Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Other Mutual Networks

It's sort of like NBC Red and NBC Blue. In the1970s the Mutual Broadcasting System network tried to spin off some smaller more targeted networks to grab new demos. It wasn't a total failure, but nothing lasts forever. ABC had launched some format specific networks in 1968.. and maybe from the outside it looked like a good idea.

On May 1, 1972, MBS launched three spin-offs: Mutual Cadena Hisp├ínica and the Mutual Black Network. These are as you already guessed, meant to target black and Hispanic markets. Each network produced a hundred five-minute-long news and sports "capsules" every week to run at quarter of the hour. The was all clearly modeled dafter the ABC news feeds. Starting in 1973, at 5-of the hour, they also offered up the "Mutual Progressive Network." This was less of a "network" and more of a product. This trifecta was sort of symbolic of why Mutual didn't last.

Mutual Cadena Hispánica was also called the Mututal Spanish Network (MSN.) The Spanish-language service didn't last long. it launched with 17 affiliates, mostly in the southwest which at first seems to make sense demographically. Supposedly it lasted less than 7 months. It didn't live up to expectations and was terminated in 1973. Their root problem was that "Hispanic" is not a homogeneous demographic. In that era there were several distinct and large Latino ethnic groups in America including Cubans, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans. Marketing to them as a single silo didn't work geographically. There's not much more information on MSN out there but recently found this tidbit here.

The Mutual Black Network fared somewhat better. They started out with WNJR, KCOH Houston, KWK St. Louis, and WIGO Atlanta and by 1974 MBN had 98 affiliates. It's programming was much more savvy than the other two. They ran hard news at 10 of the hour and had their own feature programing. They even tried a own soap opera in 1974. Many of their features were about African American history which were popular. In 1975 they began running a weekly 20-minute program called "Dr. Martin Luther King Speaks," produced by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. That's as big a deal as it sounds. It was eventually spun off and acquired by the Sheridan Broadcasting Corporation, leading to the creation of American Urban Radio Networks.

The Mutual Progressive Network changed it's branding in about 1980 to Mutual Lifestyle Reports (MLR.) It was targeted at AOR stations. It is described in the old catalogs as "part hard news, partly off-beat coverage."  I've also heard it's news coverage described as progressive, which would make sense on an AOR station in the early 1980s. The demographics were younger, and therefore inherently more liberal. I found one source that called it the "Mutual Progressive Network" but it lacks veracity.

Nonetheless by 1979, Mutual had 950 stations, these diversions didn't derail anything.. they were just symptomatic of a network that was going to be absorbed one day into NBC.