Off the Shelf: Biography of the Late Frank Batten

September 28, 2011

Connie Sage, "Frank Batten: The Untold Story of the Founder of the Weather Channel." University of Virginia Press.
http://www.upress.virginia.edu/books/sage.HTM

September 28, 2011 — Frank Batten Sr., the media pioneer who was one of the University of Virginia's most generous benefactors, created the Weather Channel in 1982, despite the reactions of business colleagues. They joked that around-the-clock weather broadcasts would be as exciting as watching paint dry.

The network, and later its companion website, Weather.com, became the largest private weather company in the world and an American cultural icon.

Connie Sage, a former longtime reporter and editor at the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot who also was on the corporate staff of Batten's Landmark Communications, has written the authorized biography of the man whose name many people might not recognize, yet who helped change the face of the media in the 20th century. 

Batten, who lived from 1927 to 2009, came into leadership at a time when American corporate greed was making headlines; without fanfare and limelight, he built a media empire centered on honesty, integrity and ethics. A 1950 graduate of U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences, he held an abiding belief that access to education is the key to an individual's future as well as to the health and well-being of one's community. He created two billion-dollar businesses and gave away more than $400 million to charity, including $100 million in 2007 to establish the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy on Grounds. It was the largest gift in the history of the University.

Starting out in his uncle's newspaper business in Norfolk as a reporter and advertising salesman, Batten assumed leadership of the Virginian-Pilot and Ledger-Star at age 27 and grew Landmark Communications into a media powerhouse. His flagship newspaper, the Pilot, was the only daily paper in Virginia to back court-ordered school desegregation. As chairman of the Associated Press from 1982 to 1987, he helped guide the news agency back to a sound financial footing.

Batten also faced a tremendous personal challenge that would have sidelined many: He lost his vocal cords to cancer at the age of 52 – two years before starting the Weather Channel – and had to learn to speak again.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine nominated Batten for the Distinguished Service to State Government Award, which he received from the National Governors Association in 2007.

John O. Wynne, former rector of the University, was president and CEO of Landmark Communications during Batten's chairmanship. "Frank Batten was the most incredible person I have ever had the privilege to know," he said.

"His care for the well-being of others went well beyond his family and his employees. Frank was a citizen of the world who saw problems and sought to solve them," he said.

— By Anne Bromley

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications