Cathy Hughes: Founder and Chairperson, Radio One

Had it not been for the support of the Howard University School of Communications in her early professional years, Cathy Hughes said she wouldn’t be where she is today. 

A Howard University Honorary Doctor of Human Letters degree-holder, Hughes mothered a son at 16. She went on to become founder and chairperson of Radio One, the largest Black-owned American media company with holdings in radio, cable television and digital media. The multibillion-dollar company owns and operates 56 radio stations in 16 U.S. markets. 

“If you can believe it, then you can achieve it,” Hughes said. “There’s no stopping you; I don’t care what it is.” 

And achieve, she did. When her son, Alfred C. Liggins III, was only 6 years old, Hughes got the call from Howard University. Tony Brown, founding dean of the School of Communications, offered her a job as one of the school’s first lecturers. Hesitant about moving her son from the comforts of her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, she took the position and focused her energy on assisting students. 

When you really concern yourself with the development, nurturing and fostering of the career goals of other individuals, the greatest beneficiary is yourself,” Hughes said. 

She recalls Brown charging her with coordinating the School of Communications’ first conference in the ’70s, at the tail end of the riots and civil rights demonstrations. Brown had one stipulation: Each vendor had to be prepared to hire students on the spot. Students traveled from Spelman, Morehouse, Bowie, Cheyney, Lincoln, Hughes said, to take part. About 50 students were placed into summer internships and full-time positions. 

The Howard Woman is “brilliant, compassionate, highly socially conscious, well-dressed and beautiful,” Hughes said. 

“It was not Howard University opening a door for the students of the School of Communications; it was Dean Brown kicking down the walls and allowing students to [break into the industry],” Hughes said, that benefited all Black colleges and universities. 

Little did Hughes know that past Howard President James E. Cheek would kick down the walls for her, in 1973, by making her general sales manager at the University’s radio station, WHUR-FM, and sending her to a summer program at Harvard University for training. By 1975, Hughes was the first female vice president and general manager of a station in the District of Columbia, creating the “Quiet Storm” format. From there, she launched Radio One. 

Hughes received the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Howard in 2005. Though she didn’t graduate from Howard, she said she felt like a part of the community. 

“Howard was gracious beyond expectations to me,” she said. “The education that Howard University provided to me is what I use today to operate my own multibillion-dollar company.” 

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