Spreading Buddhist Humanism in the Community
by Meredith Beal
Meredith Beal, chairman and chief executive officer of Lasting Value Broadcasting Group, was named 2007 Broadcaster of the Year by the Texas Association of Broadcasters for his emphasis on local programming, including a radio series based on SGI President Daisaku Ikeda's dialogues with prominent world citizens.
World Tribune: How did you encounter Nichiren Buddhism?
Meredith Beal: I was writing an article for a music magazine and interviewed Herbie Hancock (an SGI-USA member). When I went to his home, some people were chanting. That was my first exposure to it. I liked the physical vibration; it was intriguing. It became the first topic that we talked about.
[Beal's involvement in radio can be traced back to his long and varied career in the entertainment industry. He worked for many years writing articles for music magazines and also as an editor for a national music industry trade magazine. His interactions with radio program directors and recording artists led to a job as marketing director at Motown Records. Beal had a keen interest in radio but didn't have much knowledge of that media. Eventually, he made a connection with a well known disc jockey who introduced him to the radio industry.]
WT: You purchased one radio station in Hamilton, Texas, and two in Jasper, Texas, in 2000. What is the biggest obstacle you've encountered as a broadcaster?
Beal: Jasper is a town known for the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in 1998. For a couple years, the town didn't know that I am African-American. When they found out, there were a handful of people who took offense to the fact that I owned the largest media outlet there. They were pressuring our advertisers not to do business with me, and they filed frivolous complaints with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
It made it really difficult to function because we started to lose money. Advertisers were pulling out. Then, Hurricane Rita came through and sat on Jasper. We didn't have electricity in town for a month; and a lot of businesses went under.
What inspired you to persevere amid such challenges?
Beal: My training as a young man in the SGI-USA. I started practicing in '76 and participated in behind-the-scenes support groups. My youth activities taught me the spirit to never give up. My job is to create value that lasts. It was like I had no choice but to win, and in order to win, I had to persevere. One of the members in Austin asked me one time, "How are you dealing with your situation in Jasper?" And my response was, "I just chant and pray to win." [The FCC charges were dismissed 10 days after Mr. Beal was named Broadcaster of the Year.]
WT: Tell us about the program (on your radio network) "Values & Visions," which highlights SGI President Daisaku Ikeda's dialogues with world citizens.
Beal: I heard that one radio station in Seattle aired it. When I inquired about it, I was referred to a woman in New York. I wrote her for permission to air it on one of my stations. I started running them on Monday evenings on the radio station [KCLW in Hamilton] and on the Internet. It was a 17-part series. We ran it for three years.
This station in Hamilton is an old country western music station. I was asked why I was airing it. I said, "To broaden the information in central Texas that people are exposed to."
I got calls from people saying, "Boy, that's a fascinating program." I don't remember getting a single complaint.
WT: What did it mean to be named Broadcaster of the Year?
Beal: It was a validation of what I have been doing. The trend I see in media is that it's becoming more and more sensationalized and less concerned with humanity. So I wanted to do something that was more humanistic. I also see more homogenization, which I don't think is healthy for small-town America.
It is the highest accolade that someone in broadcasting can attain in this state. For me to be relatively new and to be recognized as one of the best is actual proof of the power of my Buddhist practice.
WT: How has Mr. Ikeda's encouragement helped your Buddhist practice?
Beal: He is the best example of what a human being can accomplish through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. He is the best example in modern times of how to be victorious with this practice.
The role that President Ikeda has played in my life is like a constant guidepost, almost like a compass. As a young man, struggling to be successful in life and watching his example of perseverance and persistence and the incredible amount of energy he displays--that example is compelling. He has been the example for me of how to practice Buddhism today and win.
WT: What are your dreams for the future?
Beal: It's to open another chapter in my life. I'm also a musician. I want to share my own music. I play, sing, write and record what I call "kosen-rufu" music--music that touches people in a way that puts them more in touch with their own and other people's humanity.
[Adapted from an interview by correspondent Liz Nobukuni and published in the November 30, 2007 issue of the World Tribune, SGI-USA; photos by Mike Wenglar]