For The Black News Channel, Knowledge is Power

The channel will be culturally specific, produced by and tailored to an African American audience
Former Congressman J.C. Watts, left, and Bob Brillante, co-founders of the Black News Channel, have been encouraged by the responses of advertisers to their new Tallahassee-based network. Photo by Alex Workman

In a couple of ways, Bob Brillante intends that his latest project, the Tallahassee-based Black News Channel, distinguish itself from other enterprises offering what passes for broadcast journalism.

One, he said, the channel will be culturally specific, produced by and tailored to an African-American audience. Secondly, he said, it will deliver news.

“We will not be ideologically driven at all,” Brillante said.

“You will never see on our network pundits screaming at pundits. We will cover political and policy issues that have an impact on the African-American community, but we will address every issue intending to find solutions and pull people together to solve the problems and conquer the challenges we face. We are not interested in scoring political points.”

That is, the channel will adhere to a philosophy espoused by its vice president for news and programming, Gary Wordlaw, a 50-year veteran of broadcast news and the winner of eight Emmy Awards.

“It’s viewer perspective journalism,” Brillante explained. “We want to cover the news by providing our audience with access directly to the newsmakers. We will interview the people involved who can make a difference and impact the lives of our viewers.”

Brillante, a Tallahassee resident since 1984, brings extensive experience as an entrepreneur and television executive to his role as a Black News Channel co-founder.

His father started Florida Cable, the first cable television network in the Sunshine State.

Upon his graduation from college, Brillante went to work for the Florida Cable Telecommunications Association as director of legislative and regulatory activities and later became its executive vice president.

Brillante joined with a partner in launching the all-sports Sunshine Network, which eventually would become a Fox Sports Net affiliate.

And he established a 24-hour cable news network, Florida’s News Channel, based in Tallahassee. Gray Television acquired FNC in 2004.

Ever since, Brillante has been working toward bringing about a national news channel for the African-American community.

Polling revealed that 28 percent of the audience for Florida’s News Channel was black, and additional research discovered a strong demand among African Americans for news and educational programming — and a willingness to pay for it.

In one poll, 89 percent of African Americans surveyed said it was “very important” to have a news channel programmed by people of color.

“I was satisfied even in 2005 that the time was right to introduce a black news channel,” Brillante said.

“But today, as a result of the identity politics that we all have to endure, the need for a channel that brings people together and bridges the divide between cultures in our country is probably greater than it has ever been. Certainly, the need is greater today than it was when we started this project.”

The Black News Channel is scheduled to launch on Jan. 6, 2020. Its headquarters office and Network Operations Center, where news from around the world is aggregated, are located in Tallahassee, from which its primary signal originates. At launch, the channel anticipated having news bureaus in place in New York City, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and New Orleans.

Plans called for the addition of bureaus in Chicago, Dallas, Jacksonville and Los Angeles, optimistically by year’s end.

At one time, Brillante was looking at locating the Black News Channel on the FAMU campus.

However, due to journalism program enrollment growth at the school, FAMU no longer had sufficient room to accommodate the station.

Still, the relationship with FAMU will be close.

“We remain committed 100% to the training of aspiring young journalists in Tallahassee,” Brillante said, “and to giving students interested in TV production, graphic arts and design hands-on training with the latest and most state-of-the-art equipment in the business. We would hope, of course, to retain the best of the best in Tallahassee as employees of our network.”

Brillante said the Black News Channel would have 70 employees in Tallahassee at launch earning an average of 250 percent more than the average salaries in the Tallahassee Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Those MSA figures are $45,343 for women and $60,114 for men.

“I heard that data and my first thought was, we must be overpaying folks,” Brillante said.

“But the reality is that we are a national news channel and we have to bring in talent the likes of Fred Hickman and Leonard Pitts. We’re not in New York City, but we are paying New York rates to acquire the best talent.”

Along with Brillante, former Oklahoma Congressman J.C. Watts is a founder of the Black News Channel.

Brillante first encountered his now-partner when Watts addressed the 1996 Republican national convention in San Diego.

“When J.C. reminded his own party that character is best judged by what a person does when no one is watching, I told myself, ‘One day, I am going to work with that guy.’  ”

Watts would eventually call Brillante after learning of his efforts to bring about a black news channel, an aspiration that Watts shared.

Brillante was working at the time with a group that included boxer Evander Holyfield, homerun hitter Cecil Fielder and Michael Jackson’s brother, Marlon.

‘”J.C. and I made arrangements to sit down together and, literally five minutes after that meeting began, we knew we were partnering,” Brillante said.

In October, billionaire businessman Shad Khan, the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, announced that he was set to become the majority investor in the Black News Channel.

“I believe there is an undeniable calling for everything the Black News Channel will deliver to African-American television audiences, who have historically been underserved in an era where networks have otherwise successfully targeted news to specific demographic groups and interests,” Khan said in a press release. “My decision to invest is an easy one, because we get to answer that calling.” 

“We’re going to create a platform for African-American leaders,” Brillante stressed.

“In many areas of our country, they have to take their message to the streets to be heard. In the mainstream media, African Americans too often are marginalized. They are consulted only for sound bites related to sports, drugs and entertainment.

“That we are going to change. You empower a community by providing information. Knowledge is power. And we are going to create role models for African-American youth. We will be profiling black achievers from around the country — not just athletes, dancers and entertainers, but doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs.”

Advertisers have responded, enthusiastically. Brillante said in September that the Black News Channel already had sold enough advertising to ensure that the operation will be cash-flow positive in its first year.

“That’s a comfort,” Brillante said. “I didn’t have that with the Sunshine Network and Florida’s News Channel.”

And, about that pledge to remain culturally specific? Watts and Brillante are sure to keep one another honest that way.

“You won’t see any dilution,” Brillante said. 

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