He's been called the ``mouth of the South,'' known for saying any wild thought that pops into his head. But today people are taking Ted Turner's words -- and actions -- quite seriously. The chairman and president of Turner Broadcasting Systems Inc. is attempting to break into the heretofore restricted ``club'' that is three-network television. But now instead of issuing his familiar cry for a ``fourth network,'' Mr. Turner has changed his strategy and wants to take over control of the nation's No. 1 network, CBS.
Born in Cincinnati and educated at Brown University, R. E. Turner, head of the corporation which owns the Cable News Network, the far-reaching station WTBS, and the Atlanta Braves baseball team, has been described as ``seeing himself as part Edward R. Murrow and part Walt Disney.''
Others have described him as ``a true visionary and a great salesman.'' Almost everybody in the broadcasting business agrees, however, that he is a pioneer in the great tradition of quixotic American entrepreneurial heroes like Henry Ford.
For many years, despite his business activities (he took over his deceased father's Atlanta billboard-advertising business and built it into a media empire), he was best known for his yachting exploits: in 1977 he won the America's Cup.
In recent years, Turner has had a running feud with the denizens of network broadcasting for many years, accusing them of being ``responsible for polluting the minds of the people.''
``If the networks were run by our worst enemies, they couldn't have done a better job of tearing us down,'' he said, telling Broadcasting magazine that he believes his Cable News Network ``does a much better job of serving the public -- better than ABC, CBS, and NBC.''
``There's too much sex and violence and sleaze,'' he has said, ``and not enough shows with positive family values.'' While many TV viewers agree with much of that criticism, it is the far-right conservatives who seem to be adopting him as their standard-bearer.
``I'm the only guy I know of in the television industry that's talking about quality and decency instead of profits and ratings,'' he was quoted as saying before his mouth was sealed the other day on instructions from his new New York City financial ``information agent,'' D. F. King & Co.
Turner seems to be taking that advice to restrain his comments during the delicate CBS-takeover negotiations. But nobody expects ``the mouth of the South'' to remain quiet for very long.