Soul of the South Buys Little Rock HQ

Soul of the South Buys Little Rock HQ
Former Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Richard Mays is chairman of the Soul of the South network's board.

Soul of the South, a new television network targeting African-American viewers from Southern states, says it will pump up its Little Rock headquarters in order to expand its national reach.

According to a news release, the network has purchased from One Bank & Trust the 30,000-SF building it was leasing at 1 Shackleford Drive.

It secured a $1.5 million mortgage for the building from Arkansas Capital Corp. and now plans to construct new office space, install a news studio and create “dozens” of new jobs. The network also aims to increase the number of television markets it’s in from 30 to 50 by the end of the year.

Originally launched last May 2013 with the help of some $10 million in investments from the Arkansas Development Finance Authority, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and Arkansas Capital Corp., Soul of the South is receiving more government incentives in the form of $500,000 from the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund.

That money will go toward renovating and improving the Shackleford headquarters.

The building is a former headquarters of Equity Broadcasting Co., a defunct company that was helmed by Larry Morton. Morton now serves as Soul of the South’s CEO.

Morton said Equity originally performed its central broadcasting from that building. During Equity’s bankruptcy in 2008, United Assurance Co. of Los Angeles foreclosed on the building. It later was acquired by One Bank.

“It’s a very good building,” Morton said. “There was already a large number of satellite dishes out here, both downlinked and uplinked dishes. It also sits on top of several major fiber hubs that allow us to have great interconnectivity. It has huge generators here that are worth quite a large amount of money and an electrical system that would cost a tremendous amount to reproduce elsewhere. For a television network operation, this is the perfect building.”

Morton said the building is old, but the renovation funds should help alleviate the issues that come with its age.

After renovating the building, Morton said, some of the network’s goals will start to be realized, such as building its employee base and ramping up its news and original content.

Soul of the South is essentially a broadcast network, Morton said, but has flexibility.

“Our preference is to have a broadcast partner in every market,” he said. “But because we will end up owning a large part of our content, we will be able to deliver directly to cable where we can’t get a broadcast partner. That makes us unique among most networks, since most are either cable or broadcast. We’re more of a ‘TV anywhere’ network, and as we build out and grow the company, we will distribute directly to homes.”

The network can be seen on KMYA-TV, Channel 49, in Little Rock.

Morton said the jobs that will be added in Little Rock will be a variety of technical positions, many of which he said didn’t exist previously in the area. “We’ll be training local Arkansans to do these jobs,” he said.

Richard Mays, a former justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, is chairman of Soul of the South. He said the network has a corner on its market.

“In term of our focus and our brand, our emphasis is on the culture of the South, the music of the South, the history of the South,” he said.

“That makes it unique, because the South is unique. … I think there’s a history and focus and entertainment element that not only speaks to the South but its role in developing this great country.”

Morton said the network’s focus also emphasizes more positive elements rather than sensationalized news.

“We have current news headlines, but our focus is on telling people what other people are doing to improve their lives. … That’s what attracted me to Soul of the South. This is a chance to have a company that promotes the values of the South and focuses on the positive effects on people’s lives,” he said.

He admitted that the positive emphasis is a harder sell, but he thinks it’s a good model.

“It’s not easy, but we believe that value system we create will win out in the long run,” he said.

“We have a compelling product that people would like to see. We have facts … and we entertain in the process. If we do a good job, we’ll be very competitive, we’ll make money and we’ll promote the South.”