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Cause Magazine


Still, while the station owners allowed him to produce it, they stipulated that Cornelius would have to bankroll it. He started it with just a few hundred dollars and was the show’s host, produc- er, and salesman but he did not draw one cent from it until local advertisers began to recognize the program’s value and started signing on. The show premiered on August 17, 1970.


As the show grew in popularity, Cornelius began thinking about national syndication. He approached the Johnson Products Co., the country’s leading black-owned company (makers of Afro-Sheen and other products), and they made the decision to advertise on the show along with Sears. Then in 1971, Cornelius moved his operations from the Windy City to Hollywood. Like Berry Gordy at Motown, he realized there would be more opportunity for his business in the entertainment capital. At the time, Dick Clark hosted “American Bandstand” and had no other real competitors until Cornelius made the scene with his lean and mean “Soul Train” machine. Even with a couple of solid advertising sponsors it wasn’t so easy to lay down the tracks for the “Soul Train” in uncharted ter- ritory. “There was not programming that targeted any particu- lar ethnicity,” Cornelius said in 2006, then added: "I'm trying to use euphemisms here, trying to avoid saying there was no televi- sion for black folks, which they knew was [aimed] for them." Only a handful of stations initially were receptive."When we rolled it out, there were only eight takers," he recalled in a 2006 interview with The Associated Press. "Which was somewhere between a little disappointing and a whole lot disappointing." The reasons he heard? "There was just, `We don't want it. We pass,'" he said, with race going unmentioned. "No one was bla- tant enough to say that." The “Train" had pulled into the station at a time when the


country was still reeling from the Civil Rights Movement, politi- cal upheaval and major cultural swings. A time when black faces on TV were still few and far between, let alone an entire pro- gram targeting that audience. Cornelius pushed on though, and slowly but surely began adding stations across the country as word spread about the show.


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