GULFPORT — When Rip Daniels was working bagging groceries at Jitney Jungle back in high school in the 1960s, it was an unwritten rule that African Americans didn’t work behind the cash register. One day when the store was particularly busy, Daniels got behind the register to help, hoping to demonstrate that he was capable of running the cash register.
“I was chastised pretty good,” Daniels recalls. “That incident encouraged me to want to be behind the cash resister instead of behind the bag. The Golden Rule is: ‘He who holds the gold makes the rules.’
From that point on I was totally committed to going into businesses myself. It didn’t matter getting rich. What mattered the most was being independent.”
Daniels has achieved far beyond what he could have imagined as a teenager. His accomplishments include a successful real estate business, constructing and renting homes. He worked in retail, and owned and operated a lounge before getting a license for WJZD 94.5 FM radio in Gulfport. Daniels’ “It’s A New Day” talk radio program has included a wide variety of famous guests from former President Bill Clinton to David Duke, Rodney King, Charlie Pride, B.B. King and Patti Labelle.
Daniels has also invested $250,000 in a satellite dish to operate the American Blues Network, the country’s only 24-hour satellite blues music network. The American Blues Network attracts about 220,000 listeners per quarter hour.
Daniel’s accomplishments were recognized recently when he was named Minority Businessperson of the Year by the Mississippi Development Authority’s minority enterprise division.
Daniels had lots of early inspiration. There were many African-American entrepreneur business people on the Coast. As a young person he used to walk from Nixon Street to Main Street in Biloxi — which at the time seemed a busy, big time urban environment. There were shoe stores, bakeries, lounges and restaurants all owned by African Americans.
“I was very moved by all the businesses that were there,” Daniels said. “I was surrounded by an environment of serious enterpreneurship. Charles Smith owned the Throne Lounge, and one in Biloxi called the Torch. He cultivated my interest in business. Combine that with the fact that I have a mother who was quite encouraging for me, and all of my siblings, to go into business for ourselves.
“My Uncle David in California owned apartments and a barbershop. And many of my relatives on Turkey Creek were independent artisans or business people. And my father, who was a cement finisher, considered himself an independent contractor. For as far back as I can remember, I had a foundation of people who worked very hard and had an entrepreneurial kind of desire. I don’t ever remember not wanting to be in business.”
After high school he went to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., pursuing a business degree. He returned to Mississippi thinking that was the best place to launch a business.
“My oldest son was born, and that really, really influenced much of my decision to stay in Mississippi,” Daniels said. “So I worked at the Ranch at Edgewater Mall, working my way up to assistant manager.”
Daniels had worked at a college radio station in Florida, and was attracted to start working in radio on the Mississippi Gulf Coast by Carl Haynes, who was selling radio advertisements.
“He encouraged me,” Daniels recalls. “He said I had the voice for it. He made me an offer I could have refused. But like any starry-eyed young man, being part of the media was a great thing. I settled for less money and decided to become a radio announcer at WTAM.”
Daniels said he learned a lot about managing a business while working at the Ranch. He got a basic knowledge of the economics of hiring, firing, taxes, Social Security and marketing.
In his 20s with a family to support, Daniels didn’t have a lot of resources to work with. So he took his father’s advice. His father said he could either save time or money. If he didn’t have money, he would have to invest his time to make the dream of owning a business come true.
As a result, Daniels was often working two or three projects at a time. After working as a radio announcer he opened a lounge in a 125-year-old building leased from his great-grandmother that he renovated himself over a six-year period while working with Charles Smith learning construction techniques. While working nights bartending at the lounge, he studied to take the real estate exam.
“I was always working on my stuff, to go in business,” Daniels said. “Every year has been busy. I have always been multi-task oriented. I couldn’t borrow the money, so I had to continually work to make money to invest, and that resulted in my being debt free. I worked my tail off, but I truly appreciate it these days.”
The lounge, Rip’s Cum-bi-ya on Teagarten Road, was a success. But a fire destroyed the business in 1984, and Daniels wasn’t adequately insured to cover all the losses.
“That was devastating,” Daniels said. “That was a crushing moment for me. Then, lo and behold, I lost the lounge in November of 1984, and in January of 1985 a radio job opened at WQFX. I was back in radio, had a real estate license, and had renovated buildings so I was apt as a contractor. I got a contractor license, and decided to use both the real estate and contractor licenses. I started Daniels Real Estate and Construction while being on the air at WQFX. I built my first set of duplexes, and then the next year built two more and, at the end of that year, two more.”
In 1986 Daniels applied for a permit to run his own radio station. He didn’t win the station license until seven years later in 1994.
“I had to literally beat out, buy out and force out everybody involved in the quest to get the station,” Daniels said. “I went on the air in 1994. Next MarchApril we will celebrate 10 years. There was not a rhythm and blues station on the Coast, and there wasn’t one that appealed information wise to the African American community.”
Daniels started the business in a building where he used to attend kindergarten on Cowan Road until that property was taken by eminent domain for a highway project. While in litigation with the Mississippi Department of Transportation over the taking of his property, he built the building on the Industrial Seaway that currently houses the radio station. He invested his own money to make the business happen, and is proud of owning one of the few independent radio stations on the Coast — and one that is also debt free.
He continues to manage a number of rental properties, but doesn’t do as much new construction these days. He also doesn’t sleep much, often traveling to promote the American Blues Network and do his radio program while continuing to manage the real estate business.
“I don’t even use an alarm clock,” Daniels said. “Last night I left the station to do a live show in Jackson for Mississippi Public Broadcasting on the blues from 10 to 11 p.m., and then I had to drive back here to do my show first thing in the morning.”
Daniels is particularly excited about his venture into the American Blues Network where he competes with media conglomerates like ABC and CBS.
“It is the ultimate for anyone in broadcasting to go national,” Daniels said. “I was one of the first, if not the first, to do it in Mississippi. For some strange, crazy reason I came up with the idea I could do that. I learned the technology, put up a quarter-million-dollar dish, and now have the fastest growing 24-hour network in the U.S., according to the trade magazines. We cover a footprint from Mexico City to Quebec as far as radio stations looking to use programmi
or rebroadcast. We have about 40 radio stations that carry our programming from Winter Haven, Fla., west to Texarkana, Texas, and north to Flint, Mich.”
If the measure of success in business is having w
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