Byron Lewis formed UniWorld Group, an African-American and multi-cultural agency, in 1969. But seven or eight years later, his venture capital was running out, and the agency was failing to make enough money to keep the lights on.
One big problem the agency had been up against was that there were almost no media outlets focused on minorities, apart from Ebony magazine.
That’s when Lewis had an “epiphany” — that he should develop a radio soap opera, like the ones he had heard growing up, centering on an African-American family from the South now living in Chicago.
He tried to write a pilot but didn’t find takers. Then he met an actress, writer and director who explained what the problem was.
“She told me what a soap opera was supposed to be,” says Lewis, who retired as UniWorld’s CEO in 2012 after selling a 49% share to WPP in 2000, in an interview with Beet.TV. “She says a soap opera is trauma after trauma after trauma, and it’s all about women.”
That woman developed a plot for a radio program they named “Sounds of the City,” and famous actors like Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis took roles. Ultimately, the 39-week episode arc was sponsored by Quaker Oats. And Lewis and his agency were saved.
This is segment is part of Beet.TV’s “Media Revolutionaries,” a 50-part series of interviews with key innovators and leaders in the media, technology and advertising industries, sponsored by Xaxis and Microsoft. Xaxis is a unit of WPP.
Lewis was interviewed for Beet.TV by David J. Moore, Chairman of Xaxis and President of WPP Digital.