Old Ned

Arizona Historymakers™

Arizona Historical Society

Del Lewis

1925 -

Honored as Historymaker 1997

Communication Leader

Oral History Transcript:

Delbert Lewis and Jewell Lewis are consummate partners in their multi-media business, as well as in their married life. They met in Florence, Arizona when Del was eleven years old and Jewell McFarland was seven years old. The Lewis family later moved to Phoenix. In 1940, Jewell’s father, Ernest McFarland, who was an Arizona Superior Court Judge and a cotton farmer, was elected to the U.S. Senate. In 1944, Del joined the Navy and was sent to the Pacific during World War II.

Upon his return to Arizona, Del and Jewell met again just prior to enrolling at the University of Arizona. They dated through college and were married, in 1951, in Washington, D.C. Jewell met her father’s request of completing her master’s degree in elementary education at Georgetown University before she married. During this time, Del worked as a civil engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers in Virginia.

Jewell and Del Lewis were soon given the opportunity to move back to Arizona and assume responsibility for the McFarland family cotton farm in Florence. Del managed the farm operations and Jewell taught. While raising their growing family, Jewell set up remedial reading programs in Florence and Coolidge and earned her doctorate degree in education from Arizona State University.

In 1952, when Senator McFarland was defeated by Barry Goldwater, he returned to Arizona and, with a desire to continue to serve the community, was elected Governor of Arizona in 1954. Meanwhile, Ernest McFarland saw an opportunity to pioneer a new business - television stations. In 1955, with a group of three friends, Del and Jewell Lewis received the permit for Arizona Television Company, KTVK-TV, which is now MAC America Communications, Inc.

Jewell and Del Lewis became partners in the company and, many years later, took over the station management with Jewell Lewis as chairman of the board and Del Lewis as president, CEO and general manager. The early years were lean but, with family spirit, persistence, and hard work, Channel 3 and ABC finally shot to the top of network ratings in 1976. It therefore came as a shock in 1995 when ABC was forced to pull the network from Channel 3 due to a series of acquisition repercussions.

Despite this obstacle, the Lewis family remained steadfast and rebuilt as an independent station. Today, KTVK 3-TV is one of the top independent television stations in the country, and it is the only independent station that competes with network-affiliate stations in the news business. It is number one or number two in its news time period and it has the number one morning show in the Phoenix market. Over the years, their media empire has acquired KESZ-FM radio, KOAZ-FM radio, Desert Video Production Center, Phoenix magazine and a local marketing agreement with KSAW Channel 61.

The Lewis’s have also generously contributed time as well as funding to a number of local organizations. The Orpheum Theater restoration is one example. Del and Jewell Lewis have received numerous honors from the community, many bestowed upon them as a couple.