The lineup includes names like college basketball pioneer Nevil Shed, local jazz icon Vernon “Spot” Barnett, and poet Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson – local black men and women who have changed San Antonio’s political, religious, artistic, and business landscape.
But the first interview Laura Thompson conducted for her new television series that launches Feb. 1 on the station she founded, The African American Network (TAAN), is someone not as widely known.
A retired teacher who worked in the San Antonio Independent School District for 26 years, Thompson’s mother Irene began the district’s school sports program for girls in the late 1960s, back before public schools funded sports for girls.
The interview will air as one segment of Thompson’s new series, “300 Voices in 300 Days.” The series celebrates the San Antonio’s Tricentennial and honors black people who shaped the community’s history. The series was unveiled at an event Monday evening at the TAAN Studios on East Commerce Street.
“We’ve done about 200 interviews so far, and we’ll be filming through March 31 and roll out interviews one every day until we reach 300,” Thompson said of the 20-minute features that will air on TAAN’s Roku channel, online at taan.tv, or via an Android app.
Thompson, a local entrepreneur and former public relations consultant, founded TAAN in the spring of 2012, using a studio at the Weston Centre while working from Geekdom.
The channel’s mission is to build an online community around happenings in black circles across the country. Viewers can watch interviews, movies, and comedy shows focused on “ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the African American community.”
TAAN is the product of a dream Thompson has had since she was a girl touring the television studios at Trinity University on a school field trip. “I’ve said I wanted to do something with television ever since then,” she said.
In 1995, she was working for an internet service provider and registered the name The African American Network. “I still just didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I kept that name, and when the TV [internet domain] extension came out, I shortened it to taan.tv.”
She began building TAAN by Googling and learning on her own, and created her first content using a cell phone and uploading it to YouTube. Now she has a team of six hosts working with her and live programming 24 hours a day. Last week, TAAN logged 69,000 minutes viewed via the Roku channel.
Shoots for the “300 Voices” series that will air on TAAN began in June and include locals like Toni “Texas T” Wright, a celebrity hair stylist who Thompson said is very humble but “building a beauty empire.” There will also be a segment featuring former San Antonio Express-News columnist Cary Clack, who talked with TAAN about growing up on the Eastside, living with his grandmother, and being mentored by the Rev. Claude Black.
“It’s always important for a family or community to gather stories before they’re forever lost,” said Clack. “Too often, more so in communities than families, voices are excluded and the full history of that community not told. Part of what makes San Antonio unique is the rich and diverse cultures and voices that make up its history.
“If you’re singing a 300-year-old song, you’d better include all of those voices in the choir.”
And at a time when many major television networks are losing viewers, networks for and about blacks, especially black women, are experiencing double-digit growth.
“With African Americans watching 37 percent more television than any other group – more than seven hours per day – there is a great need for African-American programming,” wrote Bonita Gooch, editor-in-chief of The Community Voice, in a report titled “Black TV Networks: Trending Up in a Down Market” last year.
“Our tagline is ‘local feel with a global reach,’ and we have programming for African Americans or anyone who wants it, similar to a BET,” Thompson said. “BET has moved to something different, and ours is more than just entertainment. We provide sports, short films, and we’re going to have music. The TAAN Underground has all our movies and entertainment, talk shows, sitcoms, just like regular TV.”
TAAN is supported by advertising and sponsorships and a partnership with the Gran Television Network. Thompson made a personal investment in TAAN when it launched, but named Allstate and Harland Clarke as advertisers, and said she plans to focus more on selling advertising this year.
“It’s an important part of history,” Thompson said of the latest TAAN project themed for the Tricentennial. The series may have been born of an idea to do something during the city’s anniversary, she said, “But it ended up being much more than that when we started listening to the stories and found out how impactful the stories are.
“The fact is, we don’t have a big oral history collection for African Americans, maybe not for anybody.”