- The Washington Times - Friday, October 1, 2004

TYRONE, Ga. — Growing up the son of televangelist Rex Humbard, Charles Humbard remembers family suppers with gospel music greats — Pat Boone, June Carter Cash and the Gatlin Brothers among them.

Mr. Humbard went on to choose a career in cable television over the ministry, but now he is bringing his profession together with his family’s heritage as he starts the Gospel Music Channel, the first 24-hour music network for Christian music.

Set to air in seven markets this month, the Atlanta-based cable network aims to be as popular as MTV and a blessing for gospel artists, who find themselves mostly ignored on television despite selling millions of records.

“This is a music genre with a large, underserved, passionate audience,” says Mr. Humbard, who left a top post at the Discovery Networks to start the Gospel Music Channel along with Brad Siegel, a former president of Turner Entertainment Networks.

The channel will span all Christian music styles, from rock to rap to traditional gospel. A different music style will be featured each night of the week, with an artist biography show called “Faith & Fame” airing at 8 p.m., followed by videos or concerts from that style.

“My perception of gospel music was that it was mass choir, black church music. It was what you saw in ‘Sister Act,’” says Mr. Siegel, who was approached by Mr. Humbard to create the new channel. “But what I saw when I started looking at it was that was not some small niche. This was an enormous chunk of the country, with a real diversity of music.”

The genre is growing. Album sales have gone up 10 percent since 1998, accounting for 47 million albums sold last year, according to Nielsen SoundScan. During the same five-year period, overall music sales dipped 10 percent.

Despite its growing popularity, gospel music videos only intermittently run on television. BET shows occasional gospel videos on Sunday mornings; so do several other religious channels. Mr. Humbard and Mr. Siegel think the time is right for a full-time video channel, citing the success of “The Passion of the Christ,” one of the year’s top-grossing movies.

“It feels like the country has gotten to a point where people’s faith is more a part of their lives. It’s a lifestyle as much as it is a religion,” Mr. Siegel says.

He and Mr. Humbard aren’t the only ones who have noticed gospel’s growth. Another Christian music channel is in the works — the MP Network, based in Charlotte, N.C. The names is an abbreviation for “music and praise,” and it’s trying to get cable distribution to go on the air by December, with a focus on rock and pop.

“There is a huge market potential here,” says Larry Moore, president and chief executive officer of the MP Network Corp., which will eventually include a gospel music magazine and concert tour series.

Despite gospel’s growing popularity, getting the two channels in homes coast-to-coast will be tough. Both are independent, without the distribution muscle of a multinetwork cable giant such as Viacom Inc. or Turner Broadcasting.

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