A true pioneer is not always recognized in the digital age because chances are they are not as “showy” as their younger competitors. However, Cathy Hughes is a pillar of perseverance for African Americans and even more so for women all over the world. Rather than looking at unexpected events as obstacles, she looked towards the future with purpose. Constantly looking at perceived obstacles as challenges and personal To-Do’s to check off her list.
From her early youth, she was aware of her passion for radio and always dreamed of being on it despite people’s skepticism of her capability to actualize it as a young black woman in America. Despite naysayers, Cathy started her radio career at the University of Nebraska where she worked her way up into the Howard University’s WHUR in Washington, DC – becoming station manager after two short years. She transformed the station through her innovative music format that catered to college youth in the mid-70s. The format was gradually adopted all over the nation, but few are aware of its origin.
She accredits being a teenage mother to some of the disciplines that helped her achieve her success. The birth of her son gave her purpose and that attitude translated into all of her future successes. After being turned down by 31 banks in 1979 she continued to believe and was approved by the 32nd bank that she sought out for the financing of her own radio station. It was a long road from the humble beginnings of Radio One in 1980 as she suffered so much financial strife the first 7 years that she was forced to move into the station for a while. There was no amount of strife that would allow her to quit. The results speak for themselves as she proceeded to launch TV One alongside her son.
She stated in an interview with her Huffington Post that, “It was my son’s idea to diversify. When he got his MBA from Wharton, he said, ‘We’re not going to be a mom and son operation anymore. We’re going public.’ This all started from being a family, and even as a public corporation, we operate as a family business. Too much of American industry is focused on the bottom line and not enough is focused on the front lines.”
Her unique formula proved to work for her as today she’s the first African-American Woman to head a publicly traded company and also the first black woman to launch a radio empire of such magnitude. Cathy Hughes is a true hidden figure in the African American community.