Cable Center Hall of Fame Honoree 2021
This mother and son duo have forever changed the face of radio and Black entertainment. Urban One and TV One’s Cathy Hughes and Alfred Liggins joined the prestigious Cable Center Hall of Fame Monday. Below is a snapshot of how they got there, including a Q&A with Liggins that reflects on the company’s move into cable television.
Cathy Hughes
Founder and Chairwoman
Urban One
Alfred Liggins III
CEO, Urban One and
Cathy Hughes was supposed to follow her mother into music. Her mom played in an all-women’s swing orchestra, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, and, her daughter says, “she was determined that I would be BeyoncĂ©.” Instead, Hughes got into media and has been a ground-breaker for forty years.

Married and a mother at 17, Hughes began her media career in her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, where she worked at KOWH, an African American-owned AM radio station. In 1973, the now-single mother moved with her son, Alfred, to Washington, D.C., where she lectured at Howard University’s School of Communications and worked as sales manager for the university’s radio station, WHUR. There, she created the distinctive “Quiet Storm” format that revolutionized urban radio. She would become Washington radio’s first female general manager.

In 1980, Hughes purchased her first radio station, WOL-AM, applying to 32 banks before finding a lender to help finance the deal. At WOL, she introduced another new format to the nation’s capital, “Talk from a Black Perspective.” Unable to afford hiring talk-show talent, she became the station’s morning show host. Five years later, Hughes’ son, Alfred Liggins, joined the WOL staff as an account manager. WOL turned its first profit in ’86, and the next year, Hughes bought WMMJ, also in the Washington, D.C., market. Her company, Radio One, went on became an urban radio market leader with stations and multiple formats across the country.

Liggins took on more responsibility as Radio One grew, and in 1994 he took over day-to-day operations, with Hughes as CEO. She says it was a smart move to make the transition when she did instead of waiting until she was ready to retire as many heads of family-owned businesses tend to do. “Parents wait too long to let go,” she says. “It’s so hard to give the combination to the vault to the same child who would lose the keys to the front door.” The mother-son business partnership has endured and thrived. Liggins became CEO in 1997; Hughes is board chair.

Radio One went public in 1999, becoming the first company on the U.S. stock exchange headed by an African American woman. Hughes entered the cable industry in 2004 with the launch of TV One in partnership with Comcast. The new cable channel was just the second entry into the African American market. By 2006, TV One was available in more than 33 million households. Radio One was renamed Urban One in 2017 and is today a multi-media enterprise with radio stations, cable, syndicated programs, web, and marketing properties under its umbrella.

Hughes was inducted into the Black History Hall of Fame in 2000, and she has received numerous awards and honors over the course of her career. In 2016, Howard University announced the naming of the Cathy Hughes School of Communications. “My goal was always to be of service to my community,” she says modestly. Here’s more from Alfred Liggins.
Q What was it like growing up watching your mother create what is now Urban One, back when it was just one radio station?

A I don’t know life without radio. It’s been a constant in my life because it was my mom’s dream to provide an opportunity for Black people to have our own voice and tell our own stories. She sacrificed and put everything she had into her business. I grew up walking the hallways of WHUR at Howard University, being babysat by staff, attending events with my mom, and watching her carve her own path in what has always been a male-dominated world. I even started working at the station when I was 15 years old. As a child, I didn’t realize the foundation she was laying for Radio One and Urban One to become what it is today- to provide a voice and be of service to the African American community; it was just normal life for me.

Q What inspired you to break into cable television in 2004 with TV One?

A Diversification just made sense and television was a natural progression for us. I wanted to do with television what we had done with radio, so creating a platform for African American consumers that featured sitcoms and talk shows made sense. At the time, the market was relatively uncrowded and there were only a few networks that offered quality programming for African Americans.

Q Similarly, how did you know the market was right for CLEO TV in 2019?

A As a company, we’ve always been about diversifying media. We want to be a voice for the African American community, and I understand that Black women have not always had a space where their voices can be heard. CLEO TV provides that platform to Black women and millennials.

Q How did COVID-19 change your company’s imperatives?

A COVID confirmed the power of our reach. We’ve always been in the Black people business, so saying that COVID changed our imperatives is a misnomer. If anything, it caused us to double-down on them. We are a trusted source of information to, and for, the Black community. During the age of misinformation and especially when so many families are being impacted by this pandemic, it is important that members of the African American community know they can trust us to provide them with accurate information. Companies and agencies need us to be that conduit to our community – but that’s what we’ve been for over 40 years.

Q What are some of the obstacles for Urban One with some of the other big players getting into Black content?

A The challenge has always been competing with companies that can create bigger content with bigger budgets, like Netflix and HBOs. You know, we’ve always created Black content, but now, in the wake of so much social unrest, Black content has become even more popular across the masses. Corporations are clamoring for it; it’s now on their radars, but it has always been on ours.

Q What does this honor mean to you?

A My mom started this company and provided me with an opportunity to lead it. She trusted my instinct to move into cable as a means of diversifying our company and extending her vision. To see how our company has grown from its humble beginning in radio in the ‘80’s to where we are today validates the fact that diversifying our business was the right choice. I’m grateful our collective ideas and passions have allowed us to have a place in these industries and enabled us to be of greater service to the Black community.

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