Jackson — Steve Davenport, owner of TeleSouth Communications, has since 1970 built up a radio network that includes the Mississippi News Network that serves 73 stations across the state, the South Carolina News Network that provides similar coverage in South Carolina, the Mississippi Agriculture News network and broadcast coverage of sporting events for Jackson State University (JSU), Mississippi State University (MSU) and the University of Mississippi (UM).
But Davenport wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. A native of Pascagoula whose father was employed as a shipyard welder, he was one of seven children. Comparisons to U.S. Sen. Trent Lott, also from Pascagoula and the son of a shipyard welder, are inevitable.
“We are both Coast people,” Davenport said. “At my first radio job, Trent Lott’s mother, Iona Lott, was secretary for the station. She was also my fourth grade teacher.”
Davenport has been in the radio business since 1970, but success didn’t come overnight. The man who has been called “Mississippi’s Rupert Murdock,” bought the Mississippi News Network in 1979, and then starting buying radio stations in 1980. He launched TeleSouth Communications in 1981.
TeleSouth Broadcasting now owns and operates radio stations WYMX-FM and WKXG-AM Greenwood, WTCD-FM Greenwood/Indianola, WTNM-FM Oxford/Water Valley, WQLJ-FM Oxford, WFMN-FM Jackson, WFMM-FM Sumrall/Hattiesburg, WKCU-AM and WXRZ-FM Corinth and WKBB-FM and WROB-AM West Point.
The Mississippi Radio News Network is a way many Mississippians receive their news.
“We provide news and information to most of the counties in Mississippi,” Davenport said. “As you well know, Mississippi is a rural state and radio is the best way to reach Mississippians.”
Davenport said TeleSouth Broadcasting is the leader in Mississippi collegiate sports broadcasting, owning the sports broadcasting rights for JSU, MSU and Ole Miss. TeleSouth Broadcasting handles all athletic and event marketing for the University of Mississippi through its Rebel Sports Marketing division located in Oxford. The company also has the publishing rights for the Jackson State University, Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi game day magazines.
So many changes
Over the past 35 years that Davenport has been in the business, there have been many changes in the technical end of the radio business.
“Technology has really changed the radio business,” Davenport said. “We were the first state network in the country to be satellite delivered back in 1979. With satellites, you can basically provide information to a large populace from just one location.”
Through the years, Davenport has never had reason to question concentrating on radio as his primary business interest.
“I believe in the philosophy that you stay with what you have been successful in,” Davenport said. “Radio is what I have done all my life, so I don’t see myself doing anything other than radio.”
Approximately 10 years ago TeleSouth purchased a radio station in Jackson, and launched Supertalk MS. While some earlier talk radio formats in Jackson hadn’t been successful, Supertalk MS has continued to grow.
“It has been a lot more successful than I ever dreamed,” Davenport said. “I never thought it would grow this fast. And it grows every day. It is in 66 of the 82 counties in Mississippi, and we are looking at expanding more. Our goal is to have a footprint in the entire state of Mississippi.”
Information and entertainment
Although Supertalk MS is a conservative talk radio station, Davenport said he considers himself a moderate. He believes the primary purpose of talk radio is entertainment.
“It is informative, but it is also entertainment,” he said. “Talk radio is a form of entertainment.”
Davenport said he believes earlier talk radio stations in the Jackson market may not have made it because they didn’t stick with it long enough. He researched the Jackson market, and found that talk radio stations would go for two or three years, find the ratings weren’t that good, and quit.
“We thought if we stuck with it for a long period of time, five to seven years, it would continue to grow,” Davenport said. “I never expected it to be what it is today (third in the Arbitron ratings for radio stations in Jackson), but conservative talk radio is in a major growth mode in the entire country.”
Paul Gallo, general manager of TeleSouth and host of “The Gallo Radio Show” that is broadcast by the SuperTalk station from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays, said Supertalk MS is the largest talk radio network originating in Mississippi.
“We have six FM stations all tied together, and are also affiliating with some non-owned stations,” Gallo said. “Because of popular demand, we are looking to affiliate in some other markets. Negotiations are beginning. I personally have to give kudos to Steve Davenport. A lot of people never dreamed it could be that successful. It has been tried before and flopped. It is something that is unique, and I think we have just really begun.”
Gallo said a lot of North Mississippi and Delta listeners used to have no idea what was going on in Jackson.
“Their primary source of information came from their local paper and or the Memphis Commercial Appeal,” Gallo said. “People in the northern tier of the state almost saw Nashville or Memphis as their capital. Now we constantly hear people say, ‘I had no idea these things were going on in Jackson.’ We have brought some sunshine to the political process for the listeners up in the north part of the state. It has given voice to so many Mississippians. Someone in Corinth, Oxford or the Delta can pick up the phone and be on my show in the mornings.”
For more information on TeleSouth Communications, see the Web site www.telesouth.com.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.