The Black ad community celebrates the premiere of Channels Changers

Members of the advertising community gathered at the Gene Siskel Center on Monday evening to honor the veterans and icons of Chicago’s Black ad agencies, whose legacies are now documented in the heartfelt film Channels Changers.

Produced by Gypsy Chicago Productions, Channels Changers introduces viewers to the largely unseen world of African American ad professionals of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

The film highlights the pioneering Black advertising executives in Chicago’s top agencies, who significantly transformed the landscape of advertising and media during that era and beyond.

Lowell Thompson, an expert on the subject who introduces the film, collaborated with fellow veteran admen Cotton Stevenson and Terry Peigh, to create a documentary about this remarkable period and the Black ad trailblazers. Producer, Laurel Dobose brought in Editor, Alaric C. Martin, who throughout the evening was referred to as the Mastermind behind the film. Alaric had the enormous task of sifting through hours of footage to painstakingly create the template in which the story unfolds. Truly a labor of love by all involved.

Channels Changers illustrates how the Civil Rights movement and the riots following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination prompted corporate America to finally open its doors to Black people.

Gypsy Chicago Productions interviewed over 20 Black ad professionals from that period, including industry giants Tom Burrell and Carol H. Williams, who went on to establish nationally renowned agencies. The stories of these trailblazers reveal the significant challenges they faced as they entered the predominantly white advertising world. The film also features a number of ads, commercials, and campaigns that many may not have realized were created by African Americans.

Stevenson assembled a team of top-level filmmakers, many of whom were old friends from his days as a Chicago creative executive. The film’s initial funding came from the Field Foundation of Chicago and Chicago ad agencies FCB, Ogilvy, Leo Burnett, and DDB, with additional financial support from a GoFundMe campaign.

A reception followed the screening, where old friends exchanged hugs, laughs, and memories… lots of memories. It was much like a family reunion. There were no strangers in the room. Everyone’s paths had crossed at some time during their career.

The documentary was created as an educational film. At this time it is not likely that it will be seen on the streaming services. For further information about Channels Changers, please contact Cotton Stevenson ( or Terry Peigh (

Film Credits:

  • Executive Producers: Cotton Stevenson, Lowell Thompson, Terry Peigh
  • Producer: Laurel Dobose
  • Writers: Lowell Thompson, Alaric C. Martin
  • Consulting Producer: Alaric C. Martin
  • Director/ Director of Photography: Bill Youmans
  • Editor/Motion Graphics: Alaric C. Martin
  • Sound Design & Mix: Sidney Jones, Jr. BAM Studios Chicago
  • Colorist: Pete Jannotta, Color By Pete
  • Trailer Colorist: Bob Sliga
  • Title Design Animation/ Webmaster: Dani Dudovick, Double Dog Productions
  • Videographers: Dennis Thompson Joe Brooks Cal Evans
  • Location Sound: Dustin Berta, Case Chamberlain, Daniel Hernandez
  • Main Title Music: Darryl Duncan, GameBeat Studios
  • Hair and Makeup: Marcus Geeter
  • Wheel Man: Michael J. Manhoff
  • Legal: Ellen Duff Ratcliffe, Duff & Peel
  • Transportation Coordinator: Maura Donahue
  • Special Project Consultant: Bill Izzo