Chauncey Bailey: Because without it local issues and local talent often get overlooked. People know they can’t get on BET or VH1, but they can come in here and make a video and get on our channel. We have a show called “The Beat is Going On” that allows young people from the area to perform spoken word and hip hop, and gives them a creative outlet. Oakland has a history of having a strong independent, underground music industry and culture.
Leonard Stephens: “The Beat Is Going On” is like a poor man’s Apollo Theater. The kids are able to come here and we shoot a video for them. They get exposure. We take videos and dance routines from local kids; try to keep them off the streets, give them something positive to do. They come in and they work hard. We’ve had at least 100 rappers on from Monterey to Sacramento. We also have programs that come from churches and community organizations. We have Joe Lewis and his cultural show and David Scott with Christian Comedy. We have Suzanne Mason with ‘Up Close and Personal’ and Miss Punkin’s Showdown Throwdown. We’re smack dab in the middle of the blackest zip code in Oakland: 94605. And we’re just happy to have an opportunity to be the soundboard for the community.
What’s your business model? How do you generate revenue?
Chauncey Bailey: Most of our advertisers are local black-owned car dealerships, clothing stores, boutiques, hair salons. It’s been difficult because a lot of African- American businesses don’t have advertising as part of their psyche. We’re trying to get folks out of the culture of flyers, and into putting their message on television.
Leonard Stephens: I’m laughing because our business partner here, Chauncey, is really good with community relations and he brings a lot of business to us. But if he had his way, bless his heart, he would just open up the network to anybody that wanted to use it.
Chauncey Bailey: We wouldn’t make money.
Leonard Stephens: We wouldn’t be able to survive. [Laughs]
What kind of news and informational programming do you offer?
Chauncey Bailey: Soul Beat was definitely a political power broker in the black community. We talked about issues; we had politicians on. So we inherited that influence. We do a daily newsmagazine that addresses high crime areas, and have a show called “Express Yourself” where we take our cameras out to a busy intersection, and give people thirty seconds to vent. They talk about the state of our schools, high gas prices, unemployment. They also talk about positive things. Like, ‘My son is the first to graduate from college and we’re proud of him.’
How would you say your coverage of the Ron Dellums campaign, for example, was different from that of mainstream news outlets?
Leonard Stephens: The mainstream would just basically give you sound bites. We showed his entire speech. If Comcast tried to do what we do here in Oakland they would not be successful. They don’t have the reach that Chauncey has. Chauncey was at The Oakland Tribune for twelve years, and he was the only African-American news writer there at that time. He was on-camera at Soul Beat for eight years. He represents the community and he was instrumental in getting the whole concept started. All I did was come along to polish it and manage it.
What future goals do you have for your content?
Leonard Stephens: We have a new show called the World News Magazine Show. We’re also in negotiation with the Oakland Post to do a news program. We want to start doing movies. But at the same time, we want to remain in the community because we feel like that’s really part of our uniqueness. That’s what separates us from all the other African- American programming out there.
Why does black ownership matter?
Chauncey Bailey: Because we have different viewing tastes. The top twenty shows in black households are different from the top twenty shows white households. You have only three shows that are on both lists. I was sitting in an airport in Kansas City watching CNN doing a report on Earl Lloyd, the first black player in the NBA. Nobody was watching it except me. We need our own channel that speaks our message.
Leonard Stephens: It’s part of my ministry that I’m going to continue until the day I die. I’m leaving the legacies for our children so that they can be happy and proud of something that we started.