If you lived in Oakland in the ’80s and ’90s, chances are you turned on your television and witnessed history in the making—even if it was 3am and you'd just switched the channel to a call-in show involving jokes and insults from a man called Night Doggie.
The channel was called Soul Beat, and it’s recognized as the first Black-owned TV network. It was started in 1978 by a former Marine named Chuck Johnson, who understood the East Oakland community in ways the cable TV giants never could. Comedy shows, homemade commercials and rap videos made Soul Beat a hub for the newest sounds and fashions, and the latest Oakland news, until it folded in 2003.
Today, the memory of Soul Beat is kept alive on Instagram, on T-shirts and at events by a Soul Beat personality who happens to also be named Chuck Johnson (no relation).
"One thing that will never go away is the conversation about Soul Beat," Johnson says. "I can be in a different world, doing something totally different, and someone who’s older, younger, in the music industry, working at city hall, on the street—they'll bring up Soul Beat! It’s almost like Soul Beat represents the soundtrack of people’s lives."
The younger Chuck hosted the Rap Show on Soul Beat, where he interviewed artists like Jay-Z and the Fugees early in their careers. So it’s only natural that for Soul Beat Day, a celebration of the network in Oakland on July 30, he’s convened three legends of ’90s Oakland rap to perform.