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One on One with TV One€s Media Mogul

Kam Williams | 9/23/2009, 8:25 p.m.

Catherine Elizabeth Woods Hughes was born in Omaha, Neb. where she attended Creighton University and the University of Nebraska. But before graduating, she began working at KOWH, a local Black radio station.

After a stint as a lecturer at Howard University€s School of Communications in Washington, D.C., she became sales director at WHUR-FM in Washington, D.C. By 1975, she was named the radio station's general manager, and four years after that, she and her husband, Dewey Hughes, purchased a small radio station, WOL, thus creating Radio One.

When the couple divorced, Hughes purchased her husband's half of the business, giving up her apartment and sleeping at the station in order to make ends meet. Over time, she turned it into a profitable operation, while going on the air herself to host a talk show.

By purchasing radio stations in other cities, Radio One eventually became the nation's largest Black-owned chain.

In January of 2004, Hughes launched TV One, a television network targeting African Americans that offers a broad range of lifestyle and entertainment-oriented programming which respects its audience€s values and reflects its intellectual and cultural diversity. TV One is celebrating its fifth year anniversary. Hughes is now the first Black woman in the U.S. to head a company whose stock [Symbol: ROIA] is publicly-traded on an exchange.

KW: Tell me a little more about your childhood and how you got started in the business.

CH: I grew up in the projects. At the age of eight, my mother brought me a transistor radio, and that€s when I fell in love with radio. I used to lock myself in the bathroom and pretend that my toothbrush was a microphone and do commercials and the news every morning before I left for school.

KW: How did you get your start in radio?

CH: I was working for the Affirmative Action arm of the Ford Foundation in a program called Project Equality. I became a volunteer for the group of investors who got a grant to start Omaha€s first Black radio station. That€s really how I got my foot in the door.

KW: How would you say TV One is different from BET?

CH: Well, we€re interested in an entirely different demographic. We€re 30 and over. BET is younger. We have a mandate: no music videos. They€re teen-oriented and have built their legacy on music videos. We are more of a family network.

KW: How would you describe TV One€s mission?

CH: To present a positive and correct representation of who we are and what our culture is all about.

KW: How do you account for your success?

CH: I don€t account for it yet. I€m a work in progress. I think many people prematurely declare themselves successful. To me, success is judged on your final day. If you€ve helped more people then you€ve hurt, then I think you€ve had a successful life.

KW: How would describe TV One€s business approach to television studios and production?

CH: I think the wave of the future in television will be in outsourcing your studio needs. The days of seeing a BET soundstage that€s basically sitting empty on New York Avenue in Washington, D.C. are over because all of that equipment can be taken to the junkyard since it€s outdated. Nowadays, if you buy something in January, by May it€s obsolete. Technology is moving so rapidly that it€s not a wise investment at this time. The best approach for a small operator like us is to outsource our production to other facilities.

KW: Where do you hope to see TV One five years from now?

CH: Our goal is to have 100 million households by then. In addition, we€d like to have some additional channels like other networks. The cable industry did a disservice by having BET as the only Black cable network for 25 years. It€s time for the cable industry to change to also allow cable owners of color to have multiple stations comparable to what those networks have. It€s been documented by research that Black viewers are the cable industry€s most loyal viewers. Black folks deserve alternatives, options and variety