Cathy Hughes: Media Arts Entrepreneur, ‘Truth-Teller,’ Barrier-Breaker, Living Legend

Cathy Hughes: Media Arts Entrepreneur, ‘Truth-Teller,’ Barrier-Breaker, Living Legend

by Jada Ingleton

Media arts mogul Cathy Hughes is a barrier-breaker and living legend.

From radio, to television, to Howard University’s Cathy Hughes School of Communications (CHSOC), the barrier-breaking entrepreneur continues to influence people through her work and storytelling. Moreover, she uses her platform as a means of empowering Black communities globally.

“Pioneer. Trailblazer. Innovator. Revolutionary,” said a group of Howard University faculty and students who were asked to describe Hughes in one word.

A jack of many trades, Hughes, created a legacy at the forefront of innovation and journalistic integrity when she entered the media world in 1969. More than 50 years later, her impact remains evident in the District, nation and world.

D.C. Becomes a Defining Moment for Hughes

Born Catherine Elizabeth Woods in Omaha, Nebraska on April 22, 1947, the future media mogul jump started her radio career when she worked for KOWH (AM) in her hometown before moving to Washington, D.C. in 1971.

Upon arrival, Hughes joined Howard as a lecturer in the-then recently established School of Communications– more than four decades before it was renamed in her honor in 2016. A newly single mom with everything to prove, Hughes’ decision to relocate to the District served as one of the most pivotal moments of her professional career.

“[Cathy] is the core of what journalism is. She’s a truth teller…a fire-starter. As a native Washingtonian, I’ve grown up with her. I don’t know any other Black woman that has that power as it relates to journalism,” said Ericka Blount, a journalist and former editor for Interactive One, which Hughes founded in 2007. . “I look up to her as someone who is able to make change. I don’t know many people in the city that haven’t been touched by her in some kind of way.”

In 1973, she pursued a managerial position at Howard’s local radio station WHUR, where she increased the station’s revenue from $250,000 to $3 million in her first year. Hughes would later become the first woman vice president and general manager of a station in the nation’s capital and created the format “A Quiet Storm,” which revolutionized urban radio and aired on over 480 stations–including one in Kansas City, Kansas.

Alecia Taylor – a fall 2023 graduate of Howard’s CHSOC – recalls listening to “A Quiet Storm” in her own hometown and feeling extremely honored to learn Hughes was the genius behind one of her favorite radio segments.

“Learning about Cathy Hughes and some of the revolutionary things that she created, I feel like that’s going to inspire [the next generation] to look at what they can change and how to keep elevating,” Taylor said.

Hughes’ innovative spirit didn’t stop there. In 1980, the radical entrepreneur purchased her first radio station – WOL-AM, the flagship of Radio One – in D.C. She pioneered another innovative format, “24-Hour Talk from a Black Perspective,” and went on to serve as the station’s morning show host for 11 years with the theme “Information is Power.” WOL remains the most listened to talk radio station in the nation’s capital.

Dr. Yanick Rice Lamb, an award-winning journalist and a CHSOC professor, celebrated Hughes’ barrier-breaking work and leadership.

“Particularly [with] Black women, it’s a little more challenging to break into certain fields and to rise in them. Sometimes, women wonder, can they have it all? And sometimes you can’t, but she’s made it. She’s used herself as an example to talk about some of the challenges of juggling your personal and professional life. Yes, it can be done–no, it’s not easy; but it can be done,” Lamb said.

The Legacy Continues

Today, the visionary remains the first African-American woman to chair a publicly held corporation with Urban One – the largest African American-owned and -operated broadcast company in the nation. Hughes, 76, has also been listed as the second richest Black woman in the world.

Howard University’s School of Communications is named after Hughes as a reminder of the school’s mission and commitment to legacy, excellence, and changemakers.

“[Hughes] created this space where our stories are not just acknowledged, but they’re also respected. As an activist in advocacy, journalism was also a part of that. And so she has changed the scope of what journalism can be,” Blount said. “She’s been a change agent in several ways…and made things happen. She’s been a real force … initially it was just the Washington, D.C., community, but it’s now become national.”

As someone who walked the halls of the Cathy Hughes School of Communications, Taylor told The Informer Hughes’ work and teachings continue to live on through students and alumni.

“Part of her legacy is…how you can make a difference. I feel like that’s how [CHSOC] keeps her spirit alive…asking ‘What do you want your impact to be?’”

Source: Published without changes from Washington Informer Newspaper

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