(Oct. 5, 1900-Oct. 7, 1987). Born in Kharpoot, Armenia, where his father was a businessman, Tarzian moved to the United States with his family in 1907. He grew up in Philadelphia and received B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1924 and 1927, respectively. After working as chief product engineer for the Atwater-Kent Manufacturing Company from 1924 to 1936, he served the next four years as the chief engineer for RCA-Victor in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and spent his summers as a radio consultant to Centrum Radio in Sweden.

An ad with individual photos of Sarkes and Mary. The ad also features an illustration of Indiana with circles showing the W T T V service area.
Sarkes Tarzian and his wife Mary, promoting Sarkes’ media outlets, 1955. Credit: Pamphlet Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library View Source

In 1940, RCA assigned Tarzian to be chief engineer in organizing a radio receiving manufacturing operation in Bloomington, Indiana. He also managed the production of the RCA proximity fuze, a radio-controlled detonation device used during World War II.

In 1944, Tarzian and his wife Mary formed Sarkes Tarzian, Inc. in Bloomington. Beginning with four employees, the company manufactured television tuners and selenium rectifiers and eventually employed 2,000 people. In the mid-1970s, Tarzian moved his manufacturing operations to Mexico and Taiwan, and, by 1980, he had sold those concerns.

Tarzian also diversified into broadcasting and publishing. His initial television holding was wttv Channel 4, which first aired from studios in Bloomington on November 11, 1949. The station later moved its tower, boosted its signal to cover Indianapolis, and built studios on the south side of Marion County.

He sold the station in 1978 to Teleco of Indiana, Inc., a group of Detroit investors, for $26 million, which was reputed to be the highest price paid to that time for an independent television station. It was the last of the four original stations in Indianapolis to bow to new ownership.

Tarzian also owned, at one time or another, WATI-AM (Indianapolis), WTTS-FM and WGTC-AM (Bloomington), WAJI-FM (Fort Wayne), KTVN-TV (Reno, Nevada), and WRCB-TV (Chattanooga, Tennessee). He founded the Bloomington Tribune in 1966, which merged with the Bloomington Star-Courier in 1968, and continued as its publisher until April 1972. He also published the in Greencastle from 1968 through 1980.

Tarzian served on the board of the University of Pennsylvania and created the Tarzian professorship of Armenian history and culture.

Revised March 2021

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