As an undergraduate and graduate student at the University of Iowa in the 1950s, Frank N. Magid merged his fascination with human behavior with the nascent statistical field of random sampling to lead the development of the new field of survey research. In survey research, a researcher administers a carefully crafted set of questions to a randomly-selected sample of a larger population to obtain a highly accurate view of the entire population’s attitudes and opinions. As one of the first people to use modern survey research methodology for commercial applications, Magid gave birth to a worldwide industry that now helps businesses to better understand their customers’ needs and wishes.
In 1957, while a junior professor of social psychology, anthropology, and statistics, Magid launched Frank N. Magid Associates, selling his first research study to the Merchants National Bank in Cedar Rapids. A year later, he left teaching to devote his full efforts to the fledgling business. He built the company into the world’s largest research-based strategy consulting company focused on media, entertainment, and communications.
Frank Magid is perhaps best known for developing the company’s work in the media industry, particularly in television. It was Magid who, based on the research his company had conducted, recommended that CBS feature Walter Cronkite as a solo anchorman on the CBS Evening News, catapulting Cronkite to a highly visible and successful career. He played a key role in the development of ABC’s Good Morning America, which debuted in 1975, and helped to define the modern network morning show format and style. Magid and his company developed the concept of early morning local newscasts and, along with broadcasting legend Stanley S. Hubbard, identified the viability of direct broadcast satellite television. The company also helped to launch the satellite television industry and conducted the first research determining the viability of digital video recorders such as TiVOs.
Arguably Frank Magid’s most notable imprint on the media landscape was his creation of the “Action News” concept for local newscasts. Prior to “Action News,” local evening news broadcasts generally featured a single news anchor turgidly reading stories while seated in front of a static background. Magid proposed a format that combined “hard” news with non-traditional features including health, consumer advice, and other subjects of particular relevance and interest to viewers. This new format utilized emerging video technologies to provide viewers with a fast-paced, highly visual newscast. The essence of the concept was news that was “everywhere, all the time.” The first such newscast, in 1970 at WPVI in Philadelphia, was an immediate success; WPVI’s newscast, which had been in distant last place, became the dominant newscast in the market, a position that it retains to this day. The format immediately took root across the country and has become ubiquitous in local newscasts in various forms.
Frank Magid retired as CEO of Frank N. Magid Associates in 2002, when he was succeeded by his son Brent. He remained Chairman of the company until his death on February 5, 2010.