Women in Radio: Cathy Hughes
Women in Radio: Installment 3 of 3
As a child in the 1950’s, Cathy Hughes always knew that she would one day impact radio in a big way. Even in segregated Nebraska, Cathy had dreams of becoming the first Black nationally syndicated radio host. Although her siblings and family and friends thought her dreams were impossible, Cathy continued to hog the bathroom as she practiced her radio voice in the morning. Cathy’s reality surpassed her dreams 10-fold, as she became the founder of Radio One, a publicly traded company that now owns over 75 radio stations.
In September of 2016, Cathy Hughes shared her story with Guy Raz on NPR’s How I Built This podcast. Ms. Hughes’ story of overcoming discrimination, rejection, and teen pregnancy is inspiring for any entrepreneur or professional, but more than her story, I was inspired by her positive energy and resilience. Read on for 3 Gems from Cathy Hughes’ How I Built This episode on NPR.
- Put your adversity to work as a motivator.
Cathy Hughes was a Teen Mom. After her first time having sex at 16 years old, Cathy learned she was pregnant. She admits that she was in shock, but she used the pregnancy as a motivator to work harder, and realize her dreams. Determined that her son would not become a statistic, Cathy Hughes went on to attend The University of Nebraska-Omaha with her son in tow. That’s right, she brought the baby to class. This is the first of many times in the interview where one would expect Cathy to negatively reflect on a challenging situation but she doesn’t. Instead she happily explains how easy it was for her to work and pursue her studies while her son was a baby because all he did was eat and sleep. There is no doubt in my mind, that being a teen mother, working full-time, and pursuing a degree was challenging, but Cathy’s resilience and positive energy once again outshine the negatives in the situation.
Keynote: It’s all apart of your story. Don’t let it stop you, let it fuel you! Too often we sit around and hold pity parties about every challenge that could possibly deter us from our goals. Let’s let that habit die! Embrace the challenge. Move with it! Your story is yours and no one else’s, so don’t allow the challenge to shape you, allow the challenge to propel you either farther into your purpose. Ready, Set, Grow!
- “If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well. “(Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)
When asked how she got to where she is today, Cathy Hughes referenced the aforementioned streetsweeper quote by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Through interning at University of Nebraska’s radio station, and capturing the attention of Tony Brown, a visiting African American radio personality, to being recruited by Brown about 10 years later to work at Howard University’s radio station, as he was beginning his position as the school’s first dean for the newly established School of Communications, to creating the station’s highly successful radio show,The Quiet storm, and also putting one of the first openly gay radio personalities on air, Cathy Hughes consistently did her best at the job she was given. Cathy did such a great job at Howard, that she was recruited to rebuild another station and then run it. It was at this station that the idea to own a station was sparked.
Keynote: Are you discounting part of your story because its not glamorous? Stop it! Trust that there is value in your life, and everything in it. You may not be where you thought you would be at this point in your life, but it is part of your path. This stage, this place is preparing you for what’s next. You are there on purpose, so don’t wait to tomorrow or for a more glamorous title to do your best. Do your best now, not for your boss or your company, or even your family, but for yourself. RESPECT YOUR PATH.
- “If you think you’re smart enough, do it yourself!”
These were the words that a station owner spoke to Cathy Hughes when she asked for equity in the station. After turning the station around and running it successfully, the station owners asked her to reach out to financiers on behalf of the station because they were running out of money. Knowing her worth, Cathy explained that this was well beyond her job duties, however, she would be willing to do it, if she was given equity in the station. Appalled that Cathy, young, Black, and female, thought that she could own a radio station, the owner told Cathy that if she thought she was smart enough, she should go own her own radio station. Rather than take it as an insult, Cathy took it to the bank! After 32 rejections from lending institutions, and everyone around her telling her she was crazy, she got the one yes that was needed to buy a station. After that yes, Cathy went on to experience her share of struggle from losing her marriage, living in the radio station for three years with her son, and not being able to pay her debt, however she never looked back, and she never lost her faith in God or herself.
Keynote: Cathy speaks on her spirituality throughout the interview. If you are a spiritual person and you truly believe in God, how can you not believe in yourself? Its important to know your motivators and intentions for your work. If your motivation is to impress people, then your belief in yourself and your work is based on the opinions of others. When trying to build something new or do something different, you can’t be fueled by others’ opinions or you will never get there. If God put a seed in you, a purpose, then you have to believe that He will help you achieve it. Don’t be distracted. The only person whose belief in you is vital to your success is not the lender, your boss, your mother, or your spouse, the only person who HAS to believe in you is YOU.
When Guy Raz asked the question that I wondered about throughout the entire interview, “Is this unshakable belief in yourself and positive energy and passion in spite of all of the challenges an acquired skill that others can learn or is it just something that you are born with?” Ms. Hughes responds that it is definitely an acquired skill. She explains, ” If you allow yourself to be bogged down and lose your enthusiasm, you are dead in the water. But if you remain optimistic, cheerful, and committed to your goal, there is nothing that can stop you.”
Checkout NPR’s “How I Built This” podcast at http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510313/how-i-built-this .