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BY Abu Mubarik, 9:18pm June 22, 2023,

How Cathy Hughes built the largest African-American media empire in the US

Today, Hughes' broadcasting company includes 53 radio stations in the U.S., and TVOne, a cable network. Photo credit: cathyhughes.com

Meet Cathy Hughes, the founder of Urban One, formerly known as Radio One. Today, her broadcasting company includes 53 radio stations in the U.S., and TVOne, a cable network. Her media enterprise is also the largest African-American broadcasting company in the United States.

Like many Black Americans, Hughes’ journey to success was not smooth sailing. It was one loaded with setbacks and multiple-pronged challenges that needed not only determination, but the willpower to overcome. She became a teenage mother, lost her home, and was forced to live with relatives. However, these did not stop her from aiming high.

She started her media journey at the Omaha Star newspaper in her hometown Omaha, Nebraska, and made her radio debut with the city’s first radio station, KOWH (AM) – owned by a group of African-American professionals, according to her profile.

She later joined the newly established School of Communications at Howard University as a lecturer, according to TV One. In addition to being a lecturer; she also served as General Sales Manager at WHUR, Howard University Radio, increasing the station’s revenue from $250,000 to $3 million in her first year.  

Her success at WHUR saw her transition to another radio station in the US capital to become the first woman Vice President and General Manager of that station. She revolutionized the airwaves after creating the format called “Quiet Storm,” which aired on over 480 stations nationwide.

By 1980, Hughes decided to be her own boss within the broadcasting space. This led her to purchase her first radio station, WOL-AM, in Washington D.C. After the success of “Quiet Storm,” she pioneered another innovative format – “24-Hour Talk from a Black Perspective.” The program served as the station’s morning show for 11 years.

Today, she and her son, as well as her business partner, Alfred Liggins, III, have grown Radio One to become a market leader in the broadcasting space, with 56 stations comprising hip hop, R&B, gospel, and talk radio formats.

The media company now has subsidiaries like TV One, a cable television; Reach Media, which presents syndicated radio programs; Interactive One, which operates several websites; and One Solution, a marketing firm that allows advertisers to take advantage of all of the assets under the Radio One brand.

In addition to being a trailblazing businesswoman, Cathy Hughes is also a philanthropist – regularly supporting The Piney Woods School in Piney Woods, Mississippi, which was established by her grandfather in 1909, and is the largest of only four African-American boarding schools in the country.

She also takes care of the hungry and the homeless and mentors several women.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: June 22, 2023


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