Black Women : THEN CAME BRUNSON... The nation's only black female TV station owner

Discussion in 'Black Women - Mothers - Sisters - Daughters' started by Isaiah, Jan 18, 2006.

  1. Isaiah

    Isaiah Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Jun 8, 2004
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    Then Came Brunson

    Brunson Burner: Media veteran Dorothy Brunson competed against 11 other bidders for Manayunk-based WGTW-TV 48.

    The nation's only black female TV station owner is right here in Philly and about to celebrate 10 years of broadcasting at WGTW.

    by Deborah Bolling

    Dorothy Brunson has always considered herself a "big woman," from her frame to her feet to the swell of her laughter. But, by far, the biggest thing about Brunson has always been her ambition. Today, as president and general manager of Brunson Communications Inc., she is the only black woman in the United States who owns a broadcast television station -- and it's right here, on Manayunk's Main Street.

    Tomorrow, Brunson's WGTW-TV 48 -- better known for its long list of rerun favorites than for innovative original programming -- will celebrate 10 years of broadcasting in 19 counties in Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania. In 1992, after a 10-year hiatus, WGTW-TV 48 returned to the air under Brunson's stewardship with a wide variety of syndicated programs and a few new in-house productions. Scheduled to be on hand at the Manayunk Brewery on Friday evening to join Brunson in her revelry will be Gov. Ed Rendell and Burlington City, N.J.'s mayor Herman Costello.

    "I've been at this for 42 years," Brunson says, coral-colored lipstick brightening up her very round, spectacled face. "Sometimes I get tired and weary because of the consistency of the attitudes and certain behaviors. Things you think you've overcome, you actually haven't. As [author] Nate McCall says, ŒMakes you wanna holler.'"

    Then she smiles.

    Brunson recalls that growing up, she always had one agenda: to be rich. Today, the 65-year-old entrepreneur estimates that, based on real estate holdings and the value of her television station, her net worth is somewhere between $60 million and $70 million.

    "In 1984, [WGTW's previous owner] turned the channel back over to the FCC, making it eligible to be awarded in an open competition," she explains. "At that time, I'd had 25 years of broadcasting experience and had pioneered a tremendous amount of stuff." Brunson explains that with radio as a platform, she has had a hand in shaping public opinion about civil rights, women's rights and health issues, has championed the cause of the American Indian and has always taken an interest in minority communities.

    "I was competing against 11 other people," she says about the WGTW bidding process, "but I didn't go in as black or female. I went in on the merits of my history, my financial capabilities, my knowledge of the industry -- and as a single entity." By 1990, she says, the deal was finally sealed.

    Today, Brunson estimates that her station grosses about $7 million a year in advertising revenues, with an annual total expenditure of around $5 million. In a 14-station region with eight major players, and as part of the fourth largest television market in the country, Brunson acknowledges that WGTW is currently second-to-last, ahead of only PAX TV. But with approximately 100 movie titles, professional wrestling every weekday at midnight, and 50-plus television titles like The Rockford Files, Hawaii Five-O, Streets of San Francisco, Benny Hill, Matlock and Road Rules, she controls a 1 to 2 percent share of the 2.8 million-household marketplace. In other words, Brunson estimates that approximately 56,000 people view her station every day.

    "I'm a small, small player in a huge, huge arena," she says, pointing out that of 1,600 broadcast television stations in the country, only eight are minority-owned. "And while I think that the medium as a whole, and television specifically, has lost a great deal of its impact because there are so many channels, it's a medium that definitely has a message -- and even today, broadcast television still has the most concentrated number of viewers."

    Brunson acknowledges that her own blackness has little to no bearing on her programming (though she does mention that "Mr. T [of The A-Team] is black, and he's a favorite"). And she points to the fact that, with the advent of cable television, there's not a lot of programming choices available in the broadcast television marketplace, except news, which she says is costly to produce.

    "I try to pick things that serve all of the marketplace," she says. "We're a little station trying to hang out in the bigger pond."

    Brunson ascribes her entrepreneurial ascension to the acquisition of low-frequency radio stations during the late 1970s and early '80s. Before becoming a radio-station owner, Brunson and then-partner Howard Sanders launched Howard Sanders Advertising, the nation's first black advertising agency, with an impressive address on New York City's Madison Avenue. The building janitor told her of the vacancy, but she had to ask a Jewish friend to sign the lease because, she says, "they wouldn't rent to us."

    "We borrowed $25,000 from the [Small Business Administration], and in just a little over a year, we were netting $400,000," she recalls. "Soon, that turned into a million. We were doing creative marketing in the black community and our task was to create ideas that would penetrate the community. In those days, black ad agencies didn't place buys -- but we influenced buys. You know the ad for Schlitz Malt Liquor, the one with the bull? We created the bull."

    In 1973, Brunson says she and Sanders dissolved the business, splitting the proceeds 50-50. Brunson, a New York native with a Bachelor of Science in finance, says she walked away with nearly $300,000 and a slew of consultancies. At age 35, with about $3 million worth of investments, Brunson says she opted for early retirement. But that decision was short-lived, she recalls. Next, she would join the staff of the newly launched Inner City Broadcasting.

    Inner City Broadcasting, now known as ICBC Broadcast Holdings, Inc., is the second largest African-American-owned radio broadcasting company in the country. Primarily targeting the urban segment, it owns and operates 17 stations in seven markets. Brunson joined the team within two years after media tycoon Percy Sutton formed it in 1971. Hired as general manager, Brunson's job was to help facilitate the fledgling company's growth and establish its presence in the radio marketplace. It was during those years, Brunson says, that she learned how to buy and sell radio stations, further amassing her own personal fortune.

    "Ms. Brunson was definitely there in the early days," says Sutton, the former owner of Inner City Broadcasting, as well as the world-famous Apollo Theater on Harlem's 125th Street, and a onetime New York City mayoral candidate. "She has always been a very thorough, sound, firm person in administering and analyzing. She has truly great analytic abilities and she's patient."

    After a seven-year tenure, including a promotion to vice president, Brunson left Inner City. During that time, she helped the station acquire its two most viable N.Y. stations, WLIB and WBLS, learning a great deal in the process. In 1979, with valuable Harlem real estate in hand, a passel of Inner City stock and "lots of investments," Brunson began buying her own radio stations. Her first, she says, was WEBB, an AM station in Baltimore, purchased for $500,000. Three years later, Brunson picked up WIGO, in Atlanta, for $800,000. A year later, she added WBMS, in Wilmington, N.C., to her growing media portfolio. Brunson says she held on to all three stations until the 1990s, when she sold them to raise money to buy WGTW.

    "I always used all of my own money," she says proudly. "I didn't borrow money from anyone. But then I realized that the return on your investment was greater in television than in radio -- with the same amount of work."

    Brunson's modest 65-mile-radius television station, located on an industrial stretch on the 3900 block of Main Street, is a two-story, red brick, windowless building, which she leases. There's a single 13-inch color television tuned to Channel 48 in the reception area, and the sparsely furnished offices house full videotape-editing capabilities and a television studio where the station's three original broadcasts are produced. The first-floor bathroom doubles as a dressing room for on-air talent, and with the help of 25 staff members, Brunson provides 24-hour programming 365 days a year to the tri-state area.

    Although Brunson says she keeps an address in Philadelphia, she commutes back and forth to her home in Baltimore at least three days a week. She says she regularly works an 80-hour week, looking forward to weekends when she can catch up on her reading and shop for antiques in the woods of West Virginia. She describes her roots as modest, but her dreams as robust.

    "I like to laugh often and take life as it comes," she says. "I never get depressed. I never get bugged out. I never have problems with people, but they have problems with me -- or more probably with themselves. I have a great sense of humanity and it's kept me in balance. And I have great faith in God. I don't think I'll retire in the traditional sense, because I'm very interested in the future of the Internet and the potential of the satellite and direct television markets. From where I'm sitting, the next three to five years look very, very exciting."


    MANASIAC Well-Known Member MEMBER

    United States
    Mar 10, 2004
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    ATL SHAWTY! Mr. Coli Park
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    Brother I thank you for this article it was really nice.