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BET's Bob Johnson soars
May 24, 2000: 4:45 p.m. ET

CEO spreads his wings for another first: a black-owned and -operated airliner
By Staff Writer Antoinette Coulton
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - For Robert L. Johnson, the founder and chief executive of BET Holdings, the decision to captain a new Washington-based airline makes him a pioneer once again.

Johnson announced Wednesday that he will create DC Air as part of a deal in which proposed merger partners US Airways and United Airlines will divest a portion of their assets.

Financial details of the deal were not announced, but the DC Air venture is a personal financial investment of Johnson and not BET Holdings.

The new regional airline DC Air will operate from Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington and serve 44 cities with 122 daily departures.

graphic"US Airways has served Washington and the surrounding Maryland and Virginia communities extremely well," said Johnson in a statement. "We will more than match the quality of that service, and will do so with a talented team of management and union employees that will make all of us in the nation's capital very proud."

Johnson, a graduate of the University of Illinois and a recipient of a master's degree in International affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, founded BET in 1980 with $15,000 in borrowed money. Eventually he built a media conglomerate, the king pin of which is the nation's first 24-hour television network targeted toward an African-American audience. In 1998, the company became private.

BET also boasts a joint magazine venture with Vanguarde Media that produces Emerge, BET Weekend, Heart and Soul, IMPACT and Honey, in addition to Arabesque books, an African-American line of romance novels. Other assets include entertainment-themed restaurants, a premium movie channel and a Web site launched last year.

Along the way Johnson has often been criticized in the black community. Last year, in an ad in the entertainment publication Variety, a group of black comedians accused him of appearing on a BET comedy show at less than the union rate. He has also come under fire for BET programming that some critics say reinforces negative stereotypes of blacks.

But speaking of the airline merger that would make Johnson's new deal possible, Stephen Wolf, chairman of US Airways, said, "Bob Johnson is the superb choice as the new owner of this company. In talking about Bob Johnson I think of two words: leadership and energy."

In the past two decades, Johnson has accumulated incredible financial and economic power. His partners in the $35 million Web site launched last year include Microsoft Corp, News Corp., USA Networks and Liberty Digital.

Besides US Airways, Johnson board positions include also the Hilton Hotels Corp., General Mills, Gerald Stevens, the United Negro College Fund, the National Cable Television Association's Academy of Cable Programming, and the American Film Institute. He is also a member of the Board of Governors for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Back to top

- Reuters contributed to this report


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