Pete Rhodes’ original goal when he started the area’s first cable radio station 35 years ago was to promote localized ethnic programming. Since then he’s raised his sights considerably.
What Rhodes launched in October 1984 as CBLS Cable Radio (The Cities’ Best Looking Sound) eventually morphed into Black Music America (BMA) Cable Networks, operating under the Urban Mass Media Group name. Today, BMA Cable Networks reaches an estimated one million viewers on Comcast (Channel 937 in Minneapolis and St. Paul), as well as the seven-county metro area and western Wisconsin, and also programs a free On-Demand channel.
Sitting in his Northeast Minneapolis offices, Rhodes reflected, “We had a hard time keeping the station going, to do something 24 hours a day and show that we can do that.”
Rhodes relocated to Minneapolis from Chicago in 1980. He and then-fiancée Kim Bedell, now his wife, started the Minnesota Black Music Awards in 1981.
“My whole push in this marketplace coming from Chicago was to make a platform for us as a community to come together,” Rhodes explained, “but also be able to share in the [positive] experiences that are here in this city, whether it’s from an entertainment standpoint [or] recognition of the musicians that were making the Twin Cities and Minnesota famous all around the world.”
Starting a cable radio station was something unheard of at the time, but Rhodes took on the challenge. “It wasn’t easy to start up in 1984 on then-Rogers Cable,” he continued. “We had to pull, beg, pry to convince the cable system, who had their building established in North Minneapolis, that it was important to have something to offer [the Black community].” But Rhodes eventually “was able to turn that switch on…and we turned to 92.9 (FM),” he said with evident pride.
“We went through a lot of hassling about what we were doing,” Rhodes said of the early going. “We were pulled off channels and put on other channels [without prior notice].” But things eventually improved thanks to an ownership change.
“When Time Warner came into the market [in the mid-1990s], in came this African American guy who looked like me and he was now the president of this division,” Rhodes noted. “We did very well with Eric Brown as the first African American to run the cable system here. He supported and worked with us. That was a drink of fresh water.”
BMA later was added to the St. Paul cable system in 1986. “Having the ability to be in both cities, I thought we were on our way to being the next BET,” Rhodes stressed.
He referred to two seminal moments nearly 35 years apart that now convince him he made the right decision. “I was over a friend’s house and he was listening to the station… He had fixed his TV so CBLS could play through his component stereo unit. [Also] the other day, in our 35th year, we went to some friends’ home and they had this big 60-inch screen, and on it was BMA. It was playing and they talked about how they enjoyed it.”
Today, Pete and Kim Rhodes are the only Black husband-and-wife broadcasting owners in the Twin Cities. “I’m blessed definitely to have Kim in my life,” Pete said of his longtime spouse and business partner. “She doesn’t like to take a lot of credit for what she really does, but had it not been for her this wouldn’t be here.”
“If it’s only one person that is listening to us or watching us, we want to be able to bring the best we can bring to that one person,” Rhodes said. “That excites us… It makes us feel good that we can represent our people in a positive way.”
BMA Cable moved to a new studio in January after being located inside the WCCO-TV downtown studios since 2007.
“We’re now in a partnership with Metro Cable Network (MCN Channel 6)” as well as a MCN board member, he stressed. “MCN is a network that was established by the Metropolitan Council to promote programs. MCN6 is trying to make it a network to provide diversity and programming.”
BMA plans to soon debut a live urban news hour. A new top-10-hits program was debuted in June and Rhodes noted that he hasn’t given up on his dream to one day go national.
“Our next thing is getting stronger so that it can be something like NBC, ABC, and CBS to the Black community,” he said. “I don’t want to sell it off like BET did to a White entity. I want BMA to stay in our community.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.