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Johnny Hunter Sr., R.I.P.

Written by on Saturday, May 25, 2024

The African American entrepreneur built Tempo News into a voice ‘for us, and by us’.


By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: May 24, 2024

Host: To Newtown, the majority African American community in Sarasota, Johnny Hunter Sr. offered an information lifeline, and a mirror that showed a more beautiful face than local mainstream news media do. Johnny Hunter Sr. passed away May 10, at age 75. We talked to his son, to understand the legacy left by his dad and get a glimpse of the future of Tempo News.

Johnny Hunter Jr: I know my father’s in a better place and he’s at peace; because he was very ill and going through a lot with his health, and for him to have a great mind that he had and to watch him deteriorate every day, it just … It was stressful. It was stressful to me.

Johannes Werner: That’s Johnny Hunter Jr., talking about his dad’s passing two weeks ago. Going against mainstream business wisdom, the entrepreneur was able to build Tempo News – a weekly newspaper focusing on Sarasota and Manatee County affairs and good news from an African American perspective – into a business that would sustain his and other families. And he did so while being a Republican, which made him a tiny minority in the Newtown community, sometimes complicating relations.

Tempo News started in 1987 as an insert of the Newtown Bulletin, and Hunter Sr. acquired it in 1990. He built on the history of the Bulletin, where he had worked for many years. Hunter Jr. describes what Tempo covers today as “for us, and by us”.

The late Johnny Hunter Sr.

JHJ: Yeah, Tempo News is African-American newspaper that covers Sarasota, Manatee County, and we’re engaged in our community by featuring all the positive light on the little things that others don’t see and that the major press doesn’t show. 80% of the time is always about who died, who got shot, who went to jail, and all the negativity and that’s not Tempo. Tempo bring the light on everything positive about our community: the organizations, the people, the churches, you know, the little guy. Our paper is for us, and by us

JW: The motto prominently displayed on the masthead – “The Beat of the Working Class” – stands side by side with the weekly Bible verse.

The business model is not unique. Tempo is a print weekly, coming out every Thursday. Although the paper says on its masthead that it’s a 50 cent value, it’s actually free. It’s trying to find African American readers where they work, buy, learn, pray and play. And what sustains it is the income from advertising, mostly by healthcare providers, auto dealers, grocery store chains, and small local service providers such as appliance repair and tree trimming businesses. There’s also a web version with advertising.

JHJ: Yes, we circulate every Thursday. We have a circulation of 20,000, and we have several shops throughout the community: convenience stores, the gas stations, libraries, the government buildings, and the post office, and we do a church circulation also to circulate to all the churches, African-American churches in Sarasota and Manatee County. And, um … It’s been going on. It’s been steady here. We haven’t missed a beat. And me personally, I’ve been doing this for 32 years with my father, and I do most of the production. He was always the face of the company, and that’s where the turnaround is, now I’m the face of the company, now that he’s gone, so I have to continue his legacy of community involvement.

JW: While local weeklies have been shutting down everywhere in the United States, somehow Tempo has been able to sustain itself – in difficult times with the help of the community.

JHJ: Oh, man, it’s been an adventure. You know, I really didn’t know how significant Tempo News was to our community until, when COVID hit in 2020, and we was fighting for survival with everything closing, there was no advertising, and a writer by the name of Carrie, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, did a little small story on us and you know, that triggered a go for me, man, and the community came out and stood tall for us and, helped us raise enough money to publish, to survive through the year and publish for that year, until we got back on track. But it’s every day, being a small business and a minority paper is a … it’s an everyday struggle.

JW: Jetson Grimes, a long-time Newtown booster, had this to say about Hunter Sr. and Tempo:

Jetson Grimes: He has done an excellent job bringing forefront to all of the news that was simulated outside Sarasota and outside of this community to make sure that things was represented, the news was represented, and people got special representation from the Tempo. So, for that, I say he was a very special individual for this community here in Sarasota and the Newtown community.  

JW: Will Tempo keep going? Hunter Jr. leaves no doubt.

JHJ: [I] plan on keeping it going.

JW: If you want to pay your last respects to Johnny Hunter Sr., there will be a funeral service Saturday, May 25, 1 PM at the Light of the World International Church at 3809 Chapel Drive in Sarasota.

Reporting from Newtown, this has been Johannes Werner for WSLR News.

 

WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.