It may not be Jonathan Rodgers' cable background or race that will be most valuable as he starts up Comcast's and Radio One's new network aimed at black adults. It could be his experience running broadcast stations.
Rodgers most recently served as president of Discovery Networks, shepherding a portfolio of channels including Discovery Channel and TLC for six years until he called it quits a year ago, taking advantage of a financially lucrative window in his contract.
But Rodgers is better known for his years at CBS. He started with the network as general manager of O&O WBBM-TV in Chicago, and in 1990 was handed the entire CBS station group. That put him in charge of stations in markets like New York, Detroit and Philadelphia. In Chicago, he took over at a racially-charged moment when a Jesse Jackson-backed group was attacking the station's news coverage.
With the new venture, tentatively called TV One, Comcast wanted to target a demographic a little older than Viacom's Black Entertainment Television. The MSO selected Radio One to manage the operation. The companies have committed to invest or raise $130 million for the network.
"CBS gave me the urban market experience that will be important," Rodgers said after being named CEO of the startup network. He added, "If I hadn't done that stint at Discovery I never would have imagined how successful you can be targeting a sliver of a demo."
Rodgers has long been considered the most obvious candidate for the job since he is one of the few blacks among the most senior ranks of television executives, he has decades of experience, and he already lives in Washington, near Radio One's headquarters.
Rodgers has delayed a planned summer launch by six months or so mainly because he doesn't have key positions filled.
He's still working out the details of the network's schedule, but Rodgers expects to slate a blend of music and talk programming developed with Radio One's 66 mostly-urban radio stations, as well as acquired off-net series, documentaries and public affairs shows and other original programming. As an example, he noted the home décor and lifestyle shows populating TLC's schedule. "There's no reason we couldn't do those kinds of programs but with an African-American twist."