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Radio warrior Amos Brown's style boosts ratings, influence

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Amos Brown stood at the back of a crowd at the Central Library listening to Mayor Greg Ballard and leaders for the 2012 Super Bowl host committee unveil community initiatives.

Hardly noticed by the masses at this feel-good event last January, Brown took in the details of a plan to make the 2012 game the most environmentally friendly Super Bowl ever, and to involve more than 160 Indiana high school sophomores in championing the cause.

When host committee members asked for questions, Brown launched a fastball. Why, he asked, were no predominantly black schools on the initiative’s list? Before they had a chance to respond, he called it “embarrassing” that no schools in Indianapolis Public Schools or Pike Township were among the 1st & Green participants.

“We’re talking about diversity and inclusion here,” Brown said.

It was quintessential Amos Brown, whose penchant for asking tough questions has made him one of Indianapolis’ most influential community activists and made his daily radio show—“Afternoons with Amos”—one of the city’s most popular talk shows.

Amos Brown Amos Brown says a mentor taught him the importance of using radio to effect change. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Those who know the 59-year-old Chicago transplant weren’t surprised to find him in the middle of another controversy. Brown—a WTLC-AM 1310 personality who is one of the few liberals with a large radio following in conservative Indianapolis—has been challenging the city’s power structure for decades.

“He’s never been afraid to bring up issues no one else will,” said Bruce Bryant, president of locally based Promotus Advertising. “He’s a champion for what he thinks is right, no matter what.”

Brown usually has the attention of community leaders. And for good reason.

His 25-percent share of black listeners age 35 and older is the highest audience share in any U.S. market for a black-oriented radio talk show, according to New York-based Arbitron Inc.

Brown’s audience share tops black broadcasting icons such as Joe Madison in Washington, D.C., Mildred Gaddis in Detroit, Cliff Kelley in Chicago, and Rev. Al Sharpton in New York.

“Afternoons with Amos,” which launched in 2004 and runs 1-3 p.m. weekdays, outdraws all news-talk radio shows in Indianapolis except Rush Limbaugh’s nationally syndicated show, a local conservative show hosted by Greg Garrison, and an afternoon drive-time show now hosted by Ed Wenck but formerly overseen by Steve Simpson. All are on WIBC-FM 93.1, which has a much broader audience than WTLC’s gospel format.

Mold breaker

Visitors to Radio One’s offices on St. Joseph Street on the north edge of downtown see little evidence of Brown’s broadcasting achievements, such as his 2007 induction into the Indiana Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

amos brownBrown, who’s been a fixture of Indianapolis radio since 1975, sometimes crams up to a dozen guests into his humble 14-foot-by-14-foot studio.

In addition to preparing for and hosting his show, Brown serves as Radio One’s Indianapolis director of strategic research. His days are frenetic and include everything from making public service announcements to filing program logs.

Most days, Brown dresses simply in slacks and a collared shirt. When he’s not on the air, he comes across as soft-spoken—something that might surprise guests who’ve been recipients of his verbal jabs. Guests on his show have ranged from residents of local housing projects to Barack Obama and Larry Bird.

“There is no mold for a guy like Amos Brown,” said longtime local TV and radio broadcaster Tom Cochrun. “He’s an activist, a thinker, catalyst and a power player. He’s not a captain of industry, not a political leader and not a preacher, yet has the influence, the swath of clout and the chutzpah of all of those.”

While Cochrun said Brown’s sometimes in-your-face approach has gained some detractors, he added that Brown never has hidden his agenda.

“He can perform, intimidate and provoke, and he makes no apology for that,” Cochrun said. “One thing with Amos, he’s not deceptive. He is who he is.”

While Brown agrees his show can be provocative, he insists it’s not about him. Nor is it ambush journalism.

“If the show is all about the host, then the host isn’t listening,” Brown said. “My show is not about ‘gotcha.’ It’s about getting information to the people.”

And Brown said he’s mellowed over the years.

“When I was younger, I was hyper, quick to react, even hot-tempered at times,” Brown said. “I may have come across as arrogant. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten calmer and more reflective before I respond.”

Brown credits his maturation to working for Dr. Frank Lloyd, a surgeon who once owned WTLC and later became president of Methodist Hospital.

“Dr. Lloyd told me he sometimes left the operating room to re-scrub his hands,” Brown recalled. “He told me that wasn’t because his hands needed cleaning. He told me, ‘It’s OK to walk around the block before you make a decision.’ That advice stuck with me.”

In demand

Radio One management says the bond Brown has built with listeners translates into strong revenue for the station.

“This is what we know about Amos Brown’s show: It sells. There is a great demand by advertisers to be on his show,” said Chuck Williams, Radio One’s Indianapolis market manager.
 

Longtime local media buyer Bill Perkins said Brown has the most coveted characteristic advertisers want in a broadcaster.

“Simply put, his audience trusts him,” said Perkins, president of Perkins Nichols Media. “That’s what any advertiser looks for in a broadcaster—trust. He connects with his audience in a unique way.”

Bryant thinks Brown would be even bigger if he were on a station with a bigger audience. WTLC-AM generally ranks from No. 17 to No. 20 among all listeners 12 and over, according to Arbitron.

“I think in many ways, the brand of Amos Brown is bigger than the station he’s on,” added Cochrun, now retired and living in California. “He’s so active in the community from the Riley [Children’s Hospital] telethon to any other number of events and causes, that his brand supersedes the station’s. Wherever he goes, people—especially those in the African-American community—know who he is.”

Career path

After graduating from Northwestern University, Brown joined WTLC as an advertising sales representative. He figured he’d stick around Indianapolis no more than two years.

Amos Brown Amos Brown, left, seen here with WTLC-FM disc jockey Jerry Walker in the 1980s, has been a fixture of the city’s radio scene since 1975. (Photo Courtesy Amos Brown)

But he soon began climbing the career ladder. He graduated to assistant station manager and then, in 1981, to station manager.

He changed course in 1994, becoming director of strategic research for station owner Hoosier Radio and TV, which was owned by Bill Shirk and Bill Mays. He kept the same job after Maryland-based Radio One purchased WTLC and other Indiana properties in 2000.

Brown said that at times he would have considered going back to a general manager role, but not now.

“The job I have now allows me to be on-air, which I truly enjoy,” Brown said. “It also allows me to take on a role of coach, guide and counselor that provides advice and expertise.”

Brown began his on-air career in 1976, producing and hosting several TV and radio shows. In 1992, Brown created Indianapolis’ first black-oriented radio talk show, “The Noon Show.” From 1997 to 2005, he hosted “The Amos Brown Show,” Indianapolis’ only daytime TV talk show.

From 1995-1997, Brown created and hosted “Six Thirty PM,” Indianapolis’ first nightly TV magazine show in a decade.

Brown gained a reputation for tackling racial, political and socio-economic issues, and had little problem getting power brokers to come on his shows.

For 15 years, Brown hosted “Morning with the Mayor,” a drive-time call-in show on WTLC-AM that spanned the administrations of Bill Hudnut and Stephen Goldsmith.

Bully pulpit

Brown never has been afraid to use his radio show as a bully pulpit when he feels it’s necessary.

During a recent show, Brown pounded on his desk—one of his trademark moves—imploring local black residents to fill out their census forms.

Brown also waded into one of this year’s biggest police-related controversies—the May 16 beating of 15-year-old Brandon Johnson by several Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers.

Brown was outraged when he was contacted on air by the victim’s sister three days after the beating, and there had not yet been any coverage of the incident in the mainstream media.

After exploring what happened, and touring the neighborhood where the event occurred, Brown pulled together black community leaders to discuss the issue. He also hosted police and other public officials on his show to discuss the incident and how people should interact with police officers.

While Brown admits to being a lightning rod, he said he doesn’t take up every issue some in the black community think he should.

Promotus’ Bryant said Brown’s stance on conflicts between police and attendees of Indiana Black Expo several years ago is one example. Brown ridiculed police officers under then-Mayor Bart Peterson for “rude” behavior, but also said police weren’t solely to blame.

“Amos was calling for parents to control their kids, not to let their youth and teens run loose on the streets,” Bryant said.

Brown said his activist streak wasn’t forced on him by his dad, an optometrist, or his stay-at-home mom.

“Sometimes [the activism] was for business reasons, such as the census,” Brown explained. “Advertisers were always telling me African-Americans don’t buy this or that, and I wanted to prove them wrong.

“Sometimes it was because of a pitch, as was the case with my involvement in the black infant mortality rate. And sometimes it was simply to do good in the ’hood,” Brown said.

The latter is partly a legacy of Dr. Lloyd, who died in 2002.

“It was the vision of Dr. Lloyd that these radio properties do good,” Brown said. “He put it into my mind that these [minority-oriented] stations could help effect positive change. And that it was important to be a servant-leader. I bought into that vision. And I try to reflect that mission every day.”•

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  • Never Again
    I hope I never hear this disgrace of a name again. End racism and leave no means for it to be encouraged!!
  • D&C Plumbing Services
    We were hot and miserable in our home for two years because we were told our AC system was irreparable and it would be best to get a new system. The new system would cost at a minimum $2,800 and as much as $3,800. My wife heard about D&C Plumbing Services on The Amos Brown show and we decided to give them a call. I called and made an appointment for the next day. When they arrived, they were courteous and professional. They began evaluating my system and kept me informed as to what they were doing and why. It was determined that there were valves leaking freon from the heat pump that was causing the lost of freon in the system. They replaced the valves, charged my system and all for a fraction of the estimated 'NEW' system. Thanks to D& C Plumbing Services for a job well done. While we didn't take a much need vacation with the savings, we are enjoying a 'cool' home again.
  • Cyber Bullying or Bullying.
    I am sorry to hear about your child bein bullied at school. This is very dishardening to me and others like me who care about our children. I don't know how this information can help you, but I am involved in a Home Based Business that shows you how to protect your child through your cell phone. I am not trying to cell you anything, I am just giving you an option to how to protect your children or child. The website is www.weareftp.com/dleflore. Once you get to the site above my picture hit the video icon and go to the next page and put in your name, email and my rep #3676. Call me if this helps you at 589-4043 or 523-0583. My name is Diane LeFlore
  • Podcast radio
    Dear Amos Brown I enjoy your radio show and a lot of the times i am on the move but i keep in touch with my i phone i was hoping that you and the radio station have a podcast address or application for download, if so can you e-mail it to me and my family, that i may continue to enjoy one of the worlds Greatest Freedom Fighters of Free Speech and Justice and Equality for All Man Kind...
  • I NEED HELP
    my name janice i have abig problem, the city is tol me that i have to get my ceptic tank removed and put in a city sewer system,and i will have to pay both the city $3,000.00 and a privet contractor too. I do not have the money for neither one , i just got out of a bankrupcy (7&13)ive just got a home modifacation so that i can keep my house at a price i can afford. I do not have a income, i live off of my grandsons ssi check and tht has been cut down, his check is only enough to pay the mortage and maybe pay something on the utility bills. I have called the mayors action office, the caap progam, trustee officeof warren township, 211 help line, citizens water company, habitat housing, the inhp said that i cannot get help from them because i donot have income in my name. PLEASE,PLEASE,PLEASE, HELP ME ! Iam not theonly one with problem in this area.I have been going through this since 2007 and no one has come up with a plan or program for us whom need this done. No one seem no one cares about it. It is funny that the city can come up with money for the sporting event that will happen in 2012 to beautify the city, but not for this that septic tank removal plan that they say has to be done. Doesnt this seem backwards or is it just me? I am begging you for some answers. thank you for help. Janice Johnson 9838 East 10th Street, Indpls. In. 317-897-2567.
  • Bullying
    I sent this message to the superintendent of my sons school because my youngest son is being bullied by 4 to 6 kids (male and females) and I feel like nobody is helping me, but they always say we talked to them and they watcded a video on bullying. I don't care about the video I care about my son and his life!! Amos can you please help me with this. Shellvonda

    Bullying this needs to be addressed ASAP!
    Reply |shellvonda brookins to natejones
    show details 10:58 AM (45 minutes ago)


    I am writing you regards to my son Anthony Brookins who attends New Augusta South. He has been bullied by several kids (male and female) in his classroom and it seems like nothing has been done about it. I have talked to the principal the assistant principal plenty of times and I am at my end with all of this. I know my son is not perfect but he does not bully anybody. I was told as of today that he was hit in the head with a book by one of the boy's. I spoke with the principal today and she stated that the kids are going to watch a video on bullying and, honestly I don't think by them watching this video again will be helpful because they don't care and it seems like their parents don't either. The principal stated that my son can be moved to another classroom and I like the teacher he has been with for these few years and did not understand why the other kids could not be moved. It was a time where my oldest son defended his little brother and he got in trouble for that. I was told this was a on going thing with the boys, but it's on going because nothing is being done correctly about it and i;m so tired of it. My mother, brothers (4), his father and stepfather has been up to the school and still we are still at the same spot. Something has to be done ASAP, or I will have to call the Media and the Police about this situation, but my son's life is in jeopardy. My son stated to me before that he feels like he doesn't have anything to live for and that he wants to go be with God, because nobody likes him and they are always starting things with him. I'm tired and I refused to turn the other cheek on my child's life. He will not fall victim to another child's hand of ignorance and it's to many adults in that school for this to be going on.
    Reply Forward
    • And the answer is...?
      I read this article with interest, but I did not find any answer to the 'tough question' that Mr. Brown asked the Superbowl host committee.

      Were they stunned into silence? Was Mr. Brown not interested in the answer? How about Mr. Schoettle, the journalist, why did he not include the answer in this story?

      I am left to make wild guesses. Like, if Pike and Indianapolis (predominantly black) schools had been invited to participate, but had not chosen to do so, well, that would really be embarrassing for some people.

      Which schools were included, and how and why?
      I'd just like to hear the answer for myself so I can judge whether or not it is embarrassing, and to whom.
    • Pre Collegiate Consultant
      Amos you are to be commended for staying on track. You have not gotten wrapped up in being Amos Brown, but have stayed the course recommended to you by our friend Dr. Lloyd. Keep up the good work and God Bless!....Ruth W. Woods
    • Bring on new leadership in the community
      Amos is a very intelligent and skilled person. The general public who don't see everything through race colored glasses should tune in and listen to him and his callers to get a eye opening.

      Celebrating victimhood, defending disfunctional behavior, and preying on white guilt is not what Martin Luther King wanted for his children.

      Sad some people relish living 50 or more years in the past and have not embraced integration, inclusion, self empowerment, personal responsibility, and simple values of right and wrong held by most.

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