It seems like only yesterday we bought our first computer with that five inch floppy disc. Twenty years ago in 1997, Susan Unthank was 41 years old and ready for a new adventure. At that time she and I were involved in a popular Gospel news magazine email chat list (anyone remember those days?). The magazine ran into problems with the list and decided to close it. Susan in her wisdom had the foresight to see that the internet was the coming thing, and Gospel music needed to be a part of it.
She asked the magazine if they cared if she announced that she was starting another email chat list. Since they were definitely closing it, they didn’t care what we did on the internet. With that, Susan announced on that email chat list that she was opening a new Southern Gospel chat room. After she announced the information about the new list, she garnered about 75% the crowd from the old email list. With the running start she got, it became an immediate success, gaining new members everyday. Harold Timmons also had an email chat list room, and he graciously worked with Susan in getting some of his members to become a part of ours also.
Not exactly sure when it began, one day someone suggested that everyone submit a short bio of themselves, and soon many of the posters did just that. Some of those people were including a picture of themselves so others could see what they looked like. In fact, at least two weddings came about from those bios and pictures. Soon after, record labels and publicist started reporting news, and Susan designed a small website and put the news on it. Eventually, I started doing CD reviews and concert reviews and the preacher in me brought out some thoughts on Gospel music that I wrote out as articles. Without even trying, SoGospelNews.com was born. All of a sudden we were getting more CDs than I could review and James Hales offered to start doing some reviews for us. James is still reviewing for us today as our Head Reviewer.
I need to back up just a little to tell you an important part of this story. Right at this time, Susan had learned that the disease that she had was taking a turn for the worse. This disease, Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease was supposed to only affect the extremities of the body, but in very rare cases, and such was Susan’s, it affected the respiratory function. Unfortunately, when this happens it greatly reduces the life expectancy of the individual affected by the disease. Needless to say, this information set her up for real depression. God had a different plan in mind. Putting SoGospelNews.com in her life just at this time gave her something to pour the rest of her life in to, and that is what she did. This new website gave her a reason to live and to keep working an a ministry that God gave her. When doctors told her she may have five years to live, the job that God gave her to do kept her alive for fifteen more years. It was truly a God thing.
Growing quickly into the largest Southern Gospel Website on the world wide web, Susan became respected for her tenacious attitude in keeping the news on SGN very positive and showing the good side of this genre of music. Taking a lot of heat for it, she kept the dirt out of the headlines and kept the message of this music and ministry very positive. If an artist made a personal mistake, we prayed for them. We didn’t broadcast their problem across the world. God blessed that attitude and continued to add readers to the website almost daily.
Susan was concerned that the name SoGospelNews was putting our music in a very small box, so wanting to offer a bigger box and expose this music to even more people, she changed the name in 2010 to AbsolutelyGospel.com. That proved to be a smart move.
In this whole process, AbsolutelyGospel.com has one of the largest, and favorite Awards program every year on the second Tuesday in April where Artists, Songwriters, Producers and more are given praise for the accomplishments of the previous year. Since most awards are measured strictly by fan votes, these awards are determined by industry professional nominations because they have their finger on the accomplishments in the industry. The winners in half the categories are chosen by the fans, then the rest by industry professionals and the only “critics choice” in the industry.
So 20 years later, AbsolutelyGospel.com is still the largest Southern Gospel E-zine on the internet. The vision that Susan had is being carried on by her husband, Deon, her daughter, Amy and her son Chris. Should the Lord tarry, it is the plan and goal of AbsolutelyGospel.com to be around another 20 years.