nearly four-decade career in broadcasting with a job selling commercial time on TV for clients of Edward Petry & Co. in Chicago.

He went on to sales positions for TV stations in Oklahoma City and Minneapolis-St. Paul before Hubbard Broadcasting Co. sent him to WTOG-TV in Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., where he was vice president and general manager for eight years.

Hired away by Tribune Co. in 1981, Dowdle was given the task of consolidating and developing the company's three television and six radio stations as Tribune Co. Broadcasting.

Another way Dowdle placed his stamp on Tribune Co. was through the company's June 1981 purchase of the Chicago Cubs. The next year Dowdle hired announcer Harry Caray away from the Chicago White Sox to give an entirely different look and feel to broadcasts of Cubs games on WGN's cable TV and radio network.

In July 1991, Dowdle was named executive vice president of Tribune Co. He retired from the company at the end of 1999.

From staff reports