Kyle Bowser headshot

NAACP Senior Vice President Kyle Bowser learned about respecting cultural differences at WOUB and Ohio University

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Bowser was a radio and television major who graduated from Ohio University in 1980

ATHENS, OH – Growing up in Philadelphia, Kyle Bowser thought he wanted to own a record label someday. That dream, along with the idea that Ohio was the place people were supposed to attend college, led him to Athens, Ohio University and WOUB Public Media.

“Both of my parents attended Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio. So, I grew up with some sense that the state of Ohio was where you were supposed to go to college,” said Bowser with a chuckle. “I wanted to study communications, so I started looking into schools in Ohio with communications programs, and I was really impressed with the communications school at Ohio University.”

Bowser decided to become a radio and television major, even though there wasn’t a direct connection from that major to the music recording industry.

“I thought learning radio and TV would help prepare me for what I imagined owning a record label would be,” said Bowser.

So, one of the first things Bowser did at Ohio University, was get down to the business of learning about radio.

“My radio career started as a freshman on the West Green radio station. On Sunday mornings, I broadcast from a very small closet that we called the radio station.”

The next school year, Bowser decided to take what he learned about radio to WOUB Public Media. Bowser was able to host a music program on WOUB AM where he played music he loved.

“What I remember most vividly was carrying a suitcase filled with my albums across the Richland Avenue bridge to head uptown. Every 100 feet or so I had to stop and catch my breath. That suitcase was very heavy,” said Bowser laughing. “But I was able to play R&B music that was absent from the station’s playlist.”

After graduation in 1980, Bowser got his first job back home in Philadelphia. It wasn’t working in the recording industry, but it was in the music industry – sort of. Bowser was hired as the director of marketing at a 6000-seat arena.

“It was the original sports arena for the city, but by the time I worked there it was decades old and dilapidated. As the director of marketing, I promoted concerts and boxing events. We even had a roller derby event,” said Bowser. “During that time, my father purchased another storied venue in Philadelphia called the Uptown Theatre, and I started working for him there. In its heyday, the Uptown was an R&B palace in the city. It was rundown and had been closed for many years. People thought my dad was crazy, but his vision was keen.”

Three years into the venture, Bowser’s father passed away and after running the Uptown for a short time, Bowser decided to take what he had learned about concert promotion and theater management to Atlantic City, New Jersey.

“In the mid-1980s, Atlantic City was just starting to become popular as a casino town,” said Bowser. “So, I was offered a job at Harrah’s as the entertainment manager. I booked talent in the showroom and lounges. I was also the manager of sound and lighting for shows.”

One of the performers Bowser booked regularly was Bill Cosby, who is originally from Philadelphia and played football with Bowser’s father.

“When I met him, he was one of the biggest entertainers in the world and he was very kind to me because he knew my late father.”

Cosby encouraged Bowser to go to law school and offered to pay for it. Bowser took Cosby up on the offer. During his last year of law school, Cosby called Bowser and asked him what was next.

“I told him I might go back to Philadelphia and take another shot at revitalizing the Uptown Theatre. And Cosby told me that was my dad’s dream. He wanted to know what I wanted to do.”

Bowser told him he wanted to be a producer. Cosby told Bowser he needed to go to Los Angeles to do that and arranged meetings for Bowser with several connections Cosby had in Hollywood. Bowser eventually was offered a position as a creative associate for FOX Television.

“My job was to develop new content ideas. That was in the early days of FOX when the network wanted to be the bad boy network. They had shows like Married with Children and ironically the original working title of that script was Not the Cosbys,” said Bowser. “They thought ‘urban’ entertainment was an untapped market. One of the shows I was eventually assigned to was In Living Color, a predominantly Black sketch comedy show. It made a huge impact when it hit the air.”

Bowser went on to work for HBO and then eventually started his own production company where he created content that was distributed to different outlets. He has worked as an entertainment industry executive for more than three decades in film, television, music, theater, radio and digital media.

“In my career, I’ve frequently been the first and only Black person to occupy seats or positions I’ve held. I often thought when I arrived in those situations that the reason I was there was because there was an interest in incorporating a different perspective in the way things had always been done,” said Bowser. “I assumed that what I should do is be very forthcoming on my experience, and I assumed that would be embraced. I learned what was really sought was a person who might look like me, but not necessarily a person who would think differently. They wanted diversity in appearance but not diversity of perspective.”

So about three and half years ago, Bowser decided to change direction. He now serves as the senior vice president of the NAACP Hollywood Bureau. Bowser is responsible for advancing NAACP’s Hollywood projects, relationships, and overseeing NAACP’s Image Awards production.

“The intersection between entertainment and social justice is a sweet spot for me. The NAACP platform is perfect for me,” said Bowser. “I’m able to interface with the entertainment industry to advocate for equitable opportunities and equitable outcomes and representation in media.”

Bowser also helped to establish the Scripps College OHIO-in-LA program, an immersive work/study course for OHIO students pursuing careers in the entertainment industry and serves on the Scripps College Dean’s Advisory Council. He says giving back to Ohio University is important to him.

“When I came to Ohio University, I was an out of state student coming from Philadelphia and coming to Athens was a cultural adjustment for me. I was used to a different approach to social life. A lot of things seemed odd. There was a way of life that I had not yet been exposed to. But it didn’t take long for me to embrace those differences,” said Bowser. “I found people to be genuine and authentic. I gained appreciation for the differences. It was the socialization experience that I had on campus that I found most impactful. I carried that forward as I moved around geographically and in my career from one position to the next. Because of Ohio University, I was able to tap into the culture of each situation and embrace it.”