Looking to be a leader
Powell has big plans for the first U.S. black-owned PBS station
By Dan Trigoboff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/11/2002 8:00:00 PM
There's another Powell among Washington-based media professionals. Like FCC chief Michael Powell, he's African-American and the son of a famous father. Adam Clayton Powell III—the son not only of the flamboyant civil-rights leader and longtime Harlem congressman but also of singer, actress and musician Hazel Scott—hopes to combine his family heritage with the experiences of a 35-year career in news, programming and technology to make WHUT-TV Washington a programming and technology leader for the 21st century.
"People used to ask me if I wanted to be a politician like my father," he recalls, "or an entertainer like my mother. My mother and father would always say I'd figure out a way to combine them both."
He has done it before, working for Quincy Jones in development of programming and production of The Jesse Jackson Show and as a producer for the recently completed Keep the Faith, Baby, a biopic on his father nearly 30 years in the making.
As a young man, Powell planned a career as an engineer and attended MIT, but he found himself drawn toward media. A telephone interview for the college radio station with MIT's president regarding the death of a well-known professor gained him national exposure. Later, mistakenly given a CBS internship intended for another Cambridge, Mass.-based student (and son of a famous father), Harvard student Chris Wallace, Powell found himself covering space launches and political conventions and writing for Walter Cronkite. He dropped his engineering major.
Early this spring, he hit the ground running at Howard University Television, announcing schedule changes that couldn't wait until fall. Last week, WHUT-TV doubled to five hours its weekly output of local programming, adding university-focused @Howard to its long-running political discussion Evening Exchange and extending kids programming.
Powell would like to add another 2½ to three hours of local programs over the next year. He hopes in particular to add programs dealing with personal finance and economics, in an effort to aid the economic empowerment of the communities WHUT-TV serves.
The station also added a Sunday-night documentary series focused on black history and race relations in America.
Howard University has built an enviable enclave of human and technological resources, and Powell wants to use those resources to develop the station as a major programming and distribution resource for TV programmers, educators and communities—minority and otherwise. He plans to turn the station building into a gallery of African and student art and invite community groups in.
"We are located in and owned by Howard University. This is a majority-minority city. We have to embrace, to tie in to all those incredible resources. We have in this building one of the most advanced video hubs in any university in the nation. I can program 10 channels, video-on-demand, over fiber and cable.
"We are the first African-American-owned PBS station in the United States," he adds. "That means we should be in a leadership position for developing programming, not only locally but nationally. We should be providing templates for how to be inclusive and diverse. We are trying to be a resource for other communities and even for other countries.
"We go back to the Carnegie report [on higher education, 1970]," he explains, "and look to service the underserved. That can mean minorities, low-income—even anybody over 50 years old, the way things are going: I just had my 55th birthday, and there are no TV commercials aimed at me."
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