Founder of the media company Urban Radio (Radio One) and the first African-American woman to head a publicly traded corporation.
Born in Nebraska as Catherine Elizabeth Woods in 1947, and nowadays she is one of the most successful women in the US, but it didn’t come easy. As a child, her family lived in a housing project, and at the age of 14, she lied about her age to get a job. At 18 she got married and had a son, which became a turning point in her life. In her words – “It was the reason I took my life seriously for the first time as a teenager and made a promise to myself, my son and God that he would not become a black statistic.”
Her journey in the media started in a local newspaper in Omaha (NE). In 1971, She moved to DC to lecture at the School of Communications at Howard University. She became general sales manager of the university’s radio station, WHUR-FM, and led to increasing the station revenue from $250,000 to $3 million in her first year. By 1975, Hughes became the first woman Vice President and General Manager of a station in the nation’s capital.
In 1980, Hughes purchased her first radio station, WOL, DC, and founded “Radio One”. At first, she faced severe financial problems, which eventually led her to lose her home and move with her son to live at the radio station. After pioneering an innovative format – “24-Hour Talk from a Black Perspective” with the theme “Information is Power,” the station began to rise and succeed, and she served as the station’s morning show host for 11 years.
Radio One became a huge success and went on to own 70 radio stations in nine major markets in the US, which made it the first African-American company in radio history to dominate several major markets and the first woman-owned radio station to rank number one in any major market.
In 1999, Cathy Hughes became the first African-American woman to chair a publicly held corporation, when Radio One went public under the NASDAQ. Today Radio One, renamed to Urban One, includes a cable TV network, radio stations, and digital media platforms. Her son, Alfred Liggins III, is the CEO and president of Radio One, while Hughes serves as a Chairperson.
More Interesting Anecdotes:
- In 1970 she created the format known as the “Quiet Storm,” which later aired on over 480 stations nationwide.
- She was denied 32 times to get a loan from the banks till she found a lender in 1980 and was able to buy WAL, her first radio station.
- In 2018, the street where Hughes grew up in Omaha, NE, was renamed to Cathy Hughes Boulevard.
- In 2016 (after a $4 million donation), the School of Communications at Howard University was renamed to Cathy Hughes School of Communications at Howard University.