This week, MWBC is highlighting media pioneer Cathy Hughes. Cathy is most famously known as the founder and chairperson of the media conglomerate Urban One, Inc. (formerly Radio One, Inc.) and the first African-American female to chair a publicly-traded company. Highlights of her amazing journey are below.
“[Don’t] let anyone convince you that your dream, your vision to be an entrepreneur, is something that you shouldn’t do. What often happens is that people—who are well meaning, who really care for us—are afraid for us and talk us out of it.” ~Cathy Hughes
Catherine Elizabeth Woods was born in 1947 to Helen and William Alfred Woods of Omaha, Nebraska. Both of her parents were community advocates and trailblazers in their professions—her mother played trombone (an instrument mostly played by men) with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, and her father was the first African American to graduate from Creighton University with an accounting degree. Cathy carried on her parents’ legacy by empowering the African American community through information and overcoming professional barriers.
Cathy began working at age 14 for the Omaha Star, her first position in what would become an unparalleled career in communications that encompasses print, radio, television, and digital media. Next, she joined KOWH (AM), a local radio station where she later met Tony Brown, renowned journalist and founding dean of the School of Communications at Howard University. Impressed by her work, Tony invited Cathy to become a lecturer in Washington, D.C.
While at Howard University, she became General Sales Manager of the college radio station, WHUR-FM. In her first year, Cathy increased ad revenue from $250,000 to $3 million. She created an original format called “The Quiet Storm,” later adopted by hundreds of stations nationwide, and she became the first female Vice President and General Station Manager in the D.C. market.
In 1980, Cathy and her then-husband, Dewey Hughes, created Radio One, Inc. and purchased a local radio station, WOL-AM. With the founding principle “Information is Power,” Cathy once again created a new format—24-hour Talk from a Black Perspective—to provide African Americans with a forum to learn about and discuss issues facing the community.
Cathy realized her dream of building a media network in 1987 when she purchased a second radio station, followed by a series of acquisitions totaling more than 60 stations nationwide, offering a variety of formats including talk, hip hop, gospel, and R&B. Cathy was the first female to own a number one ranked station in a major market and the first African-American woman to chair a publicly-traded company when Radio One joined the NASDAQ Stock Market in 1999. In 2017, Radio One rebranded as Urban One to better reflect the market it serves. Today, it is the largest African-American owned and operated broadcast company in the country, generating original content across radio, television, and digital media channels.
Her unending passion and tireless efforts have earned Cathy hundreds of prestigious awards and recognitions, including the 2016 naming of the Cathy Hughes School of Communications at Howard University, where she began her D.C. career. She is a philanthropic champion—improving education, strengthening minority communities, ending homelessness and hunger, and more.
Cathy Hughes has spent her life empowering African Americans by creating forums that connect the black community and share information. During African American History Month, Maryland Women’s Business Center celebrates Cathy Hughes’ entrepreneurial achievements and—through MWBC’s training, counseling, and resources—carries on the spirit of helping women build successful businesses and achieve financial independence.