The National Women’s History Museum recently honored African-American radio maven Cathy Hughes. The founder and chairperson of Radio One Inc., was feted at the museum’s Christine de Pizan Awards in Washington, D.C., where Hughes received the “Ida B. Wells-Barnett Living Legacy Award” for her accomplishments in media and communications. The Christine de Pizan honors celebrate the legend of pioneering American women by showcasing their achievements alongside the contributions of their modern-day counterparts.
Catherine Elizabeth Woods (later Hughes) represents the great American success story in the mold and model of Ida B. Wells. As founder and chair of Radio One, Inc. the nation’s largest African-American owned and operated broadcast-company, Hughes is a powerful voice on behalf of Blacks. Hughes and son Alfred Liggins are Black media’s power couple. Radio One Inc. is the parent corporation of TV One, Syndication One and Reach One. Each of their media entities reach millions of listeners daily. The National Women’s History Museum affirms the value of knowing women’s history and says Hughes was made a de Pizan award recipient because “Radio One continues to expand its media presence based on the spirit of family and commitment to the community.”
Hughes and the Radio One Family deserve recognition for their advocacy and leadership. Both have served as stalwarts for the causes of people of color. She was born in 1947 in Omaha, Neb., and grew up in a Black-housing project. She became pregnant at age 16 and subsequently gave birth to her son, Alfred Liggins Jr. But, her marriage only lasted two years and soon she was raising her child alone. Her family members were pillars in Omaha’s Black community. Her career in radio began in 1969 at KOWH radio station. In 1971, she got a job as an administrative assistant with Tony Brown at Howard University. Brown was a noted commentator who founded the institution’s School of Communications. Brown transferred her to the university’s radio station, WHUR-FM. By 1975 she had became the station’s vice president and general manager. Under her guidance WHUR increased its annual revenues. In 1979, she and then-husband, Dewey Hughes purchased WOL-AM, a small Washington, D.C. radio station. Her marriage to Hughes ended shortly after the station’s purchase casting her once again in the role as a single mother. Soon hard times forced Hughes and her son, to give up their apartment and move into the station. Due to Hughes’ determination, over time, WOL began turning a profit. In 1986, the station turned its first profit, and the following year, Hughes purchased her second station, WMMJ-FM, for $7.5 million.
Radio One went on to purchase 70 radio stations across America. In 1995, the son Hughes raised singlehandedly earned his MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton School of Business. In 1999 Hughes’ time and energy paid off. Radio One became a publicly traded company with Liggins as CEO and president and Hughes as chairperson. In January 2004, Radio One launched TV One, a national cable and satellite television network that is the “lifestyle and entertainment network for African-American adults.” Hughes interviews prominent personalities in the entertainment industry, for the network’s talk program TV One on One. Liggins reported Radio One’s 3rd Quarter 2011 revenues as $104.4 million. Hughes’ dedication to minority communities, entrepreneurial spirit and mentoring are manifested in her work and life. She has been immortalized in the Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore. She received McDonald’s 2011 365 Black Awards for “influencing and inspiring greatness.”
Hughes is a role model for African-Americans and single mothers. Hughes not only has opened doors and opportunities for them; she strives to keep them open. Last year President Obama tapped her to chair the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Council on Underserved Communities to promote agency initiatives that help minority entrepreneurs. The 20-member advisory council includes professionals who provide recommendations on how the council can strengthen businesses in underserved communities. Hughes’ successes are the results of acts and attention she’s devoted to the development and growth of “underserved” small-business owners, people of color, and women.
(William Reed is available for speaking/seminar projects via BaileyGroup.org)