In Black America; Urban One Inc., with Cathy Hughes, Part I
From the University of Texas at Austin, KUT Radio, this is In Black America. I had wanted to be in radio since I was eight years old. My mother had bought me a transistor radio, and so I had this fascination with radio. So when I found that the project equality was going to help put together a group of black investors in Omaha, Nebraska, to buy a program, a radio station to service the black community because when I was growing up, all I could ever hear was a Willie Nelson or a Conway Twitty. All we had was country, back then it was called country in Western, but all we had was country radio stations. There was no black news, there was no black music, and so project equality investors, sponsors helped fund a group of prominent black Omaha's to buy a radio station.
And I immediately wanted to be a part of that because I, as I said, had wanted to be in radio since I was eight years old, so I jumped at that opportunity. Kathy Hughes, founder and chairwoman of Urban One Incorporated, the largest African-American own and operated media company in America. Hughes began a broadcasting career in her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. At K-O-W-H-A-M, a station owned by a group of African-American professionals. In 1971, she moved to the nation's capital and became a lecturer in the New Distributed School of Communications at Howard University. In 1980, she produced the first radio station, W-O-L-A-M in Washington, D.C., where she served at the station's morning show host for 11 years. Along with a son, Alfred, who was now her business partner, they have now grown what was once radio one into a multimedia company that includes 54 radio stations, syndicated
radio programming, cable television, and online digital media. I'm Johnny Owens in Jr. and welcome to another edition of In Black America and beginning of our fifth year season. On this week's program, Kathy Hughes, founder and chairwoman of Urban One Incorporated, in Black America. Really, I felt that they were throwing out the baby with the bathwater and I wanted to work for myself, so the next time God blessed me with a billion-dollar idea, I would not have to go any higher than God to get a green light for it, to get it approved. I had watched them literally turn their backs on two very lucrative financial opportunities and I was like, no, no, no, I can't do this the third time. And so that's what led me to go into business for myself and become an owner. Urban One Incorporated is the parent company of Radio One, TV One, Cleo TV, I One
Digital, One Solution, and Reach Media Incorporated, which includes BlackAmericaWeb.com, making it the largest African-American-owned and operated media company in America. Founded by Kathy Hughes in 1980, Radio One, which was renamed Urban One Incorporated, to better reflect the company's multimedia operations. Hughes's love for Radio began when her mother gave her a transist to radio when she was eight years old. That love grew stronger when a group of African-American professionals purchased a radio station in her hometown up Omaha, Nebraska. Hughes is truly a trailblazer. In 1999, she became the first African-American woman to chair public health corporation. Over the course of her career, Hughes has been a mentor to countless women and an advocate dedicated to empowering minority communities, recently in Black America spoke with Kathy Hughes.
Well listen, I'm just so honored to be part of In Black America, you know, but we're not just a broadcast company, we're the largest media company because we also have I One Digital and One syndication, you know, everyone who is syndicated other than Steve Harvey and he's on some of our stations actually is part of our network. At the time of this production, considering the activism and protest that's going on currently, how will you assess that? Well, number one, I'm sad, concerned, I think that we have fallen victim to a president who had no idea what he was doing and has disrupted the economic stability of America. You know, when people can make more money staying home on unemployment than they can make working for minimum wage, I'm very concerned about the future of the economy. I'm devastated by the effect that it's had on Black and brown people. You add the protest on top of COVID-19, how many more people are going to die?
We're wearing out our health system because my brother, who's a doctor, his hospital where he works in California is at full capacity, they are turning people away. We're having to set up situations of chance and trailers and things in the parking lot in order to accommodate the people that are coming. And the way it is so disproportionately affecting the Black community. So the disease of flu is disproportionately devastating us and the unemployment situation. I'm a small black business, I'm the largest black media company in this country, but when you compare me to a fox or an NBC or a comcast, I'm minuscule, and there was no financial assistance to anybody in the media because of the separation of media from the government
and the fact that this administration hates the media so badly, we were all penalized. I unfortunately had to let 382 people go two months ago. And it just broke my heart because when Urban One let you go, there's not a lot of opportunity out there for you with somebody else. I employ more black folks, more African Americans work for me than all of my competitors combined. You could probably combine radio and television and I would still come out with the largest number of African Americans employed in the media. And so I'm very discouraged, very worried, staying in prayer and meditation every day. At the same time though, I'm very encouraged. These young people, I love the signs that they hold up to and this is the last generation that is going to tolerate this type of inequality, this type of abuse and persecution that we've
been subjected to since the days of slavery. I can't tell you, it just makes my heart sore to see the millions of people globally that are turning out in support of the correction of this systemic racism that we have dealt with in one form or another. Slavery, Jim Crow segregation doesn't matter what title you put on it. Black people are the economic backbone of the United States of America and yet all of us have had a need to our net for over 400 years. Besides the employees that you have had to let go, were there any other adjustments that you had to make? Oh, absolutely. We had to have compensation adjustment. My son and I are working at about 50% our normal compensation rate, which we have always historically paid ourselves a lot less so that we could take our monies and reinvest in our company.
Both my son and I could have made a lot more money if we had to work for other people as opposed to ourselves, but we felt that serving our community was critically important. So we made the adjustment. Many of our top executives are working at 30% reduction, somewhere at 20% and everybody's a minimum of 10%. So we've had to have payroll adjustment in addition to the, you know, nearly 400 individuals who were furloughed. Miss you, when I think of Omaha, I think of the birthplace of Malcolm X, Gabrielle Union, Little League Baseball, and Boys Town, what was it like? Oh, it was Bob Gibson, Johnny Rogers, the first brother to ever win the Highest Mintrosi, Leo Sayers, Buddy Rich, Omaha has a rich history of African-American achievement. What was it like growing up there? Well, it was very segregated and I was very interesting because when I was growing up, there
were, if white folks and there were black folks, we did not have any Hispanic Latinos and I don't think that I saw an Asian until I was in high school. It was just Polish white folks who had settled in the Midwest and black folks, black folks lived in North Omaha and white folks lived in South Omaha and West Omaha and East Omaha was basically the Carter Lake, gigantic lake in the airport. And so a very, very, very much a hub, there were, you know, lynchings and riots in the early 1900s in Omaha, Omaha, you know, in the sixties after the assassination of Dr. King saw riots and looting and destruction of property, some of which still has not been reestablished to this day.
However, flip side of that, great education, absolutely, great education, great food, everyone had a little garden in their back, almost a southern mentality, very comparable to how people in the South live is how we live in the Midwest. When I was a kid, the cattle, Omaha was the packing house, the center of the United States, all the beef and pork was processed in Nebraska and I actually saw, you know, cattle drives, they didn't put them on trucks or trains back in those days when I was a child. They literally had cowboys on horses and they ran them through South Omaha into the slaughter houses. You could hear them, you could actually fill the ground vibrating. A lot of industry, you know, it's not accidental that the, you know, richest man in America still lives in Omaha, Nebraska, Warren Buffett, Omaha at one time was the third richest city in the United States per capita, Union Pacific, headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, Mutual
of Omaha, headquartered in Omaha, so many big industries, the KV dinner was created in Omaha, Nebraska, soldiers, coffee, headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, so many industries and educational facilities, education was so important, so many universities, so many medical schools. It was a very interesting existence when I was a child, my daddy was the only black CPA in the city. There were two lawyers, there were three doctors and two dentists, everyone knew and did business within our own community and so, so much of that changed with the advent of integration. It was so sad because there were thriving businesses, two funeral parlors, there were either two or three, one, two or three of black professional categories in Omaha and then it was very
interesting because the packing houses were all unionized and so you had this very sizable black population that even when I was young were making $40,000, $50,000 a year working at the packing houses, slaughtering and processing meat for the rest of the United States, so you had this professional community servicing this large population of the professional community in Omaha was not even the talented champ, they weren't even a tenth of the population, they were more like 2% of the population and very, very, very financially well off community because of the packing industry, very, the cows and the pigs where the Omaha cars were to Detroit. You mentioned your dad, he was a CPA for the Honorable Elijah Mohamed? Yes, we worked for the Nation of Islam, absolutely, and the Honorable also Reverend Clarence Cobb, first church of the deliverance, the first black preacher to be on the radio in Chicago,
first black preacher that I know of with a mega church, he had about 25,000 members 50, 60 years ago and that's how Honorable Elijah Mohamed was best friend with Reverend Clarence Cobb and both of them were my father's clients and then the third client we had, we only had three clients initially in Chicago with Gladys' restaurant, if you know anything about Chicago, Gladys' restaurant was the same to Chicago as Sylvia's is to New York, or Ben Philly Bowl list to Washington, DC, it was the restaurant, they made these biscuits in the window, they had these picture windows and people would line up for hours to watch them and you know how crispy cream, are you familiar with crispy cream, don't you know how people, crispy cream donuts puts a light on when there's a fresh batch of donuts coming out of the oven, that's how Gladys' restaurant functioned in Chicago, there was a signal that was turned on when there was a fresh batch of biscuits coming out of the
oven at Gladys' restaurant, from there, those three clients were our foundation in Chicago and we ended up working also for the peace stone rangers doing the government contract that was so controversial, we did all the accounting work on that, we did the fish import financial work for the nation of Islam, we did all of the finances for all of the restaurants at one time the nation of Islam had you know restaurants throughout the United States, very successful entities owned by the nation and we were responsible for all of the accounting of all of those companies. Did you talk to us about project equality that led to your first radio job? Project equality was exactly as his name implied, it was funded initially by the Ford Foundation and the Ford Foundation hired me, I was the midwestern EEO officer, the Ford Foundation and then partnered with the various denominational headquarters, for instance, the United Methodist
Church was one of the contributors to project equality, it was a national program, the United Presbyterian Church, the Catholic Church, not the Archdiocese, but I'm trying to think of what the governing body of the Catholic Church is called, but anyway the name escapes me right now, but all of these various religious groups partnered with the Ford Foundation and project equality did equal employment, opportunity investigations for institutions that were funded by these religious organizations and by the Ford Foundation such as hospitals and universities were the main clients that were being funded, but after the riots of the 60s, all of these major white denominations put billions, literally billions of dollars into various community efforts and most of them had what were called urban ministers
that had offices in the heart of the community helping to fund various functions, well one of the functions that was funded in Omaha, Nebraska was a radio station and I had wanted to be in radio since I was 8 years old, my mother had bought me a transistor radio and so I had this fascination with radio, so when I found that the project equality was going to help put together a group of black investors in Omaha, Nebraska to buy a, and program a radio station to service the black community because when I was growing up all I could ever hear was a Willie Nelson or a Conway Tweety, all we had was country, back then it was called country in Western, but all we had was country radio stations, there was no black news, there was no black music and so project equality sponsors helped fund a group of prominent black Omahas to buy a radio station and I immediately wanted to be a part of that because I, as
I said, had wanted to be in radio since I was 8 years old, so I jumped at that opportunity, that opportunity really prepared me for when I came to Washington, DC, my experience volunteering, I was an investor, I like to say sometimes that I started in radio at the top because first I was an owner, I was an investor in the first black radio station in Omaha, but we didn't have money to pay a staff side volunteer, so I not only was an investor, I was also a worker and when I came to Washington, DC I didn't realize that that credential would be exactly what I needed to be of assistance to Howard University with their brand new FM radio station, WHOR. If you're just joining us, I'm Johnny Johansson Jr., and you're listening to End Black America from KUT Radio and we're speaking with Cassie Hughes, Bona, and Chairwoman of Urban One,
the largest African American owner and operated media company, Ms. Hughes, when you came to Howard University, what was your first position there? I was a lecturer in the Howard, newly established Howard University School of Communications. Tony Brown has, he does not get credit for, the fact he still has the longest running continuous television show in the history of the television industry. Tony Brown's journal is still on national television stations around this country and Tony Brown had been recruited by then President Dr. James Cheek to help him establish a School of Communications at Howard University, Tony Brown was the very first dean of that School of Communications and he hired a gentleman who was heading the Black Studies program department at the University of Nebraska by the name of Dr. Milton White and Dr. Milton White was hired
by Tony Brown to come and be the dean of the department chair, not the dean, Tony was the dean, the department chair of the department of applied communications and Tony Brown and Dr. White asked me if I would be interested in coming to be part of the faculty and it was such a distinguished faculty, I was so honored, I couldn't believe that they were going to actually pay me for this opportunity, Quincy Jones was on that faculty, Melvin Van and Peoples was on that faculty, oh so many distinguished individuals in the entertainment industry were part of that first faculty because Tony Brown knew these individuals because of his television show and convinced them to come and be part of the first faculty of the School of Communications at Howard and I stayed on the faculty for almost two years before Dr. Cheek offered me the opportunity to first become the sales manager of Howard
University radio WHUR and I did quite well I was blessed my first year, increased the ratings and the revenue substantially and so within a year of having been the sales manager I was blessed to be given the opportunity to become the general manager during which time I created a format known as the Quiet Storm. I was going to ask you that I had always thought about having a black music satellite service but obviously when you went to the University of Chicago and took a course that gave you the idea okay. And I convinced Howard, I didn't convince the administration unfortunately but Howard was building a new hospital, one of the distinguished individuals on that first faculty working for Tony Brown was a gentleman who was the highest ranking black with the Gallup Poll and so he did a poll for us at the radio station and we asked every doctor, lawyer and dentist
in the DC Maryland Virginia area if in fact a black music was available to them would they be willing to play it in their offices in the Howard House, Howard University hospital in their various clinics and it was unbelievable because the gentleman who conducted the survey said that all the years he had worked for the Gallup Poll people, he had never seen an 88% response, 88% of everyone that we sent this survey out to responded yes please do it, do it, Howard University didn't want to do it, they were reluctant. I was quite a controversial general manager because Howard's radio station had historically only played jazz and unfortunately the student body was not listening to the station nor was the general audience so I changed the format so it was pretty controversial because
once I took gas off and put on a different format, gospel on Sunday the quiet storm in the evening popular music during the day I had demonstrations outside that radio station so when I brought my latest idea to Howard which would have been if Howard University had had done two things they would be self-sustaining to date the first thing I tried to get them to do was the black music the second thing because also part of that poll that we did that survey that we did determining whether or not black professionals would be willing to we even expanded it past doctors and lawyers and dentists and we included beauty powers and bobbershops and black businesses in general but the second thing that they refused to do because as I said I was pretty provocative as their general manager was they refused to license the quiet storm if they had a license the quiet storm and allowed me to actually
create a black music this to this day they would not be having to accept money from the federal government most people don't realize that Howard University is not a historically black university of college they're not at hubc hbc you they are what is called a land grant college right they get direct funding just like the department of energy they you know federal trade commission they get funding directly from the federal government they are a land grant college not a historically black college or university if they had allowed me to do those two things for them why I was there they would be self-sustaining today because those two ideas have literally generated billions and billions and billions of dollars what led you to your second on trading to radio ownership oh what do you mean my second well you said you was in Omaha so you would you started my talk oh yes it was investor okay I was really an owner I was an investor as that's okay yeah the fact that Howard
wouldn't license or would not copyright the quiet storm format and would not let me do the black music really I felt they were throwing out the baby with the bath order and I wanted to work for myself so the next time God blessed me with a billion dollar idea I would not have to go any higher than God to get it you know with a get a green light for it we did it approved I had watched them literally literally turn their backs on two very lucrative financial opportunities and I was like no no no I can't do this a third time and so that's what led me to go into business for myself and become an owner in becoming an investor and an owner in terms of bottom line responsibility as an investor in Omaha and KOW 8 you know the bottom line responsibility was not mine once I became an owner in 1980 with my first radio station in DC WOL that bottom line responsibility was totally on me big difference between
being an owner and being an investor as I was going to say speaking of babies during this period you had a child and you work at the radio station for mama raising a son by myself who has for the last couple decades been my CEO and used to facetiously say that he thought that everybody went to a radio station after school because that's what he did all through elementary school he would come to the radio station I'm in a city I don't know anyone I don't have any family here and I was not entrusting the rearing of my only child you know I had become a parent before I had reached legal age of voting or drinking okay I was you know a mama pregnant at 16 a mama at 17 and so I kept him very close to me Kathy Hughes founder and chairwoman of Urban One Incorporated the largest African
American owner and operated media company in America we will conclude our conversation on next week's program if you have questions comments or suggestions ask your future in black American programs email us at in black America at kut.org also let us know what radio station your heart is over don't forget to subscribe to our podcast and follow us on Facebook you can hear previous programs online at kut.org the views and opinions expressed on this program are not necessarily those with this station or of the University of Texas at Austin until we have the opportunity again for a technical producer David Alvarez I'm Johnny Ohanson Jr. Thank you for joining us today as we began our fifth season and please join us again next week CD copies of this program are available and may be purchased by writing in black America CDs K U T radio 300 West Dean Keaton Boulevard Austin Texas
78712 that's in black America CDs K U T radio 300 West Dean Keaton Boulevard Austin Texas 78712 this has been a production of K U T radio
- In Black America
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- KUT Radio
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- Episode Description
- ON TODAY'S PROGRAM, PRODUCER/HOST JOHN L. HANSON JR SPEAKS WITH CATHY HUGHES, FOUNDER AND CHAIRWOMAN OF URBAN ONE, INC., THE LARGEST AFRICAN AMERICAN OWNED AND OPERATED MEDIA COMPANY IN AMERICA.
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Engineer: Alvarez, David
Guest: Hughes, Cathy
Host: Hanson, John L.
Producing Organization: KUT Radio
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- Chicago: “In Black America; Urban One Inc., with Cathy Hughes, Part I,” 2020-01-01, KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 3, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-41d53135fd4.
- MLA: “In Black America; Urban One Inc., with Cathy Hughes, Part I.” 2020-01-01. KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 3, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-41d53135fd4>.
- APA: In Black America; Urban One Inc., with Cathy Hughes, Part I. Boston, MA: KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-41d53135fd4