Armstrong Williams, the conservative commentator and business manager for Republican presidential front-runner Ben Carson, is now the largest black owner of TV stations in America, closing deals to acquire two new stations Friday.
His purchase of KVMY, the MyNet affiliate in Las Vegas, and WLYH, the CW affiliate in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has brought his total holdings to seven television stations, the majority of the mere 12 U.S. television stations — out of 2,119 nationwide — with black owners.
In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Williams said he hopes to one day take his number to 10 stations and continue to extend his alternative news programming to markets across the country.
“We want to reinforce the kind of values and virtues that make America great,” Mr. Williams, who also writes a weekly column for The Times, said of his television programming. “We want the kind of shows that families can sit down and watch and be proud of. We want people to know that you don’t always have to lead with what bleeds. We want to uplift people we want to give people real self-esteem and real worth.”
Mr. Williams’ company, Howard Stirk Holdings LLC, also stands as a model for minorities working in the media industry.
“One of the things that we’re proud of is the fact that probably 75 percent of our workforce are minorities. We truly celebrate diversity,” said Marcus Mullings, vice president of Howard Stirk Holdings. “Almost 50 percent of that workforce is women. When you talk about the issue of black men not finding jobs, the issue of inequality, 55 percent of our work force is black men.”
Mr. Williams dove in to television ownership in 2013, when he was able to secure a “sidecar deal” with Sinclair Broadcasting to help him purchase the license assets of two Barrington Broadcasting-owned stations for an estimated $6 million as part of a larger $370 million transaction in which Sinclair purchased 18 television stations from Barrington.
Sinclair owned the two stations but transferred the license and programming assets for WEYI in Flint, Michigan, and WWMB in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to Mr. Williams. Sinclair owns separate stations in both markets.
The controversial “sidecar” deals that secured Mr. Williams’ first two stations were the subject of harsh criticism, with many accusing him and Sinclair of skirting FCC prohibitions against monopoly control of television broadcast markets.
But Mr. Williams said that criticism hasn’t fazed him. Unlike other sidecar deals, his deal with Sinclair keeps him in control.
“[A]ll sidecar deals are not created equal,” he told C-SPAN in 2014. In his deal with Sinclair at WEYI and WWMB, “he has total control over programming and gets 85 percent of the station’s revenues.”
Those two stations served as a training ground for Mr. Williams and his team to learn the ins and outs of the business, management, marketing and programming. Mr. Williams purchased the last five stations totally independently.
“Those last five stations have shown us we can survive independently, and we created a model that people can respect and advertisers are willing to buy in to,” Mr. Mullings said.
The black businessman with the next largest ownership interest is Pluria Marshall Jr., sole owner of the recently formed Marshall Broadcasting Group, which purchased three Fox-affiliated television stations from Nexstar in 2014 for $58 million.
Now Mr. Williams says his strategy is to build up a larger network that will focus on local markets, serving specific demographic groups with both regular and special programming.
“We want people to trust journalism again, especially broadcast journalism. We want people to be able to look at this and see it as being fair, unbiased and not having any political ideology. We don’t want our journalists to be celebrities making the news, we want them to report the news,” Mr. Williams said.