Minneapolis’ Black-owned cable network
In 1984 Pete Rhodes first launched Black Music America, a Black-owned, 24-hour audio channel. “I was content with just having an audio channel,” explains Rhodes. “But we saw the influx of larger audiences with BET [Black Entertainment Television]. We wanted to mimic BET.”
In 2003 Rhodes got the opportunity to expand the audio channel by then-president of Time Warner Cable Eric Brown, an African American who came in to run the system. “He saw the content that I had and thought it would be appealing to the African American audience, which is the largest ethnic audience of cable subscribers in the world,” said Rhodes.
At the time, African Americans watched 10 percent more television per week than any other ethnic group. It was then that Rhodes decided to relaunch Black Music America (BMA) as a culturally focused cable network.
MSR: What inspired you to start your business?
PR: The marketplace need inspired me to launch the business here in Minneapolis. When I came to town, there wasn’t a lot of culturally specific programming and events for the Black community and communities of color. We started the channel to be an asset for providing information and entertainment to the urban communities.
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MSR: How does your business impact the community?
PR: We think our business impacts the community by providing them with the connection to the culture that they’re looking for and that they need. I mean, you can read newspapers and get information. But when you want to get closer to how it affects your community, you won’t read the Star Tribune. You’ll read the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. So that’s how we think we inspire and connect with the community the most.
MSR: What has been your viewing audience?
PR: Unlike most channels, we’re not tied to the Nielsen ratings. Currently, there are over 400,000 cable subscribers, so 10 percent of them watch the channel daily. If I had to say what was the most watched day, it would have to be our Sunday gospel block.
MSR: What sort of programs do you have?
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PR: We try to spotlight the various genres of the Black music experience—from jazz to gospel, and blues to hip hop. Our programming reflects that. On Mondays, we have The Minneapolis Sound. Tuesdays, we look at Black male groups, individual artists, and their music. On Wednesdays, we spotlight women in music. Thursdays, it’s throwback days—the old classics in genres from jazz to hip hop. Fridays and weekends it’s a combination of all of Black music.
MSR: If viewers want to watch BMA programs, where can they see it?
PR: We’re available on Xfinity cable network on channel 937.
MSR: What has been your biggest challenge in owning a business?
PR: Our biggest challenge is having the resources. We have a 24-hour commercial cable network channel. It’s no different than Oprah’s channel [OWN], but we don’t have the resources that Oprah and The Discovery Channel have to hire the right type people that we need for consistent output of our services.
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Our programs are professionally run, and we have a system that keeps up with what we’re trying to do. But we just lack the financial resources to do what we want to do and finding good people on a consistent basis. At any given time, we will have 3-4 employees.
MSR: What has been the most rewarding part of owning your business?
PR: We were just recently on MSR’s legacy cruise, and it was our first time there. Kim [Rhodes] and I, we’re just really surprised and elated at the number of people who came up to us on that cruise and said they’ve watched our channel. So just to know that people are familiar with the station and it’s something that they like, and it’s something that fits their needs, is gratifying to us each and every day.
MSR: What is your vision for your business? What does success look like for you?
PR: We have a linear 24-hour channel and then we have an on-demand channel. Two months ago, we expanded to other markets with our on-demand channel. We expanded into Denver, Houston, San Francisco, and Oakland.
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We have plans to expand our on-demand channels to 10 of the top urban markets in the country. That’s our next big push.
MSR: What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
PR: You have to be prepared. Prepare for what you’re going to do. Have the right type of business plan put together. Connect with people who have similar situations that you want to try and emulate. Learn from them because the wheel has already been invented.
My dad would say there’s no easy way but the hard way. The easy way is to use the advice and coaching from those who have been down that road before. So be prepared and connect and get advice on where you want to go.
MSR: Would you like to add anything that has not been covered?
PR: My partner Kim, who’s not here today, has been a big part of this whole journey. So, a big shout out to the Black women who are in business. She’s a prime example of being behind the scenes and helping to drive everything forward.
For more information about BMA, call 612-872-0054 or go to www.blackmusicamerica.com.
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