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Who is Cathy Hughes? A Radio Industry Icon (interview)

Icon, legend, visionary, entrepreneur, leader, and royalty are just a few words that come to mind when describing the. incomparable Cathy Hughes. There can’t be a single soul in the radio or the media that doesn’t know her name. As the first Black woman to own and operate a publicly-traded company, Cathy Hughes is Urban One. She is the standard in the radio industry and to see what she has accomplished in television as well is a testament to her faith, knowledge, drive, and focus. She so humbly sat down with us to discuss it all. 

GettyImages 528650916 | AlfredLiggins
NASHVILLE, TN – MAY 06: Honoree Cathy Hughes, TV One/Radio One Chairman speaks onstage during NMAAM’s Celebration Of Legends Red Carpet And Luncheon on May 6, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images for National Museum of African American Music)

Kevin:   So, I wanted to first start off by saying, congratulations on your phenomenal success.

Cathy:  Well, I still am a work in progress, it’s not successful yet.

Kevin:  Okay, well you know-

Cathy:  It’s getting there.

Kevin:  We have to enjoy the fruits of our labor, even if they’re not, you know, we’re not finished working yet, so, yeah…

Cathy:  Well that’s a good point, I like that, you’re absolutely correct.

Kevin:  Right, take the flowers while we live, so…


Cathy:  Yes.

Kevin: you are phenomenally successful, by, you know, a lot of standards, but of course, you know, as long as you are a work in progress, then there’s more to come.  So that’s

Cathy:  Yeah, exactly.

Kevin:  That’s a good thing.  Now the first thing I wanted to ask you was, um, your mom was a jazz musician, and your father, I didn’t get a lot of details on him, as far as what he-

Cathy:  My father’s the first black CPA to graduate from Creighton University and he owned Woods Accounting service. He worked for himself.

Kevin:  Okay, so you did have an entrepreneur in the family.

Cathy:  Oh, um, I’m a generational entrepreneur.  My grandfather started Piney Woods Country Life School, which is, uh, 108 years old, still in operation. His grandfather started the first, uh, um, uh, an institution of higher learning in the state of Michigan, um, oh, what was his name, oh, it just escaped me, but, um, uh, yeah, Foster was his name, I come from a long line of entrepreneurs.

Kevin:  Okay. Now did they ever sit you down and teach you things?  Or were you watching?  Or how did you… 

Cathy:  Yeah, uh, yeah, my first job, I was typing 100 words a minute when I was ten years old because I worked in the office at my grandfather’s school.  My daddy couldn’t afford a staff when he opened his accounting service, so I used to do tax returns, the short form, back then, was a card. You could file your taxes, if you made under a certain amount, with a card, and, um, and so I learned how to fill out the card, so all of the folks who came in for the twenty-dollar special, got me, even though I was only, probably, at that time, about 14, 15 years old. And so, yeah, no, I grew up in business.

Kevin:  Good, good.  So many years ago, I remember that you were trying to tell people at Jack the Rapper, where the industry was going, and you were pushing entrepreneurship, but you seemed, just a slight bit, uh, I don’t want to say disappointed, but it didn’t seem like your message was getting across.  Do you recall that?

Cathy:  Very well, I was trying to talk to them about du-, um, duopoly and the fact that the, um, FCC was going to deregulate, which was going to adversely affect smaller owners, because the big owners, you know, we’re going to be able to, you know, uh, double and triple up and it kind of went over, you know, like a lead balloon, they didn’t believe me, it was like, you know, nothing they were interested in and you know, that was during the heyday of black executives in the music industry, and black-owned, and we were at, you know, our peak not realizing that, of black ownership of broadcast facilities.

Kevin:  Just the process of thinking it’s gonna last forever.

Cathy: Absolutely, and it was going to increase, and I was trying to tell them that we were getting ready to hit a major obstacle in the middle of the road, okay, a big pothole, and that, if we weren’t careful, you know, many of us would fall into it, and as you see now, there are very few owners left and I can only name maybe two, or three, black executives in the entire music industry.

Kevin:  Right. How important do you think entrepreneurship is for African-Americans overall?

Cathy:  I think that it’s, it’s critical, particularly in the communications industry because he who controls the microphone and the camera, controls the story.

Kevin: That’s a very good point.

Cathy:  And, I mean, that, right, that’s evidenced by, you know, um, uh, what you see on television, what you hear on the radio, what you, you know, see in the movies.  Um, when you have black ownership, you have an entire, we have productions in the genre of movies, like Selma,

Cathy:  Like, you know, Birth of a Nation, like, you know, Fruitvale.  when you don’t, then you get comedy and murder, and, you know, right? 

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  When we’re not the ones, you know, green lighting the productions.

Kevin: Right, which is still a problem.  Now,

Cathy:  Yeah.

Kevin:  have you ever supported?

Cathy: Exactly. 

Kevin:  That’s okay, I’m sorry.  Have you ever supported a black business, like a restaurant, and say the service was poor.  What are you most likely to do?  Are you most likely to walk away or are you most likely to say…

Cathy:  Oh, heavens no, heavens no, no, black-owned, I’m gonna tell them.  I’m going to befriend the owner and I’m going to tell them, and I would hope that they do the same with me.  I, I have always used my audiences, be they television, or radio or internet, as my ongoing focus group.  I, you know, make it clear to all of those whom we serve, clients included, if you are not satisfied with our service, please bring it to the top immediately.  Let me know, okay, because I want to correct it because, you know, I grew up, uh, being taught that, you know, the consumer is always correct, be it my listener, or viewer, or, you know, sponsor.

Cathy:  So, no,, if I have bad service in a black-owned business, I try to address it with the owner, and hope that they, if I don’t know them, received it in the spirit in which it is offered. For other businesses, to be very honest with you, I just don’t return.

Kevin:  Okay.  And, what is the one thing that remains constant, throughout your career, um, in radio, with listeners?  What is the one thing that absolutely never changes with black listeners?

Cathy:  Their trust and the message that they are receiving through black-owned media, whether it’s print or electronic.  I mean there are, uh, I have, uh, you know, people in my listening audience that I talk to, that are still, like, very upset that Ebony was sold, because they don’t know if they can trust the new people when Viacom, bought BET their ratings have not recovered yet.

Cathy:  Big change, big change. Now their programming changed, a lot of different things changed, but most importantly, what changed was the trust factor.

Kevin:  Right.  Let me ask you a question,

Cathy:  They trust Bob Johnson,

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  you know, they trust Bob Johnson because he was a black man.

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  They don’t know who, you now, the Frenchman is who runs Viacom.

Kevin:  Right, exactly.  Let me ask you a question, as far as, like, Ebony, uh, is concerned. Some people have said that, uh, Ebony’s issue was that they didn’t progress fast enough, they weren’t, uh, into digital, they didn’t, they weren’t into, social media, um, they, they kind of took their time and waited for the the old platform to return, and that’s generally what happened, as far as their failure.  Do you think that, uh, it is, the onus is on the black owner to make sure that they’re ahead of the eight ball, eight ball, how, how can, um, let me see what, how can I ask this question…

Cathy: Absolutely, I think it is their obligation, but I think in Ebony you have a unique situation.  I think John H. Johnson stayed in charge, uh, too long.

Kevin:  Too long.  Yes, yes.

Cathy:  I think that had he, I think if he had turned over, Linda Johnson Rice is a brilliant sister.  Well connected, well educated, well-traveled, but he stayed in charge too, all the way ‘til the end of his life.  He stayed in charge too long before he turned it over to her, and I think, by the time he turned it over to her, that it was too far down a road of no return.

Kevin: Right, right.

Cathy: But  I think, you, know, if he had, it’s very difficult because we are not a community of generational businesses. It’s very difficult, oftentimes, for the parent generation to know when to step aside.  You know, one of the lectures that I give when I speak to, um, uh, entrepreneurs, deals with the transference of assets. Most of us leave the house to our children when we die. Well, by the time we die, the kids don’t want the house!

Kevin:  No.

Cathy:  Alright? 

Kevin: Yeah.

Cathy:  Now, if you transferred the assets when the kids were in their, let’s say the thirties, okay, or into their forties, they could take that asset and open a business,

Kevin: Grow it.

Cathy: They can take that asset, they can parlay the benefits of those assets.  Now, most of us still, well you know, it’s our security.

Kevin:  Exactly.

Cathy: Well, you should know your child well enough to know if they are going to leave you high and dry and you’ve got a trifling, crack addict son or daughter, yeah, don’t give them your house (laughing) Okay.  But if you’ve got a son or daughter trying to get their business up and going then you should transfer and, you know, but most of us will leave the house when we die. That’s a little late to leave, okay, hopefully, by the time you die, your child has got their own house, and, possibly, their second or third house, that they’ve lived in, that they’ve bought, okay?  So it’s of no value to them, and I think that that’s, that’s really the analogy I use when I talk about the transference of power, uh, and the asset of the business. Okay, even, I don’t care if it’s a shoeshine, you know, if you’ve got, a, a, a son or a daughter who’s grown up in that shoeshine business, then you need to be getting them involved early enough for them to maximize the benefit of that asset, and not wait until you die, or until you’re getting ready to die to turn it over to them, because nine out of ten times, that’s too late.

Kevin:  Or, work yourself to death in the process, even if you’re not, you know-

Cathy:  Or working- Exactly!

Kevin: Right!

Cathy:  There you go!  You said it correctly!  Absolutely!  But the transference of assets is something that we really, um, have not been too schooled on.  And it’s not just a black problem, that’s what happens in, um, a lot of Jewish businesses. When I was a kid, growing up, practically every business in the ghetto was owned by a Jewish family. And often time, the momma and the daddy would be in there, and, um, and when their children got grown, and went to professional schools and became doctors, or lawyers, or rabbi’s, they didn’t want those businesses.

Kevin: No.

Cathy:  And, so, okay, (laughing), so, alright, the transfer of, transference of assets is not just a problem for us, it’s a cultural problem for other ethnic groups also.

Kevin: And then one thing that we may not realize, is that when you watch, when kids watch their parents, and they’re working like that, that’s not attractive.  When they’re doing it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, um, my question is, how do, uh, what, and I don’t know if you’ve been through this, I’m sure, maybe early on, when you find yourself, as an entrepreneur, working too hard, and it basically becomes your whole, you know, it consumes you, have you ever been in that position?

Cathy:  No, because ifif you’re going to be a successful entrepreneur, you’re going to have to work hard, and sometimes it takes, I didn’t, by coincidence, you and I are having this conversation, and I am in an industry that’s 24/7.  So I don’t have a choice.

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy: (laughs) Okay? I’ve never owned a business that wasn’t 24/7.

Kevin: Right.

Cathy:  And so, even though, um, I’m not in here seven days a week, I’m still on call,

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  When I’m not in here. Okay, because if the transmitter goes down, I’ve got to go to the station, ifif a jock gets, you know, sick, I mean, Wendy Williams talks about, in her book, how, you know, she passed out while she was on the air for me.  Well, guess who it was who discovered her when, you know, the record kept skipping, and I realized that, you know, that she was in trouble.

Kevin:  Wow.

Cathy:  It was me who went to the station, um, and so, I’m in an industry that’s 24/7. So, I, I, I don’t know what it is to be over, or totally consumed by your business because that’s the nature of the business I’m in. And yeah, you know, anything you do, I think takes balance, but, uh, you know a child watching their parents, uh, conscientiously work their business, may not want to take that grocery store, may not even want to take the radio station, but at least you have set the example for them that this was important to me, and I was willing to give it my all.  So, regardless of what they go in to, they could become a lawyer, a doctor, or whatever, they have the example set for them, that you’ve got to give it your all, whatever it is, to be successful.

Kevin:  Yeah, you hope they’ve learned the lesson.  Now, I want to ask you,

Cathy:  Yeah.

Kevin:  I want to ask you about your situation early on, when you slept on the bathroom floor of the station.

Cathy:  About my what, you beeped out, I’m sorry.

Kevin:  Oh, where you slept on the floor of the bathroom station.

Cathy:  Uh-huh, no, no, not the bathroom.

Kevin:  Oh, I’m sorry.

Cathy:  It slept on the floor of the radio station. Yeah, I saw that in your questions.  No, I never slept in the bathroom, that was Chris Gardner. That was not me.

Kevin:  Okay.  So you slept-

Cathy:  I washed up in my public bathroom, I slept in a sleeping bag in my radio station office.

Kevin:  Okay, so you slept-

Cathy:  Never in the bathroom.

Kevin:  So you slept, 

Cathy:  Yup.

Kevin:  on the floor of the bathroom station, and Alfred was there, you’d been kicked out of your mother’s house, you-

Cathy:  No, no, Alfred was in college, 

Kevin:  Oh, really?

Cathy:  Alfred was not there.  Yeah, no, Alfred was not there, I lived in the radio station alone, Alfred was at UCLA.

Kevin:  You know what, then that, the research, I mean, I’m glad you corrected that, because everything that I’ve read has said that he was a baby with you, when that happened.

Cathy:  No, Alfred was, right, no, Alfred had left for college.

Kevin:  Did he know that you were sleeping, that that was happening.

Cathy: At the radio station?  Yeah, he came over to see his momma, I was living in the radio station, but, but my radio station where I was living, okay, was, uh, the FM side.  When I bought WOL, the owner refused to sell me AM and FM, he sold the FM to another company and it became WMBQ, a country station. Well, so I had the whole side of 1680 Wisconsin, the whole FM side was empty, that’s where I lived.  I converted it into an apartment, I had to-

Kevin:  Oooh.

Cathy:  Okay, I had to put in a bathroom, I had to put in, a, uh, it took me 18 months, because I didn’t have much money, because I was trying to keep the station alive during the time I slept on the floor, but I converted about, um, easily 2500 square feet into an apartment.

Kevin:  Oh, okay.

Cathy:  Yeah.

Kevin:  Well, was it like, a, a functioning apartment?  I mean, like a living apartment?  Or was it just something that you used to, like-

Cathy:  No, it was a living apartment, for those 18 months I cooked on a hotplate and I slept in a sleeping bag, and as I got my money together, the first thing I put in was a bathroom, because it was quite embarrassing washing up, um, that length of time in the public bathroom, and then, at night, I would go to a friends of mine’s house and take a shower.  I would have to leave to take a shower, I got a pre-fab bathroom, I was so excited, I had a pre-fab bathroom, um, they elevated the floor, and literally ran the plumbing off of the, um, uh, water fountain that was in the hallway at the radio station.

Kevin:  Wow.

Cathy:  Cause we had water, exactly, then they put in this little water heater, it was so cute, that, uh, you could almost sit on top of it, I can’t remember, it held, maybe like only fifty gallons of water, but I had hot water. And then, after the pre-fab bathroom, uh, they gave me a little kitchenette, so I went from a hotplate to a two-burner stove, and, one of those apartment sized refrigerators.

Kevin:  Wow.

Cathy:  And then, um, mm-hm, yeah, I converted office space into actual living space.  But that’s actually not so unique, Kevin.  Are you aware that there are over 100 congresspeople who live in their offices because they can’t afford the housing in DC?  They sleep in their offices.

Kevin:  I was not aware of that.  I would think that it’s because they probably work so much, but-

Cathy:  Yeah, I just became aware of that about six months ago, there are over 100 members of Congress who actually live in their offices.

Kevin:  Wow.  Well-

Cathy:   And I understand that several congresspeople have tried to, you know, get some policy passed where they would have to pay rent because, you know, all their bathrooms have showers. Okay?  And so, all they have to do is get a pull-out couch,

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  and they actually live in their offices.

Kevin:  And find a way to eat, yeah.  Well…

Cathy:  Yeah, exactly, exactly, they eat out.

Kevin:  Right.  Did you have-

Cathy:  I’m sure they have refrigerators and, and microwaves in their offices, you know, so,

Kevin:  You have to create a livable situation.

Cathy:  So that’s how I was living, um, basically, but yeah, no, I never slept in the bathroom. (laughing)

Kevin:  Okay. (laughing)

Cathy:  Chris Gardner did!  (laughing)

Kevin:  Okay. (laughing) Well, let me ask you this.  So, out of, out of the, um, I don’t know if you have any pictures of that situation if you were struggling so hard that you couldn’t even take pictures of that,

Cathy:  Yeah.

Kevin:  how do you-

Cathy:  I don’t have any pictures.

Kevin:  How did you maintain, um, your ability to keep going at that point?  Did you feel like this may be a mistake?

Cathy:  Oh, it was exhilarating for me because I’m in a 24-hour business, and so now I’m living in that 24 hour business.  So I didn’t have to get in my car to drive to a station, I didn’t have to go anywhere to get in my office, it was, it’s a, it sounds a lot more terrible than it actually was, it was really, really, really great to be able to be there to nurture and develop my business in its early stages, so, what, what was Okay?  Alright, because I was there and it was in Georgetown, and so I was a block and a half away from and since I was living there for like 18 months, everybody in the restaurant  knew me, so, you know,  it was like I could call ahead, get me meal, pick it up, bring it back, warm it on the hotplate, or, you know,

Cathy:  (laughing) Okay, so…

Kevin:  What that, I mean, I mean the dedication, and I get that, as an entrepreneur, so that you’re dedicated to something so that in never seems like work. 

Cathy:  Exactly.

Kevin:  it’s almost like an artist with his canvas, it’s, no matter what you have to do to get to where you want to go,

Cathy:  Exactly.

Kevin: Yeah.

Cathy: You’re in the same position.

Kevin:  Right, exactly, I totally understand that.

Cathy:  Exactly.

Kevin:  You did mention that you-

Cathy:  And, I’m sorry,  the days that it’s like, you know, really bad and really challenging it’s
“woe is me, but that’s only 10 or 12 percent of the time, the other 88 percent of the time, is the time you’re so happy to be working for yourself, being able to, okay, stop, stop and go do something, if you have children,:  come back, ‘cause, you know-

Kevin:  No lines, no traffic.

Cathy:  Yeah, there you go!

Kevin:  (laughing) I totally get it.

Cathy:  No cleaning bill, no make-up. Yeah, I can’t tell you how many years I did my morning show in my pajamas. (laughing)

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy: Okay?  They were cute pajamas, but I don’t have to, I just brushed my teeth, washed my face, combed my hair and went on the air.

Kevin:  Yeah, I totally, I totally understand that.  Getting up, and not having to get dressed, and just working at your computer and not-

Cathy:  Yeah, exactly.

Kevin:  Yeah, being on your own schedule people-

Cathy:  Exactly.

Kevin: will never understand how amazing that is.  It’s a lot of work. Absolutely a lot of work, and you never stop working, like you said earlier.  It’s like, you know, you can be on call at any time when anything happens,

Cathy:  Yeah.

Kevin:  but, the reward is so great, that, you know, it’s unfortunate

Cathy: Exactly. 

Kevin:  that a lot of people will never know about that

Cathy:  Yup.

Kevin:  Now, earlier in your career, you were promoted as the General Sales Manager at HUR?  Is that correct?

Cathy:  Uh-huh.

Kevin:  Okay, how did you manage-

Cathy:  I was actually, I was actually hired as the General Sales Manager, I was promoted to Vice President and General Manager, but I was General Sales Manager, that was my first job at WHUR.

Kevin:  Okay.

Cathy:  They brought me in to set their sales division,

Kevin:  How did you-

Cathy: They didn’t even have a sales packages, okay? The first thing I did was develop a sales philosophy. Okay?  I developed a sales package, I developed a sales philosophy.  I hired a team of salespeople.

Cathy:  They had none of that.  Okay?  They were just kinda, you know, taking business as it came along,

Kevin: Whatever comes.  Churches and stuff like that?

Cathy:  When I came, exactly, they didn’t have a strategy, they didn’t have a campaign. They weren’t going after business. So with, you know, uh, uh, it was not as difficult as it may appear going from 250,000 to 3 million in a year when you’ve got a sales package, you’ve got four or five people on the street, you’ve got a campaign, you’ve got a strategy, you’ve go at, you know, before that, they had none of it.

Kevin:  Wow.  You know you-

Cathy:  That’s how I knew I could maximize their revenue because, I was like, oh my God, they’re just kind of bumping into $250,000 every year. If I have a focus on it for them, if I develop a package, you know, I created their logo, I created their first sales package, I, you know, I hired a team of salespeople, and, um, so you know, the ascension was not as difficult, again, certain things, when you read them, look differently then they really were in reality.

Kevin:  Okay, okay.  How do you find, um, good salespeople?

Cathy:  Well, my first recruitment was with the Howard University School of Business.  The students in the School of Business. My two top salespeople during those days were, uh, students who I had recruited when they were seniors in college, they came and started working part-time, and as soon as they graduated, they went into, um, you know, full-time employment. I mean, it, again, not as challenging as it would appear, ‘cause I’m on the campus with people who are looking for, back in those days, every college student, even if their parents were paying their tuition, had some type of gig.  They did something.  That was just our culture at that time. And so, you know, I had a whole, you know, reservoir (laughing)

Kevin: Right.

Cathy:  I was right across the street from, a reservoir, too, full of hungry individuals, who were fascinated by media, also. ready to get their foot in the door, okay, hey, had a need to get money, wanting to get their foot in the media door,  and had a very respectable, uh, you know, product, WHUR, Howard University Radio, a lot of excitement.  You know, remember, I was in the early days of the station.

Kevin:  Do you find that that hunger still exists today?  I mean, with, with uh, social-

Cathy:  No.

Kevin:  Yeah, I was going to say, you don’t see that, yeah. 

Cathy:  No.  And part of it is because,

Kevin:  Social Networking?

Cathy:  Those of us in the media, unfortunately, glamorized,, instant gratification.

Kevin:  Right, right.

Cathy:  So, you know, the sacrifice, the hard work, the hunger, you know, it’s kind of like how, you know, our community, you know, has told smart black kids that it’s not cool to be smart. It’s not cool to excel. The same thing, with it’s really not cool to be hungry, it’s really not cool to need a job. Okay?

Kevin:  Right, right.

Cathy:  You know, so often I interview young people who act as if they are doing me a favor by coming to apply for this job.  I know you’ve experienced that, right? And, I’m gonna tell you how to do better than you can.

Kevin:  Yes.  Absolutely.  And have their own agendas.

Cathy:  So, go start your own! Alright? Go do your own! (laughing)

Kevin:  And, and then to have their own agendas at the same time,

Cathy:  Exactly.

Kevin:  Have to keep more of an eye on them, I totally get that, and then you have to watch the brand, which is why I was saying, how do you trust, I can kind of understand how an owner would have issues with trust today, more than ever.

Cathy:  Yes.

Kevin:  because you have to be the, there are so many obstacles, there’s social networking, there’s so many things that are going on. 

Cathy:  Absolutely.

Kevin:  Yeah, that you have to be on top of all of it.

Cathy:  Absolutely.

Kevin:  So, yeah, I totally understand.

Cathy:  Absolutely.

Cathy:  And, you know, I mean, one of the problems, um, not just social networking, but all of the, with technology, all of the various avenues that are open to young people, so they’re shopping for handbags, when they should be researching, (laughing)

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  Okay, the next person you’re going to do an interview with.  Okay?

Kevin:  Yeah.

Cathy:  Or they’re watching a Netflix, okay, ‘cause they fell asleep last night and didn’t get to see the ending of something they were watching on Netflix.  It is so easy for them to be distracted. None of those, you know, existed years ago, all of that is new.  So you, you know, you, you walk into an office, and there’s a 22-year-old, you know, signing up for or Black People… okay…(laughing)

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  Alright? Instead of concentrating on what it is you are paying them to do.  And again, no hunger. And because there’s no hunger, there’s also no gratitude.  How many, okay, how many of us, I mean, I’ll go to my grave singing the praises of Tony Brown. If he called me right now, I would abort this interview with you and run to do whatever it that is he needed for me to do, because he opened the door of opportunity for me. I will always be loyal to Tony Brown,  I’ll always be grateful to Tony Brown. I was hungry, I needed that opportunity, so I appreciated it. When you’re not hungry, you don’t recognize that someone has opened the door for you, or that you should be grateful, or that you should be loyal.  So often, young people use their first or second, or sometimes third, or fourth, or fifth opportunity as a stepping stone. They just with you until they get , quote, something better.

Kevin:  That’s right.  Exactly, yeah. Well the one thing, I think, I was talking to another entrepreneur the other day, I think the one thing that remains constant is relationships. There is instant gratification, but relationships, at the end of the day, are going to be more profound than, then you know, because then you can always go back and ask for something else. Um,

Cathy:  Yes, you are so right.

Kevin:  With instant gratification, you get one chance.

Cathy:  And that’s really the key.

Kevin:  Absolutely.

Cathy:  Yes, you are so correct.

Kevin:  So, you, at one time, there was a disconnect.  I don’t know if it is still there because I haven’t been in a station for a minute.  There was a disconnect between programming and sales.  It was sort of, like a, how do I phrase this? One thought that they were more important than the other.  Do you still see that today?

Cathy: Oh heavens, yes. Because there’s only 24 hours of air time and both are competing for it. Both are controlling what goes over that microphone, what goes out on that transmitter. Okay, and, and, and programming creates and manufactures the product, so they figure, we’re the most important because, without a product, there is nothing to sell.  Sales feels that they generate the revenue to pays your salary to generate, to manufacture the product, so they’re more important.  You know, in a, well managed facility it’s balanced out at 50-50, but I think it is the nature of our industry that that’s going to be a, a confrontational,

Kevin: Situation?

Cathy:  reality, reality of our industry.

Kevin:  Okay.  If you had started Radio One in 2016, of course, we learn things as we, as we, uh, progress in business, what are some of the things that you would do very differently?

Cathy:  First of all, I would not rear Alfred as an only child, I would have as many brothers and sisters for him as I could so they could all work into, work in the company, and reduce rates like Alfred and I both do! And I’m serious about that.  I am very serious. I had come to the conclusion, (laughing) that, um, you know, um, black folks had it right back during days when we were an agricultural, uh, uh, community,  the more you have involved in the family business, the easier it is, you know-

Kevin: To run it.

Cathy:  Many hands make for lighter loads. If I had it to do over, I would have had more than one child involved in my business, quite frankly.

Kevin:  So you think, ultimately that your, you know, your relatives are your children, ultimately, are the people that you trust the most?

Cathy:  It’s not just that you trust the most, it’s also those that have a vested interest. I think Johnson Publishing would have gone in a different direction if Linda’s brother had not been killed.  You know?  He died in a plane crash. If she had not lost her bother, or had it been her and her brother, I think that, uh, Mr. Johnson probably would have turned over the reins of power a lot sooner than he did.

Kevin:  Right, yeah, so he had some issues with that. It’s unfortunate.

Cathy:  Exactly. He was closer to the son,

Kevin:  Right:

Cathy:  he was planning for the son to be the heir to the business.  And then, when the son, you know died, he decided to fill in for the son.

Kevin: Right, and then hung on a little too long.

Cathy:  Okay? (laughing)  He stayed.

Kevin:  Right, yeah.

Cathy:  Exactly, exactly.  So,, yeah, if I had it to do over I would have more family members involved if I had it to do over, I would not have been discouraged as you were correcting and reflecting on when I tried to tell black folks, now I do an editorial feature that I call “Reality Radio,” where I try to deal with points that I think are of utmost importance in improving the life of those that are in our community.  I think I  would have beat that drum a lot louder and a lot longer, and I would not have, I just kind of said, “Okay, you all aren’t listening,” I just kind of, you know…I went and practiced what I was preaching, I went and, started looking at opportunities for my company, I felt I had told them. But now, if I look back at the shrinkage that has occurred in black ownership I wish I had encouraged you know, beat that drum a lot louder and a lot longer. And spread that message.

Kevin:  It, it’s so funny that you just said that, because I have found when you try to encourage people in the black community, that we tend to respond to crisis,

Cathy:  It’s much better.  

Kevin:  Exactly, or if it’s a situation where, um, you know we’re interested.  We, we have to be extremely interested.  But, like you said, just sitting up and telling people, it’s almost as if you will expend your own energy, I know you were saying that you wanted to do more of it, but I have found that it actually wears you out,  

Cathy:  Oh yeah, it wears you out.

Kevin:   to try and take people where they don’t want to go.

Cathy:  Well, yeah, that’s the reason we stopped doing it.  That’s the reason we stopped doing it.  I remember Pepe Sutton telling me that, I was trying to have a one-on-one with him, that I was arguing, but I was no, I was passionate, that I should worry about  Radio One and let him take care of inner-city broadcasting.

Kevin:   Okay. Yeah, well, I mean,

Cathy:  You know?

Kevin:  we like examples, we also like examples. Unless it’s a crisis, or there’s personal interest, or there’s an example,

Cathy:  Yes.

Kevin:  it’s very difficult to get the attention, 

Cathy:  Yes.

Kevin:  and is very frustrating, and I, I, sometimes I wonder, how is it that we’ll go line up to buy sneakers, around the block, which I guess has never really changed, that was the same when I was a kid, I mean All Stars were the sneakers and then, you know,

Cathy:  That’s right.  Chuck Taylors.

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  High tops.  Yeah, exactly.

Kevin:  And those companies used to play really cruel jokes on us, because, you know, it was status quo, if you had two pairs of All Stars, you had the ones that were 13 dollars, that were the premiere ones and then you had the 5 dollar ones that they called, “Buddies.” You remember those?

Cathy:  Yup. 

Kevin: (laughs) And if you had the “Buddies,”

Cathy: You’re absolutely correct.

Kevin: you were less than. (laughing)

Cathy: Yes, yes.

Kevin:  So it was just a few extra, a few dollars, which was a lot back then,, you know just, I don’t know why we like, we’re such consumers, in a sense, and why we’re gratified by that, but not by the long term.  I’m going to tell you a quick story real quick, I went to a college, a community college here, and I had never gotten my degree, but I went by to look for a couple of students to do some work.  And I noticed when I looked at the line, that there were one or two black students out of, like, 300 that were registering.  

Cathy:  Wow.

Kevin:  And I thought, you know, now my ancestors died for this, you know, they paid the price, and I’m looking at this line, it’s like, well, what is the best way for me to teach this lesson? I’ve  never gotten my degree, so I got in that line, and actually went back to school. (laughs) 

Cathy:  Wow!

Kevin:  and got another degree, because I thought, you knowif nobody’s watching, maybe my son’ll be watching, sometimes you just hope, you know, that somebody’s watching,

Cathy:  Yes.

Kevin:  but then you realize that you have to lead by example. So, um, I totally understand where your frustration, that day…what advice would you give a new, black entrepreneur?  Somebody just starting out?

Cathy:  The best advice that I ever received when I was a rookie, in the world of entrepreneurs, was to, be your own best PR.  So often when we’re starting those first five, six, or seven years, you know, people ask, “How are you doing?” “Oh, it’s rough, it’s rough.”. “I’m not making a budget, I’m not doing,” and Herb Wilkins of Syncom who loaned me my first million dollars said to me.  You have to be your own publicist, you have to be your own PR agent.  When people ask you how you’re doing say, ‘it’s getting better,’ say, ‘it’s great,’”

Kevin:  You never know who’s listening.

Cathy:  Because the first person who hears that is you, because it came out of your mouth and went to your ears, and if you believe it is getting better, then the glass is half full, not half empty. But if you’re like, woe is me, oh, I don’t know if I’m gonna make it!

Kevin:  (laughing)

Cathy:  I lost this contract!

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  That’s what happens!

Kevin:  (laughing) Yeah.

Cathy:  And people start saying, “Well, you know, Cathy’s not doing good,”

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  Okay?  “I don’t know what’s going to happen to her and her company, ‘cause I talked to her and she was about ready to throw in the towel.”

Kevin: Right.  “I wouldn’t spend any money with her.”(laughing)

Cathy:  Exactly. 

Kevin:  You know what, the thing is we are our own walking resumes, and we don’t realize that.

Cathy:  Exactly, we are our own billboard.   The billboard says:  Doing terrible, can’t make budget!

Kevin:  (laughing) Yes.

Cathy: Don’t know if I’m going to be here next month!

Kevin: (laughs) You probably won’t.

Cathy:  Okay? That’s what people believe.  Exactly, exactly.  Probably, well, if you say, “oh my gosh,” you know, that’s been proven by some of these white girls, like, in California, who buy their own billboards and put themselves up to make themselves famous. I mean, Kim Kardashian has declared to the world that she is the most beautiful, she is the sexiest, she is the most blessed, most highly favored female alive on the planet. This girl ain’t got nary a skill, no education,  nothing other than her own self-promotion, and she has one-billion followers.  It works. When you toot your own horn, people turn around and say, “oh my gosh, she really is beautiful.”

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy: Okay, I was like, where?

Kevin: Right.

Cathy:  Okay?  She’s a classic example.  And pop culture really lives that, uh, oh, uh, advice.  What Herb gave to me 35, 38 years ago, now, ‘cause I’ve been in business 35, 38 years ago, when I was starting out, he said, “whatever you do, whenever anyone asks you, ‘how are things going?’ say, ‘Great! It’s getting better every day!’”

Kevin:  That a great point, that’s a great point.

Cathy:  (laughing) Okay?

Kevin:  Yeah.

Cathy:  Alright?  And that’s what she says.  All Kim Kardashian says is, “I’m beautiful,” “I’m special.  Look at me, you’re jealous of me,” “because I’m the best.”  And people are like, “you know what? She’s right.”

Kevin:  Yeah, never I’m depressed or I don’t feel well today! You never hear that.

Cathy: Yeah, exactly.  Oh yeah, woe is me!

Kevin: Right.

Cathy:  I slept in a sleeping bag last night, on the floor! You know, and I used to, I had to learn that lesson the hard way, ‘cause people were like, you know, “How you doing,” and said, “well you know, if  you don’t mind washing up in a public bathroom or sleeping on a hard floor in a sleeping bag, I guess I’m doing okay.” You know, I started saying, “sleeping bags ain’t all bad.  Okay?  They’re actually a lot of fun.  Particularly if  you’ve got company and they’re with you, alright, washing up in the bathroom saves a lot of time, and then you take your shower at night,”  you know?  I started seeing the glass as half full.  And that’s what I say to young entrepreneurs, “never, ever focus on it being half empty, always focus on it being half-full, and in a minute, you’ll be overflowing.”

Kevin:  Wow.  And you actually did that today, when I asked you about sleeping on the floor, you gave a very positive response to that.

Cathy:  Yeah.

Kevin:  So you’re actually, your absolutely…

Cathy:  Yup, exactly.

Kevin:  …right in your assessment.  Let me ask you a question, um, some entrepreneurs, especially African-Americans, often complain about feeling isolated, disconnected, and like others don’t understand them.  Have you ever felt that way?  Early on?

Cathy:  No, because I always had positive reinforcement from, I feel one of my greatest blessings has been the support system that Washington, D.C. provided to me.  And, and, that’s what empowered me to go nationwide.  They, for some reason, well, the reason was God, I guess, God instilled it in their hearts to surround me with love and support. They helped me build my station on 4th and 8th.  Alright, when they realized that I was coming into the hood to do something that no one else had done, and that was to brave, you know, the 4th and 8th Street corner, um, they checked in, they used to write on their checks to,, Petco and to Washington Gas, we listen to WOL, please advertise.  And so, no, I’ve never felt isolated, I’ve always felt, uh, connected to the community that I have been blessed to be of service to, and, you know, um, I always chuckle when people say, “well, you never change.”  Why would I change? This has been my greatest blessing.  I want to talk to my listeners, I want to talk to the people who use my products and my services, I don’t want to, ever, become disconnected.  And because of that, I have always felt that, whatever the problem was, there was going to be a solution, there was going to be an angel in the form, sometimes, of a man or a woman I didn’t even know, they would just show up and say, “I want to advertise,” or “I want to help do that,” or “I want to help do this,” or “I want to sponsor this.” So, no, that isolation, I think is when we spend too much time inside our head, instead of outside with our people.

Kevin:  You know, it’s so funny that you said that, because I have actually experienced the aspect of, whenever you think that things are going wrong, or right when you think that something always happens, and my mother always says that, “no matter what bad happens, there is always something good in it.”  Whenever you think that, okay, I don’t know how I’m going to pay this bill, or, I mean, early on for me that’s how it was, there was always something that came out of the blue,

Cathy:  That’s right.

Kevin: and turned the situation around.

Cathy:  That’s right.  And when you realize it’s coming, then you don’t feel alone, you don’t feel isolated. And now, it’s really a lot easier than it was on us, because with technology you could research it.  You can find out where it’s coming from and where it should be coming from and when it’s going to arrive. It’s like the Uber.  Be there in 24 days. (laughing) I know you need 24 hours, but in 24 days. Your luck will have changed and your blessing will be forthcoming.  Okay?

Kevin:  Absolutely.

Cathy:  You will find that person you need, or you’ll find that money that you need to refinance.  You’ll find what’s coming, okay, we didn’t have that resource. I mean, when I was coming up in broadcasting, I spent an inordinate amount of time in libraries reading and having to research, having to learn this industry, how to master this industry.  Now, I can push a button and find out how to do radio in Croatia.

Kevin:  Absolutely.  So speaking of, we, we talked about the disconnect, I want to take it a step further.  When you see a situation, like what just happened with the shootings.  Um, what is-

Cathy:  What shootings? The shootings of us or the shootings of the police?

Kevin:  Both.

Cathy:  Okay.

Kevin:  When you see a situation like that happen, how does Radio One, or how do you think that radio should come to the rescue in a situation like that?  I mean, can we, like some stations just totally ignored it. I’m not talking about Radio One, I’m saying just some stations in general.

Cathy:  Yeah, I know what you’re saying, yup, yup.  Kept on playing the music.

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  Kept on playing the hits.  We just commissioned it would be announced in the next couple of days, we just commissioned a big research project. We wanted to know, I never want to be in the position of decided for my listeners or my viewers or my users of Interactive One, what I think is best for them.  I want to ask them what it is that they think is best for them.  So we just completed some research on what needs to be released in the next several days. I think that the first thing is that you have to have a calm head, and analyze the situation.  Another thing is, I think that you have to declare your listeners,, you know, safety, as a top priority. Because, guess what?  If everybody gets killed, who’s going to be listening to your station?

Kevin:  Right, yeah.

Cathy:  Okay? (laughing)  It’s in your best interest to help your community solve whatever problem they need solved, particularly one of life or death. I mean, you know, we started having Saturday work sessions.  You know, we started following the example of, you know, Walmart has their executives work on Saturdays, one Saturday a month, they work. When I was on an advisory committee at Walmart, that used to fascinate me, I was like, wow, these executives have to work on a Saturday and so, and it’s just a part of their routine, so once the crisis starts, and starts to escalate, and it’s still escalating in my humble opinion, we start having, you know, sessions with our executives.  Yeah, we’re 24/7, but that’s usually the proletariat whose got the weekend shift and the all night shift.  Okay?

Kevin:  Yeah.  Right.

Cathy:  So we start sharing that responsibility.  And, uh, I think that one of the most important things for, you know, a black radio, um, company to do, is to provide an outlet for your listeners to vent, for them to really say what’s on their minds, and to say what’s in their hearts. It’s just fascinating to me, always, some of the best solutions, some of the best suggestions, some of the best information comes from those you’d least expect it to hear it from.

Kevin:  Absolutely.  So do you think that’s Radio One’s strength, over the other corporations, that, you know, you can?

Cathy:  Absolutely Is our community connected.  I mean, please, Viacom, name somebody, CBS radio, IHeart, everybody out-resourced us. We’ve never had that type of money to put in our facilities.  What we had that they didn’t have was the community connection.

Kevin:  Right, right. Absolutely.

Cathy:  A classic example is in Orlando, Florida. The affiliate there that we have, had Tom Joyner on, dropped Tom Joyner and replaced him with Steve Harvey.  And the community would not accept it, they would not go for it  and as of July the first, after two years of being off the air,

Kevin:  He’s back.

Cathy:  Tom Joyner is back on the air, in Orlando, Florida, because the community remained steadfast, um, with the issue of Tom Joyner coming back on.

Cathy:  And when you have, again, that’s the type of love and support I’m telling you, that has always been shared with me.  But, um, excuse me, when you have the community determined and dedicated to a priority, uh, it happens.

Kevin:  Right.  What do you think-

Cathy:  It happens, you know, in the Bible, they call it if two are more are gathered in my name, it’s true of any issue, if two or more are gathered, okay, then it is done.

Kevin:  You know what?  Radio can’t do, well, Radio One, can’t do the entire job of you know, of influencing or inspiring the community when these things happen.  Why do you think I probably know the answer to this, but I want to get your take on it, why do you think a lot of black celebrities don’t get more involved in these issues?

Cathy:  Well, I, you know, I think a lot of them do, but they’re not trying to toot their own horn, they’re not trying to shed their spotlight.  Sometimes, when Oprah and I talk, we try to do one-ups-man-ship,on who can, who gets the most requests, or some of the most interesting requests that we get, so a lot of times, celebrities won’t discuss what they’re doing because they don’t want the whole world at their doorstep.

They want to be able to pick and choose. And I think that that’s probably one of them, the, you know, um, most wonderful thing about eleemosynary ventures, that, uh, individuals of, of all, you know, um, of all economic status participate in, whether they‘re famous or not, and they don’t want it broadcast because it brings on that many more requesting, and, uh, you cannot, as you said, you said it so correctly, you can’t solve everybody’s problem. 

You can’t service all of the needs of the community, so you have to, kind of, pick and choose, and, uh, I think you would really, kind of, be surprised if we really had all the information on all of these individuals. I was very upset with my own talent, on Radio One and TV One, for criticizing Michael Jordan.  I don’t care why he didn’t give it when he was playing ball, I don’t care why he didn’t say anything, he did it now. And that’s important, ‘cause it’s needed it now. You know?

Kevin: Yeah.

Cathy:  Okay, maybe he wasn’t as aware, because one of the things I think most people don’t understand, particularly about high profile athletes and entertainers, is they don’t have a lot of free time. They are working, when you talk about working around the clock. I mean, if anyone looked at a basketball schedule, you would see that between practice and the games. That are part of the mandated, that’s the, the games are in the hundreds whether they go to the playoffs or not.

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  (laughing) Okay?

Kevin:  Absolutely

Cathy: And then you have that, so how much time does Michael have to even read a newspaper, or find out what’s going on?  All they want him to know is how do you get the ball into the basket. That’s his world.

Kevin:  Don’t you think that it’s a double-edged sword, in a sense, because, I understand what you are saying,

Cathy:  Oh, no question it’s a, no question it’s a double-edged sword, that’s the reason they get paid so much.  Do you realize that Beyonce doesn’t ever come off tour?

Kevin:  Yeah.

Cathy:  Do you realize that when she is not on tour, she’s in the studio?  Okay, and then it’s not only her career, but she’s married to an entertainer.

Kevin:  Never thought of that.

Cathy:  They could go out a whole bunch of times, okay, you see them at a, you know, basketball game, that might be the only free night she has off in 40 nights.

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  (laughing) Okay, she got to spend some time to keep her husband’s company.

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  And I think that that’s one of the things that people don’t realize, is they expect the awareness level to be a lot higher, the consciousness, I guess is the term I am looking for, with celebrities, than it actually is.  You know, between Sam Jackson’s movies and his, you know commercials and the rest, he’s one of the unique ones because he still carves out some time for social activism, but other than him saying he doesn’t agree with something, you don’t see him at any marches, Dick Gregory had to give up his career in order to become a social activist.

Kevin:  Right.   He left comedy, yeah.

Cathy:  Okay?  Yeah, exactly.  When you’re a superstar, your time is not your own.

Kevin:  Right.  And being an advocate is not a part-time job.  And it’s not an easy job.

Cathy:  Being an advocate is not a part-time job, and guess what? You get crazed* from activism,

Kevin:  Absolutely. Oh my God, you’re telling the truth!  It’s almost like there’s no reward! (laughing)

Cathy:  No good deed goes unpunished.

Kevin:  Absolutely.

Cathy:  That is a rule.  No good deed goes unpunished.

Kevin:  You hit the nail on the head but, as far as celebrities not wanting people to know, I do get that, they don’t want people to know what they’re doing because it’s going to attract more people.  But then,

Cathy:  It opens the flood gates.

Kevin:  it also, opens the floodgates for criticism, because it’s like, you’re not doing enough.

Cathy:  Exactly.

Kevin:  So where’s the balance?

Cathy:  Exactly.  It’s like I said, you know how a said, when Roland Martin said, well Michael Jordan only, and sounded like, well two million dollars is a lot for Black Lives Matter.

Kevin:  It is.

Cathy: That was a big contribution for them.  Kept them alive at a critical time.  Alright?

Kevin:  Yeah.

Cathy: So, and I’m like Roland, okay, please!  Did you give two million? 

Kevin: Right.

Cathy:  Okay? (laughing)

Kevin:  Exactly. (laughing)  Exactly.  Let me ask you a question. Now the special that we’re doing, we’re actually honoring black women in radio. I don’t see you too often, and I just thought, you know what, just give the flowers when people are living, it’s so much more important, and it’s got, I appreciate or can appreciate the responses that these issues get, uh, when I put them out.  You know the “thank you’s” and that people appreciate it,

Cathy:  Yeah.

Kevin:  sometimes we have to get out and, as you were saying earlier, be involved in the community to see the impact that you have.  Sometimes, you know, you don’t know it when you’re sitting behind a desk, or you’re not involved, which is the advantage of, yeah, I’m sure, Radio One, and doing a Black Business.  Do you think that, um, African American women in the industry still have a long way to go?

Cathy:  Oh heavens, yes. And they made, black women have made more progress in basketball than they have in broadcasting. Sheila Johnson owns a team.

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  As many years as black women have been involved in radio, we should own several properties, but you can count on one hand the women who actually own,

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  Okay, their facilities.  So, yes, no, I think they still have a very long way to go.  I think black people, period, have a long ways to go in the communications industry because that’s, you know, the problem with movies and television, it’s still, even though, with black projects, black programs, black formats, it’s still white folks who have to give you the green light on whether or not it’s going to get produced.

Kevin:  Right.  Let me ask you another question.  Do you think from your perspective, that as far as the broadcasting industry or the music industry, do you think black men support each other enough?

Cathy:  I think there’s always room for improvement, but I think that black people support each other a lot more than we get credit for. Like I told you, the love of Washington D.C. empowered me, to become a national communications company.  Alright?  And, and, I mean, that story, you know, they always want to talk about how I struggled and slept in the sleeping bag, and all that, you know, I’m so glad that you asked the questions that I rarely get asked because it allowed me to talk about my support base.

Kevin:  Absolutely.  Now, what about, um, speaking of your support base, what do, how do you respond to people who question your choices about management in Radio One?

Cathy:  Well, number one, we’ve had, probably, more diversity than anyone else.  We’ve had women managers, we’ve had African-American managers, right now, we’re just going through a phase where unfortunately well we lose our black managers to other companies. The same thing, I was talking about young people, we’re kind of like a stepping stone for a lot of people. And right now, okay, right now, um, um, my white managers outnumber my black managers at the top. 

But that’s just a cycle we’re going through, at this particular time. Because of availability in the marketplace.  One of the things that have happened, is, with consolidation, particularly in radio, it’s hard for us to compete against an IHeart.  I would love for, Winter to work for me. I would love for him to be here, but I can’t afford him, unfortunately. I can’t give him what, you know IHeart can give him. and with consolidation, not a whole bunch of people, a lot of folks who, you know, the field has been shrunken significantly.

Kevin: Right, right.

Cathy:  Alright, so there’s not, they are not the available talent, there’s not the available talent, their age, African American’s, thank God, don’t have to be general managers of a radio station any longer, they can go be general managers of FedEx.

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  They can be the general manager of American Express. There are other opportunities that make it impossible, often times, for black companies, oftentimes, to compete at the level that we’ve got to compete at.  Because the other thing is because we’re in to syndication and we’ve got Tom Joyner, we’ve got D.L. Hughley, we’ve got Rickie Smiley, we’ve got Russ Parr, it’s kind of hard to get a black manager to come in, earning 20 percent, 10 percent of what you’re paying talent,

Kevin: Right.

Cathy:  (laughing)  Okay?  They want talent salary.

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  (laughing) Okay?

Kevin:  Yeah.

Cathy:  You’re like, oh, I’m only making five percent of what I’m paying somebody I’ve got to supervise?

Kevin:  Right. Right.  And, by the way, D.L. did an amazing job,, with the shootings.  I mean, everywhere he was, I kept wondering why he didn’t promote the show a bit more, but I thought he did an amazing job as a spokesperson for the community and just, his, you know, with the wit at the same time, it’s almost like a comedian is absolutely equipped to do what he did at that time.

Cathy:  Exactly!  Thank you.  Exactly correct.  Thank you. Canceled vacation, the whole nine yards. Cancelled vacation, so, you know, that, you know, that, so we’re going through a cycle, but we’re in the black people business, so it will cycle back again, because, again, a lot of the black executives that in the radio industry, that we’ve been after for years are getting laid off.  You know, Deon Livingston started with us. And we lost him to Inner City. 

Guess what?  He is back as a Regional Vice President. I mean, I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.  Okay? Because, I mean, all those years that he worked for Inner City, I used to mess with him, every time I saw him I would say, “when are you coming home?” And, you know, now he is back home, so you know, excuse me, you’re are always going to be criticized, management is always going to be criticized, but one of the things, that, you know, I still stand firm on that we still hire more black folks,

Kevin:  Right.

Cathy:  in decision making, uh, uh, positions, then all of our competitors combined. So, I’m like, those who want to criticize Radio One, I say, add up all the black decision-makers at all of my competitors and the do not. I’ve got black women general managers, I’ve got, you know, individuals that nobody else would provide those type of high ranking, decision making opportunities and, as long as Alfred and I remain in the two positions that we’re in, it’s always going to be a company that remains in the black people business.

Kevin:  Got it.  I want to settle a score on this because even I have been confused about this. The creation of the Quiet Storm,  I’ve heard credited to you and I’ve heard credited to Melvin Lindsey.  And I know that you hired him when he was a student, who actually created the Quiet Storm?

Cathy:  Me.

Kevin:  Okay. (laughing)

Cathy:  Me. Melvin Lindsey was my third host of the Quiet Storm.  He was my most popular because he stayed the longest.  Before I hired, Melvin Lindsey was my intern.

And he actually got hired by accident, because the two people that preceded him were Don Roberts, who decided that he liked television better than radio so he went in to television and, as a senior, got a job as a senior in college at a Baltimore station, and Melvin Lindsey’s best friend, Jack Shuler,* Melvin Lindsey, was actually my third host of the Quiet Storm. Okay, so finally got that right.

So he definitely did not create it, but he became the most popular because he stayed the longest.  He was not the best of the two, Don, of the three, Don Roberts was actually much better. Melvin Lindsey, the first year, would not open his microphone.  He would say, “Good Evening, welcome to the Quiet Storm.”  He would close it.  “Good Evening, thank you for listening to the Quiet Storm.  I’m Melvin Lindsey.”  That’s all I could get him to say for a solid year.

I am serious, okay, and a story for off the record, Melvin’s the only employee I ever laid hands on, besides the one I gave birth to.  When Melvin Lindsey, his first week of being on the air, now Melvin had worked for me for three years, as my intern, helping me with my son, picking him up from school, I paid Melvin’s union dues, I bought him his first, uh, suit, I paid for his engagement ring, when he had not discovered his true sexuality

Kevin:  I was getting ready to say, yeah.

Cathy:  Melvin was family with me.  So, Jack Shuler* says, “I hate radio, I don’t’ want to do this, Ms. H, my roommate, Melvin.  Hire him, hire him.”  So, he’s like, “Melvin’s my roommate, he’s always giving me advice, he knows how to do this.”  So I’m like, “Melvin, Jack thinks you can do the Quiet Storm,” and he’s like “no, I can’t do the Quiet Storm” That first week he was on the air, Melvin had a meltdown.  He was crying, he was trembling like a leaf, and I had to give him an Aqua Velva slap upside his head, and say, “calm down, it’s not worth a nervous breakdown.” That’s when I had to say, “slow down,” and that’s when I said, “just greet them at the beginning,” we pre-recorded his drops. His idea on songs, all that was pre-recorded.  When Melvin would open that mic, he would tremble like a leaf.

Kevin:  Wow.  Okay.  Well that-

Cathy:  Well, as I said, that night he was crying, “I can’t do it, I can’t do it, I can’t do it! I treated him just like he was my son, bopped him upside the head and he was fine. But it took him almost a year before he really grew into his personality, and then Melvin was good-looking, tall, and had a really wonderful personality. 

So, that time, the music had captivated the Washington market, and he was able to come out of his shell and really blossom along with it.  Melvin was my third host of the Quiet Storm, not my first, but certainly my most popular because he had more longevity and he really wanted to do it.  Neither Jack Shuler* nor Don Roberts really wanted to do it.

Kevin:  Didn’t have the passion.  I got you, so that helps a lot.  Another thing that I wanted to say was that D.C. is an amazing radio market.

Cathy: Yes.

Kevin:  Whenever I do stories on radio and D.C., I’m amazed at how those people respond.  More than anybody in the country.  I mean, they know…

Cathy:  Absolutely.

Kevin: …who you are, they know who Radio One is, they know Tom, I mean, they, they go much deeper than the average listener.

Cathy:  Yes.

Kevin:  They talk about rating, I’m like, how do these people know this stuff?  But they’re very much in to radio, so your, that market is excellent for that

Cathy:  Yes, I agree.

Kevin:  what do you think about streaming and podcasts?  Do you think that that may affect-

Cathy:  I love it. I love it. I love it.  The first person that I ever saw do a podcast was Easy Street.  He would broadcast himself doing his show on WKYS.  He was the first podcast I ever saw. I love streaming, I love podcasts, I-I love technology.  I don’t like the fact that it has shrunk the available talent pool,

Kevin:  Okay.

Cathy:  because there just aren’t opportunities.  I don’t love that aspect of it, but I love it. Yeah, so I like technology.  I just do not like the fact that it has eliminated opportunities for broadcasters of color.

Kevin:  Okay.  So, as far as radio, Radio One and TV One, I’m going to ask you a couple of more questions before we wrap, but, you have, you started to get in to some scripted programming for TV One.  Are we going to see a lot more of that?

Cathy:  Absolutely.  Yeah, in January, my first production will be airing.. We just premiered it at the Critics Association on, the day before yesterday, on Monday, and it was well-received, and the name of my production is Media.

Kevin:  You know what?  I actually heard a story about that and I wasn’t sure if it was true. That’s like, the Empire type show?

Cathy:  Uh, no, it’s no anything like Empire,

Kevin:  Okay, well then it wasn’t true then.

Cathy:  it’s a scripted family drama like, in the same vein, yeah.

Kevin:  Okay, I actually heard about that quite some time ago,

Cathy:   Well, it has finally been shopped, and it is going to air in January of 2017 and say a prayer for me, I’m praying that it’s going to be our first scripted series.

Kevin:  I’m sure it’ll do well. What about you’re, Unsung?

Cathy:  Dramatic series, I should say, because we have Born Again Virgin, which, you know, is a comedic series.

Kevin:  I remember that.  What about, um, Unsung, I wanted to ask you a question about that.  Do you think you would have had more artists participate ifit wasn’t for the title?

Cathy:  Yes.

Kevin:  Mm-hm.  And at some point it was so branded because I can remember when it first started, just everybody was talking about it, and, of course, it was a huge success or is a huge success, um, but then, it was like, that title.  I wonder if some artists are insulted by that?

Cathy:  Absolutely.

Kevin:  Yeah, okay.

Cathy:  No, you’re absolutely correct.

Kevin:  Okay.  And what about Radio One and as far as outside work that peopled don’t see generally?  Do you do any community work, as far as non-profits?  Like what’s something that’s near and dear to you?

Cathy:  Oh my God, heavens yes.  (laughing)

Kevin: Okay.

Cathy: Heavens yes.  (laughing)  Tons of it, okay? Tons of it.

Kevin:  What is the nearest and dear, I mean, what is the one thing-

Cathy:  The School in Mississippi.  The Piney Woods Country Life School.

Kevin:  Got you. Okay.

Cathy:  The school that my grandfather started 109 years ago that I am almost single-handedly keeping alive. They bus them in, and graduated 150kids, and 99 percent of all our kids go to college. 

But there are several other charities. From Street to Skilled, um, is the program I’ve had the entire 35 years I have been in business, with a social worker, uh, Ella McCall Hagen*and, we do homeless shelters, get women back work, get them up, out the shelters, find housing for them. 

I volunteer with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which provides scholarships and internships and training to young people, encouraging them to go into the world of politics., the list is, is kind of lengthy on, that’s how we stay connected.  I think that’s why God blessed me with this business, is so that I could use it to help people in the community, so, yeah.  To who much is given…

Kevin:  Much is expected. Yeah.

Cathy:  …much is required.

Kevin:  Absolutely.

Cathy:  I practice that.  And I require my people to practice that.  When we turned 30 and for my 25th anniversary I had a big party. Beyonce performed, so did Natalie Cole and Aretha Franklin and Jermaine Dupri and Janet Jackson, everybody.  I had 14 headliners. When we turned 30 we decided to do something different. Which was, we gave everybody a day off, with pay to go out in the community and volunteer. 

As a result, so many of my employees had never volunteered, had never been out in those shelters with me, and  never, you know, fed the homeless and done the things that we had been doing when we were just one or two radio stations, that we had been doing for decades.  Long story, short, um, in Detroit, a woman, my office manager’s mother died and left her a house.  She took that house and turned it into a shelter for battered women.

I have had employees who, because of that one day we paid them to go out in the community and find that something to volunteer, and we told them, “you’re on the honors system.  If you decide to stay home and watch,” at that time Oprah was on daytime television, we said, “if you stay home and watch Oprah, that’s on you.”  “But you’re getting paid today to find, identify a charitable organization and go and put in eight hours at that place. 

Wherever it is, how every you decided is where you’re going to spend your eight hours,” we have people that, to this day, have not left the agency that they volunteered at five years ago.  They have, you know, so many of them, every anniversary say, “wow, you changed our life.”  I decided that you know, instead of putting the money into entertainment, and hotels, um, rooms and food, that I would put it back into the community by turning to lose, nearly, at that time I think it was about 1,000 employees I had, and them to go out and help somebody.

Kevin:  You know what would have been really good? What year was this?  Maybe about five years ago?

Cathy:  When we turned 30.  The 25th anniversary was when we had the big party. It was a million dollar party. Beyonce, everybody performed that year for me.  And five years later, I was like, mm-mm, I’m not spending that type of money. I’m going to take that million dollars and pay my staff to go do some good for the day.

Kevin:  That’s good.  Did they write about it?

Cathy:  I would hope. That, at least, it’s hard to get 100 percent of anything, particularly when we’re dealing with my brothers and my sisters, as you well know. (laughing) Okay?  But I’m hopeful that at least 95 percent, maybe, of them, did in fact, you know, spend that day helping somebody.

Kevin:  That is great.  That is actually a great effort.  I wish I could have read about it, it would have been great if they could have come back and written something about it and we had access to that.   But, you know, but, like you said, trying to get someone 100 percent

Cathy:  Oh, some of them did picture books and all that, I mean, we covered it internally.  But, again, it was what we were talking about earlier, about celebrities.  I was not trying to toot the horn of Radio One for helping.

Kevin:  I got you.

Cathy:  Like, look it up, look at what we did, you know?

Kevin: Right, and you know what, I’m going to tell you something, trying to find a writer who works in radio is impossible anyway.

Cathy:  Exactly.

Kevin:  So I have absolutely given up on that. (laughing)

Cathy:  You’re right! Oh, listen, I appreciate you.  Listen, I find out what’s going on in my industry thanks to you, I really appreciate you.

Kevin:  Well, thank you, and definitely keep me on your list for events that you’re doing, Thank you for your time today.

Cathy: God Bless!


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