This week, In Black America producer and host John L. Hanson, Jr. discusses the introduction of the new Black News Channel with Gary Wordlaw, Vice President of News and Programming. Also featured is former Congressman J.C. Watts, co-founder and Chairman of the Black News Channel.
Announcer [00:00:15] From the University of Texas at Austin, KUT Radio, this is In Black America.
J.C. Watts [00:00:23] It’s an African-American news channel that is culturally specific to the African-American community. And it is for African-Americans by African-Americans and about African-Americans. And I think people in my life experiences of living for 61 years, I think over the last, you know, for for much of my time in public service, you’ve gotten one view or one perspective or one picture of the African-American community. And it’s so much more in the Black community than crime. There’s obviously politics as economics as well in this space. There’s culture. There’s a whole host of things that that that exist in the Black community. And we want to be the venue, the network that tells those stories.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:01:12] J.C. Watts, co-founder and chairman of the Black News Channel, scheduled to launch in January of 2020. The Black news channel will be the nation’s only provider of 24/7 cable news programing dedicated to covering the perspective of African-American communities. According to Watts, the BNC will provide access to information and educational programing to meet the needs of this growing and dynamic community that is the major consumer of subscription television services. BNC will provide an authentic new voice that represents African-Americans and mainstream media and fosters political, economic and social discourse. The network will be one voice representing the many voices of African-Americans. Also, the channel will illuminate truth about the unique challenges facing urban communities and help close the image gap. I’m John L. Hanson Jr., and welcome to another edition of In Black America. On this week’s program, the Black News Channel with J.C. Watts, co-founder and chairman, and Gary Wardlaw, vice president of News and Programing, the Black News Channel. In Black America.
Gary Wardlaw [00:02:24] Well, when you start your broadcast, they are watching our broadcast day. We’re going to start off with a three hour block of news from 6 a.m. until 9 a.m.. We’re then going to have a program live out of Washington, D.C. that focuses on the politics of the day as seen through the eyes of the Congressional Black Caucus. When that show is over, we go into another live broadcast. and from Tallahassee, our studio with two young female anchors. And that show is going to be called Being a Woman. And it’s going to highlight issues of the day as it relates to young girls up to the age of women, 30. They’re going to talk about issues that are important to them in the afternoon. And then we go into a series of programs that we call the BNC Presents. Those programs will feature documentaries on Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Beyonce, Rihanna, Lil Wayne, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, if it’s a pop culture person. We have a show that’s going to spotlight that as well as Morgan Freeman’s look at the Chitlin Circuit blues. But we kind of have a little bit of everything for everybody in that program.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:03:25] Gary Wardlaw, vice president of News and Programing, the Black News Channel. On January 25th, 1980, Black Entertainment Television made his debut. At the time, it will become the most prominent television network targeting the African-American community. We now have the African Channel, Bounce TV, Aspire TV, Cleo TV, Own and TV-1, just to name a few. On January 6th, 2020, the Black news channel will begin providing all things African-American put together by a group of entrepreneurs led by former Congressman J.C. Watts. The Black news channel will be the nation’s only 24/7 provider of cable news programing dedicated to covering a unique perspective of African-American communities. BNC will provide an authentic new voice that represents African-Americans in mainstream media and foster political, economic and social discourse. The new channel promises to inform, educate and empower nearly 50 million African-Americans now living in this country. Recently In Black America spoke with Gary Wardlaw regarding the network.
Gary Wardlaw [00:04:36] I was born in Tennessee, a little town called South Pittsburg, which is near. Well, not a whole lot, but I grew up in Chattanooga, went to school there. I started my career in broadcast there at age 16. Some 50 years later, I find myself at the Black News Channel. My journey has taken me from Tennessee to the West Coast back to the East Coast, New York, Washington, D.C., Seattle. I’ve kind of been all over the place, but I’m very happy to be in Tallahassee ready to help launch this Black News Channel.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:05:09] What sparked that initial interest in journalism and communications?
Gary Wardlaw [00:05:13] When I was a kid working at a restaurant, I used to argue with some of the customers about everything from religion to politics. A man that would come in often was the chief petty officer in the Navy. And he said to me one day, listen kid you got a lot of mouth. You ought to be on television. And of course, I laughed because there were no Blacks on television in my hometown. But he said, I want you to go up there and talk to the station manager. I know him. Tell him I sent you, I think he’ll give you a job. Well, he was true to his word. I went to the station. They gave me a job. I started working in the studio, and a year and a half later, I was on the air and I’d been on the air for some 40 years.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:05:51] Remember that first job?
Gary Wardlaw [00:05:53] I do. I was there. It was the TV, television Chattanooga, and my title was Floor Manager. What that meant was I had to manage to clean that floor every night. But it was an auspicious start. But nonetheless, it spawned a career.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:06:09] Having been in the industry for such a long time, what differences and innovations have you seen thus far that has made what you do more efficient and better?
Gary Wardlaw [00:06:22] When I first started working in television, we shot black, black and white, reverse negative film. They don’t even make such a thing, I don’t think anymore. So we’ve gone from the old film camera days to film processors. Now everybody who has a camera is a journalist. And so the innovations have been just absolutely phenomenal.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:06:43] Now, I understand you are now the vice president of news and programing for the Black News Channel. Give us a thumbnail because we’re going to go through some of the things that you are anticipating on doing with what to channel, what the channel will look like.
Gary Wardlaw [00:07:00] Well, when you start your broadcast da or, watching our broadcast day. We’re going to start off with a three hour block of news from 6 a.m. until 9 a.m.. We’re then going to have a program live out of Washington, D.C. that focuses on the politics of the day as seen through the eyes of the congressional Black news, the Congressional Black Caucus, rather. When this show is over, we go into another live broadcast in from Tallahassee, our studio with two young female anchors. And that show is going to be called Being a Woman. And it’s going to highlight issues of the day as it relates to young girls up to the age of women, 30. They’re going to talk about issues that are important to them in the afternoon. And then we go into a series of programs that we call the ABC Presents. Those programs will feature documentaries on Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, BeyoncÇ, Rihanna, Lil Wayne, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson. If it’s a pop culture person, we have a show that’s going to spotlight that as well as Morgan Freeman’s look at the Chitlin Circuit blues. But we kind of have a little bit of everything for everybody in that program. Later in the afternoon, we have another show that’s primarily focused on females. It’s called Ladies Choice. And this show is going to spotlight issues that are important to women 30 plus. And so that’s going to be hosted by our two female anchors, one of which happens to be a clinical psychologist. We then go into a three hour block of prime news that will air live from our studios and it’ll be in prime on the West Coast. We also have programs that feature Dr. Corey Bare as our staff medical person who will be producing programs on health as it relates to the African-American audience. Mark McEwen, formerly of CBC News, will host a program for men and it’s called All Things Men. And so he’s going to sit back and talk with everybody from ministers to football players. So we’re going to highlight those issues that are important to the fellows. And that’s just some of the highlights. We’re going to have Olympic programing, We have HBCU sports programing, we have FIBA World Basketball, we have star workout. So if it’s of interest to the Black audience, it’s of interest to us, and we intend to put it on, as well as spotlighting the best of our the best of the best from the nation’s HBCU, we have a program that’s specially designed for our HBCU students to be able to show themselves off, as it were, and programing that we’re going to produce around their reports as well.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:09:34] How did you go about deciding what to put on air? I’m quite sure you had a large white board, a black board or whatever kind of board that you are used to come up with this line up.
Gary Wardlaw [00:09:44] It really wasn’t that complicated. I basically sit back and I so for the most part, I mean, I would talk to people that I know. One of my favorite research facilities is called the Barbershop.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:09:58] And let’s say.
Gary Wardlaw [00:09:58] You go in a barbershop and you listen to the brothers and you go come up with some stuff for TV.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:10:02] That’s right.
Gary Wardlaw [00:10:03] I like to say that the barbershop is a Black men’s club. I’m going to be myself and listen and you get some pretty you know, you do some pretty good research on what’s happening in the Black community. And you go to the beauty shop, you get the same things. So I listen to the people and try to put together programing that people told me was of interest to them.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:10:25] I heard that. Mr. Wardlaw, what makes you excited about this invention?
Gary Wardlaw [00:10:30] Well, for the first time in forever, we’re going to have a network where we are unapologetically Black. The world will look in and catch us being ourselves, and they’ll find out that we’re more than crime in the streets. We’re more than music, we’re more than sports. We have brains, we have opinions, we have scientists, we have educators, we have lawyers, we have doctors. We know we have specialists. It’s nothing wrong with being a star football player or a basketball player. It’s nothing wrong with being a musician. But the world is going to see us in greater scope than just athletics or music.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:11:06] If you’re just joining us, I’m John L. Hanson Jr., and you’re listening to In Black America from KUT Radio and speaking with Gary Wardlaw, vice president of news and programing at the Black News Channel cable network. Mr. Wardlaw, I saw there’s a cast of 20 some million dollars that put this endeavor in motion. What does that type of money buy you as far as facilities and personnel?
Gary Wardlaw [00:11:35] Well, the facility that’s being built out in Tallahassee is second to none in the world. It’s state of the art equipment. And nothing was there was nothing. No corners were cut to put this place together. Mm. The set is going to be unlike any other news that you’ve ever seen, the music that you know, every newscast has its news. Music. Our music is being written and produced by two Grammy winners. One of the fellows involved in our music is also up for an Oscar this year. Well, it will be original music. That sounds like us. It feels like us. And what makes me most excited about all this is that this has never been done before. No one in America has ever had my job.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:12:20] Right.
Gary Wardlaw [00:12:20] So. This is truly going to be an interesting thing. I don’t sleep very much these days.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:12:26] I understand. Tell us there was a push back as we speak today, was initially was going to be the last day, but now it’s going to be January 2020. Why the pushback?
Gary Wardlaw [00:12:39] We originally were going to launch to an audience of some 33 million people. We’re working with some other vendors, carriers that have come on board to play. And rather than have multiple announcements, we’re going to have these deals all in place by the first of the year and it’s going to make news in itself. When we report the people that are going to carry this network and where individuals in this country can find it, but we didn’t want to do it multiple times when the one great big announcement until America, where it can find us, whether you’re in California or Florida.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:13:14] Is this a subscription service?
Gary Wardlaw [00:13:16] It will be free on some in some based on some basis, but it will be subscription on others. It depends on which part of the service you want.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:13:24] I understand Jaycee wants former congressperson and quarterback in Oklahoma. What was your immediate reaction from his call or did he call you personally?
Gary Wardlaw [00:13:37] Yeah, there are a couple of people that started recruiting me back in the early 2000, early two that I know. Correct. They’ve been working on putting this together for a long time. Okay. J.C. Watts is a charming, bright, articulate man who, when he chatted with me, told me what his vision was about, what he wanted to see, and why would marry mine almost Exactly. And so it wasn’t a big sales pitch. It was, Hey, man, what Can we get started? Where is the money? Let’s get this thing done. And it took some time to to get all of the financing in place. But once that was done, it was just a let’s let’s get it on.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:14:18] How will this endeavor increase the participation of African-American or people of color as journalists going forward?
Gary Wardlaw [00:14:27] Well, people of color have pretty much dropped out of watching TV news. If you turn on your local newscast, you’ll think that every Black person in America is a gangster. The only thing that happens in our community is crime. The only people you see on TV are in handcuffs. Why would I watch that? Hmm. Well, our African-Americans, especially our young people, have just tuned out. They’re tired of hearing what we all know not to be true. If you look at what’s happening in Chicago, you think everybody in Chicago carries a gun and that you’re going to get shot, you know, trying to go to the grocery store. It’s just not true and it’s not fair. And so we’re going to invite America, especially Black America, to tune in to find out what the real story is in their community. By doing that, we’re going to also partner with every Black newspaper in the country. Okay. But we’re going to find those stories in every community. The mainstream media overlooks the ten year old boy who’s a loser sophomore in college, or the 12 year old girl who’s a college professor. We don’t hear those stories on TV. Well, we’re going to give license to those people to tell those stories on TV.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:15:36] When you look at the landscape as you just articulated, how are you all going to compete on a level of of some of the other majors?
Gary Wardlaw [00:15:45] I’m in not excuse me, I’m in no competition with the scenes and the foxes. Okay. They’re going to be in competition with us.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:15:52] On the Understand.
Gary Wardlaw [00:15:53] Because they’re looking for the people that we’re going to serve every day.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:15:57] Have you had any indication of advertisers buying into the bit, so to speak, to advertise on on the on the channel?
Gary Wardlaw [00:16:05] The short answer is yes and no. Excuse me. At launch, we’re going to have tons of advertisers. But, you know, the advertising community is very conservative. They want to see the product before they put their commercials on it. In some cases, in other cases, just on the concept, they’ve said, absolutely, we want to be partners with you. So we’re going to have our share of our commercials when we launch this network. You’re not going to see a lot of dead air, that’s for sure.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:16:31] And the thing how did Tallahassee become the the base for the network?
Gary Wardlaw [00:16:37] One of our primary investors owns a lot of property and business interests in Tallahassee. And so it was chosen in large part because we had a place to be. Shahid Khan, one of our primary financiers, is in Jacksonville. Tallahassee is the state capital. It’s a beautiful little city. And if the people who are who have the money behind it live there, that’s what we’re going to be. Ted Turner went to Atlanta because that was his home. If you could make a media center, anything you want.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:17:07] Yeah, I know. That’s right. If a young journalist is listening to this particular interview, how can they go about submitting their work to you for possible employment?
Gary Wardlaw [00:17:19] Oh, that’s simple. Our website. The jobs that we have open are listed apply. That’s where I found a great number of the ones that I hired. I’ve also hired a number of people through NABJ, which is the National Association of Black Journalists. Mm hmm. We’re partnering with them as well. And so you reach out to the organizations that support you, As do we.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:17:40] I’ve read that you are eight time Emmy Award winning broadcast news recipient. Can you articulate some of the awards you won for the work? You you know.
Gary Wardlaw [00:17:50] You don’t have enough time for that long, boring story. I have been around a long time and I’ve been blessed to work with some of the best journalists in the country. So we are to day puts out an award that’s called the hit on our mural. I’ve got a number of those. I’ve got a number of Emmys. I’ve got a Society of Professional Journalists Award with privilege to work in a company that we produce product, got a couple of Columbia DuPonts, and the list goes on. I mean, I’ve been around a long time, but more importantly, I’m not so interested in awards anymore as I am. My legacy and my legacy. I don’t want it to be that my legacy is the living bricks that I get a chance to work with. That’s the young journalists who really are our future. Hmm. I want to be able to work with them, counsel them, inspire them, and be able to sit back some day and watch television and know that something I said or did is now making a difference in the community that I’m happy.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:18:52] Who so many individuals that make up the management with you with at the channel.
Gary Wardlaw [00:18:58] My assistant news director is a fellow by the name of Joe Gutierrez. Mm hmm. Well, Lisa Burton is my news operations manager. Laura. Toby is the director. The manager of directors. I’ve got Seth Garcia, who is my creative services director. And so we don’t have a huge management staff. What I have is a bunch of zealots who are anxious to get in there and get it done.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:19:24] So you are going to have bureaus around the country.
Gary Wardlaw [00:19:28] That I’m going to have bureaus in New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Atlanta, New Orleans. I’m also partnering with a broadcast company that’s giving us space in Detroit, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville. And by the time in Los Angeles. And by the time we get into a mid-next year, remember, every HBCU with a journalism department is a member of our of our small community as well. The 223 Black newspapers are bureaus sites for us around the country. So our reach is as broad as any other network out there, but it’s specific, culturally specific to the Black community.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:20:13] Are there any metrics in place or will be in place to measure the effectiveness of what you are presenting?
Gary Wardlaw [00:20:20] We will be measured by Nielsen Media just like everybody else.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:20:23] Okay. Okay, Mr. Wardlaw, at at the end of the day, obviously, this has been a long process. At the end of the day, what makes that a successful day for you thus far?
Gary Wardlaw [00:20:37] If I go home and I know that my team and that Gary Wardlaw and his team have worked to bring the news and information that’s culturally specific to America, and we did the best we could with that day, I’m satisfied. And the great thing is we get to do it over again the next day and the next day and the next day.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:20:59] I understand. Couple more questions, Mr. Wardlaw. Where would you like to see this channel? Maybe 5 to 10 years from now?
Gary Wardlaw [00:21:05] Oh, I’d like to see it be the primary carrier on every telephone, every tablet in the country.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:21:12] I understand. And any final comment in the world?
Gary Wardlaw [00:21:14] We need the support of the community with their eyes. Also, it’s not my network. It’s our network. So I’m going to solicit everybody who has an idea about what they’d like to see covered in their community. Go on our website. Send me your story ideas. I’m Gary Wardlaw at BTNC.TZ.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:21:35] Gary Wardlaw, Vice President of News and Programing, the Black News Channel. J.C. Watt, is the chairman of the J.C. Watts Companies. He’s also the co-founder and chairman of the Black News Channel. In 1994, he was elected to Congress from the fourth District of Oklahoma. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003 as the visionary of the Black News Channel. He sees the network as an opportunity for African-Americans to tell their own stories and for the larger community to see African-Americans in a totally different context.
J.C. Watts [00:22:12] It’s an African-American news channel that is culturally specific to the African-American community, and it is for African-Americans. By African-Americans and about African-Americans. And I think people in my life experiences of living for 61 years, I think over the last, you know, for for much of my time in public service, you’ve gotten one view or one perspective or one picture of the African-American community. And it’s so much more in the Black community than crime. There’s obviously politics as economics is wellness, there’s faith, there’s culture, there’s a whole host of things that that that exist in the black community. And we want to be the venue, the network that tells those stories. I think obviously there’s things that I mean, news is news, but news is more than sports. And I participated in sports for 25, 30 years. I’ve got kids who participate in sports, but there’s more to the African-American community than sports and entertainment. There’s there’s wellness. You don’t hear Fox News, MSNBC or CNN talking about sickle cell. My family or many black families are impacted by sickle cell, and it’s a blood disorder. And I’m involved in a 5k run raising money, raising awareness about sickle cell on an annual basis. You know, that’s a disease that impacts about 95% of the people impacted by sickle cell they’re African-American. So you don’t hear networks talking about that. So we will be talking about things that other networks aren’t talking about. And like I said, it’s culturally specific to the African-American community. So if you’re talking about Thanksgiving dinner on the Black News Channel, you’re not going to be talking about pumpkin pie for dessert. You’re going to be talking about sweet potato pie for dessert. Doesn’t mean that Black people don’t eat pumpkin pie. But culturally, we are more inclined to have, you know, sweet potato pie and cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving as opposed to having your pumpkin pie and stuffing. You know, when you look at TV one, Kathy Hughes has been, her and her son, they’ve been heroes. They are heroes of mine. You know. BET and what Bob Johnson started years ago, I mean, to to see the challenge that we’ve had over the last ten, 12 years in trying to get to the point that we can get distribution, we can line up investments. And, you know, when you look at BET and TV one, they’re more on the entertainment side. We’re more on the news side. We want to, you know, our mission. We say that we want to inspire and inform and educate. But what we’re trying to accomplish, we want to be we will be a 24/7 news program that informs and educates and inspires the African-American community. And and so the news format that we have makes us different. There’s no out of the 200 and no the 373 channels that you can get on cable, you don’t have a channel on television today in the lineup that is news for by and about the African-American community. When I took a trip, I led a delegation to Africa back in the late nineties when I was in Congress with some of my colleagues and we were in West Africa. And and I understand history will tell you that about 80% of the slave trade was in West Africa. And we went to Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, some of the West African countries. And we saw we saw poverty, obviously, but we saw hospitals being built. We saw health clinics, we saw schoolteachers, we saw kids in school. We saw, you know, families sewing and harvesting gardens. We saw a whole host of things. And a buddy of mine from Louisiana that went with me, he went home and talked to his 90 year old granddad and told his granddad what he had seen. He said, Dad, he’s a granddad. I was over in Africa and he said, we saw hospitals being built, we saw teachers, we saw kids in schools, we saw health clinics, we saw entrepreneurs. He told him all the things he had seen and his granddad said, I knew there was more. News is not just leading by bleeding. Obviously that’s important if something happens in the community. We want to talk about that, but we want to tell a more comprehensive story. You know, there’s wellness news. There’s obviously political news and economic news. There’s there’s news from the faith community, historically Black colleges and universities. Well, you know, HBCU will be in Tallahassee, Florida. And Tallahassee, Florida has Florida A&M University, FAMU. FAMU has a great journalism school. Howard University has as a great journalism school. But we will have a curriculum that we will train, have internships and have training programs for Black journalists. And also there’s Black journalists that you don’t hear a whole lot about when you see a Black journalist on television.
John L. Hanson Jr. [00:27:40] J.C. Watts, co-founder and chairman, the Black News Channel. If you have questions, comments or suggestions as to the future In Black America programs, email us at In Black America at kut.org. Also let us know what radio station you heard us over. I would like to thank BO-TV for their assistance as the production of this program. Remember to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. The views and opinions expressed on this program are not necessarily those of this station or of the University of Texas at Austin. You can hear previous programs online at kut.org. Until we have the opportunity again for technical producer David Alvarez I’m John L. Hanson Jr. Thank you for joining us today. Please join us again next week.
Announcer [00:28:31] CD copies of this program are available and may be purchased by writing to In Black America CDs, KUT Radio, 300 West Dean Keeton St, Austin, Texas 78712. This has been a production of KUT Radio.