Media, Music

Cathy Hughes: Flipping Her Way to the Top of Radio and TV

Radio Setup

Usually you hear about real estate investors flipping (or fixing up) houses to make a profit, Catherine L. Hughes used the same principle to create a media empire.

By 1980, a little over a decade into her radio career, Cathy had already been very successful. Credited with creating the popular “Quiet Storm” format, she had also increased revenue at Howard University’s radio station from $250,000 to $3,000,000 in her first year as General Sales Manager and became the first woman Vice President and General Manager at another Washington D.C. station. However, she and her then-husband saw fit to embark on a new challenge — founding Radio One.

It was rough going at first with sagging ratings and disgruntled employees. In fact, some former employees reportedly destroyed the station’s facility.

Not too long into her tenure, Cathy found herself a single mother and in dire straits financially (she and her son actually started living at the station). She decided to give WOL-AM, a total makeover. The channel went from R&B to a 24-hour political, cultural and current events talk format from an African-American point of view.

The gamble paid off, and Cathy had a blueprint for success: find an underperforming radio station, buy it, then revamp it to serve an often underserved African-American market in an area. The formula created the largest African-American owned and operated broadcast company with 55 broadcast stations in 16 urban markets in the United States, as of September 2015.

Eventually, Cathy expanded her empire by acquiring and investing in other media properties. TV One, launched in 2004, is the second largest piece of the pie, currently serving 57 million households and still growing.

Other assets of Radio One, Inc. include Reach Media, Inc. (operator of the Tom Joyner Morning Show), Interactive One, LLC (an online platform which operates a number of branded websites), and Community Connect, LLC (an online social networking company which also operates a number of branded websites). She now runs the company as Chairperson, while her son, Alfred C. Liggins, III, serves as CEO and President.

For her work, Cathy has received many awards. One of which is the upcoming 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award at the ADCOLOR Awards, which celebrates outstanding advertising industry professionals of color, as well as those who use their work to further diversity and inclusion.

Photo Credit: Brown Paper Tickets

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