[STAY WOKE] Cathy Hughes Adds Color to Sound Waves

Entrepreneur Cathy Hughes makes headway as the first African American woman to own a publicly traded company

The age-old cliche states “sharing is caring” when people were sharing things long before social media arrived. Social media may have enhanced the way we share, but humans have been using technology to share for ages. Before the invention of smartphones and social media, technology was used to develop the radio.

Radio became a new way to share information and as technology continued to advance so did the use of radio. With time, radio broadcasts transitioned from programs that shared the news into programs centered around music. This change was significant for artists because now there was another way to share their craft with listeners.

Cathy HughesWith this shift, African Americans didn’t have the best representation behind the scenes of the broadcasting industry. This would slowly start to change as the first black-owned radio station created a platform with its establishment in 1948. Soon, others would follow suit creating a trend of black-owned stations in various parts of America. Then Cathy Hughes came along in 1980 and took urban media to uncharted heights.

Before getting the chance to make history in radio, Cathy Hughes was born to history-making parents. Her mother was an established trombonist and her father was the first African-American to earn an accounting degree from Creighton University. She grew up living a very modest life in Omaha, Nebraska.

Answer when your destiny calls

Cathy’s journey led her to become General Sales Manager of Howard University’s radio station in 1973. In her first year, she increased the station’s revenue from $250,000 to $3 million. By 1975 she became the first woman Vice President and General Manager of a station in the nation’s capital. In addition to this, she helped brand the “Quiet Storm,” which aired on over 480 stations nationwide. This was groundbreaking for urban media as it increased the exposure of contemporary R&B.

Five years later, Cathy founded Radio One by purchasing AM radio station WOL 1450 in Washington, D.C. She converted the station’s R&B format into a 24-hour talk radio broadcast titled “Information is Power”, which is still popular today. About seven years after that, she repeated the process and purchased her second station in Washington.

In the years that followed, Cathy continued with her strategic business expansion. By 1999, Radio One owned 70 radio stations in nine of the major markets in the U.S. Her strategy of purchasing under-performing radio stations in urban markets and reconstructing them was prolific. These accomplishments benefit urban communities as well as black musicians.

Every Voice deserves to be heard

Cathy HughesWith Radio One (now Urban One as of 2018) creating such a vast platform, it gave urban audiences the opportunity to experience the music they love and identify with. African American recording artists now have a platform that directly connects them with their core fan-base outside of the stage. The creation of this urban platform also continues to highlight newer art forms like Hip Hop.

Even though Cathy Hughes isn’t a musician, the strides she made in her career are beneficial to many musicians. Having great content is one thing, but having the ability and an outlet to share content is another thing. Cathy provided a vehicle for urban artists to deliver their music that is still valuable today.

Being the first Black Woman to head a successful publicly traded company shows the value of investing in urban media and urban communities. We are here today as result of the steady, resourceful, and innovative efforts of others who came before us. In the past, it was possible for mainstream artists to override the style and originality of African American musicians by remaking their music. Urban media outlets helped to counteract this by bringing more Black musicians into the limelight.

Every piece of a puzzle has an important role as each piece is necessary for successful completion. Cathy Hughes continues to fulfill her role in carrying the torch. Each of us must do our part as well to push the culture forward into a positive direction for the future. Let all of our pieces work together for the greater good.

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