Cathy Hughes, the first African-American woman to head a publicly traded company and voice for Black community in Our Town, tells Donald Graham what she learned from her “Take It Back” protest in 1986 against the Washington Post for its disrespect of the Black community with its choice of the first Black person for its Sunday magazine cover~
“But let me tell you something that I’ve learned from this demonstration. It is not your job to tell the story of me and my people. It is my job to tell the story of the Black community.” I said, “So I thank you.” I said, “Because throughout this demonstration, the best thing that was learned was that to have my own voice for my own people is the most important thing I could do.”
Andy Ockershausen: This is Our Town. This is Andy Ockershausen. I don’t know how this has come about, but this lady has been the most important person I can think of in the broadcast world for many, many years. And being part of that world has been so important to me, to know her, to watch her, to get so much excitement from her, who started a radio company, a world of her own, Cathy Hughes. As they say, “Mrs. Hughes is in charge.” Welcome to Our Town, Cathy Hughes.
Hughes and Ockershausen – Mutual Admiration and Respect
Cathy Hughes: Andy O. Now, the part you forgot in the introduction was that during those formative early years, you helped train me. You were my advisor. You were my mentor. You were my, “Let me call Andy O. and see what his opinion on this would be.”
Andy Ockershausen: You bring tears to my eyes because to see what you have accomplished, to be a part of it even from an outside, Cathy. But I recall your complaint to me, and you were right at the time. “We’ve got to be careful with AM, because FM is eating us alive.”
Cathy Hughes: Yes.
Andy Ockershausen: You thought WMAL, because of the power of the AM station, could help bring people’s attention to WOL at 1450.
On Buying WTEM AM980 and Unhappy Washington Football Fans
Cathy Hughes: Yes, absolutely. It’s so interesting now, because we just bought an AM, WTEM 980. All right. I was like, “Alfred, did you read the articles?” Okay. But it’s such an institution.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely, Washington Redskins means so much to both of us, Cathy.
Cathy Hughes: If they go back to being a team. Did you happen to see Sunday there was no one in the stadium. I’ve never seen that in all-
Andy Ockershausen: That’s a message.
Cathy Hughes: Oh, my God. All these years I’ve been in Washington, D.C., even when they were losing before, the fans-
Andy Ockershausen: There’s a big difference.
Cathy Hughes: Yeah, the fans would go there and drink beer and eat vinegar french fries. They would be happy, unless we won, but they certainly did not desert the team. But Sunday, you could have shot a cannon up in that stadium and not hit anybody. They wouldn’t be happy, unless we won, but they certainly did not desert the team. But Sunday, you could have shot a cannon up in that stadium and not hit anybody.
Andy Ockershausen: Cathy, it’s been building up, and it may have come to a head now. There’s something that strategically, drastically wrong with that organization. Where fish always stinks is at the top.
Cathy Hughes: That’s true.
Humble Beginnings in Omaha, NE
Andy Ockershausen: And this top brings down whatever has brought it down. I don’t know what can be done about that. But you have proved what the top can do and that is the top. A poor little girl from Omaha, Nebraska. When I found that out, I couldn’t believe you were from Omaha. I said, “What is that girl doing here in Washington?”
Cathy Hughes: Yeah, yeah. Grew up with the Fondas. The whole Fonda family’s from there.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, big, big time.
Cathy Hughes: Yeah, the whole Fonda and also Marlon Brando’s mother ran the community playhouse in Omaha.
Andy Ockershausen: Wow.
Cathy Hughes: And they used to bring us little children from the projects out on a bus to the playhouse. And Marlon Brando was no more than, at that time, probably 19, 20 years old. And he would assist his mother with the summer program, and he would do things-
Andy Ockershausen: I never knew that. That is a great story.
Cathy Hughes: Yep. Marlon Brando, the Fonda-
Andy Ockershausen: I never knew he was from Nebraska.
Cathy Hughes: Oh, yeah. Marlon Brando’s from Omaha. And now, the richest American alive, none other than Warren Buffett, lives in Omaha.
Andy Ockershausen: Tell me about it. And Lincoln, too. Remember my friend Dick Chapin, the radio guy.
Cathy Hughes: That’s right. That’s right. Lincoln, Nebraska. That’s right. I forgot that.
Andy Ockershausen: He was in Nebraska, and he introduced me to a lot of people that I knew, the Nebraska broadcasters. But you were living in the projects, correct, in Nebraska?
Cathy Hughes: Absolutely. I grew up in public housing.
Andy Ockershausen: But you were born in Mississippi?
Cathy Hughes: No. I was born in Omaha, Nebraska.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, were you?
Cathy Hughes: Yeah. My mother was born in Mississippi.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s what. I knew it was somebody in your family.
Cathy Hughes’ Mother Accomplished Musician – Had All Women Band as Men Left to Fight in WWII
Cathy Hughes: Yeah. My mother was born in Mississippi, was a very famous, very accomplished musician. Had a band, an orchestra, 18-piece all-women’s orchestra, the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. They traveled the world. And it was very interesting, because when World War II broke out, women had to go into factories, and the men went to war.
Andy Ockershausen: Right. Went to work.
Cathy Hughes: That’s right. That was a turning point, defining moment for women in the workplace actually, because-
Andy Ockershausen: They were doing the hard work that the men had left.
Cathy Hughes: Exactly.
Andy Ockershausen: Rosie the Riveter.
Cathy Hughes: That’s right. Rosie the Riveter. You got it. Bands also, the men had to put their instruments down and go to war.
Andy Ockershausen: Go to fight.
Cathy Hughes: And so my mother had this orchestra, 18-piece, all-women’s orchestra that years later édid an all-girl band that she pattered after my mother.
Andy Ockershausen: But she didn’t have no 18-piece band, did she?
Cathy Hughes: No.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s right.
Cathy Hughes: But she had 12. Okay? It was pretty close. Okay, Beyoncé had 12 in her orchestra.
Andy Ockershausen: What about Phil Spitalny. Remember that name?
Cathy Hughes: Yep.
Andy Ockershausen: Sponsored by Hormel. I’ll never forget that. I don’t know why, but it sticks. But they were all women, and women had a lot of things happen to them in World War II. And it turned out to be a great thing for our country.
Cathy Hughes: But one of the greatest things that happened was my momma got pregnant with me.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh my gosh.
Cathy Hughes: Yep. So in 1947, I came along, and the band really had hit its heyday in the late ’30s and the early ’40s. So by ’47. They stayed together . . .
Andy Ockershausen: That could be one of your fans calling.
Cathy Hughes: Or it could be the White House.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, Cathy.
Mother’s Band Played “Old Negro Spirituals” Now Known as Gospel Wanted to Play Swing | Brief History of Gospel Music v Christian Music
Cathy Hughes: My mother’s band started at her daddy’s school, Piney Woods School, which we still have in operation. The children go basically free because it’s for children of need. My mother and the band members wanted to … my grandfather had them playing only what was called at that time old Negro spirituals. We now call it gospel. Okay? If you’re White, they call it Christian, because it’s amazing to me-
Andy Ockershausen: We’ve come a long way, Cathy.
“Music praising God is still so segregated…on Sunday, you can see the segregation of the Nation’s capital.”
Cathy Hughes: Well, not so far, because music praising God is still so segregated. White radio stations are called Christian radio stations, and Blacks are called gospel. And even here in Washington D.C., Andy O, I talk about this all the time because I’m teaching now at Howard.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, are you? Great.
Cathy Hughes: Yeah, in the-
Andy Ockershausen: We’ll get to Howard in a minute.
Cathy Hughes: Okay, yeah. And I talk about how on Sunday, you can see the segregation of the nation’s capital. Because you go to a White church, you may see four or five Black folks in the audience. You go to a Black church, you see no White folks.
When you see Sunday morning church worship services, that’s segregated, you realize what’s going on in the city. It’s amazing to me. Anyway, going back to my momma. The band didn’t want to play these old Negro spirituals, as they were called. They wanted to play, at that time, Swing, which was the forerunner to Jazz.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely. Swing.
Cathy Hughes: Okay. Swing came before jazz.
Andy Ockershausen: Great bands. Benny Goodman.
Hughes’ Grandfather Designed First Tour Bus in History of Entertainment Business – “Black girls couldn’t sleep in hotels.”
Cathy Hughes: That’s right. There you go. They were swing bands. So they ran away from the school one night, all the girls, all the students. They made a little mistake, because they ran away driving my grandfather’s tour bus. He’s credited with having designed the first tour bus in the history of the entertainment industry, because these Black girls couldn’t sleep in hotels. So he put bunks in a bus. Had an old city bus that he converted to a tour bus, so they took that and came to Washington D.C.
Andy Ockershausen: The band did?
Cathy Hughes: The band. And they were headquartered right here on 7th and U Street.
Andy Ockershausen: Wow. By the baseball park. Griffith Stadium.
Mom’s Band Came to Washington D.C. – Headquartered Near Griffith Stadium Where – Ironically – Games Were Broadcast on WOL
Cathy Hughes: By the baseball park, where Arthur Godfrey and all them used to do the games. On WOL!
Andy Ockershausen: I remember that.
Cathy Hughes: On WOL, okay? Willard Scott gives us credit for that. He started at WOL, which was the initials for the man who owned it. But I tell him, when you only have three call letters, you realize that you went on the air before that-
Andy Ockershausen: Everybody.
Cathy Hughes: Right. You were on the air before the FCC-
Andy Ockershausen: KYW, I knew him quite well.
Cathy Hughes: Okay. Yeah. You went on the air before the FCC came into-
Andy Ockershausen: You had Turner’s Arena in that neighborhood too, didn’t you?
Cathy Hughes: That’s right. Turner’s Arena. All of that.
Andy Ockershausen: That was an events place, and there was a lot going on, and the Howard Theater, Lincoln Theatre. That was really the head of the Black community that I grew up with.
Cathy Hughes: Absolutely.
Andy Ockershausen: And it was great, and the ball park was great. You then came to Washington from-
Cathy Hughes: Omaha.
Andy Ockershausen: From Omaha, but did you come to go to work for WHUR?
Hughes Comes to D.C. – Joins Howard University Faculty in Then Newly Established School of Communications
Cathy Hughes: No. I came to work for Howard University. I was on the faculty first.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, wow.
Cathy Hughes: It was the first school of communications faculty. They had just established the school of communications at Howard.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, you know Ernie Fears.
Cathy Hughes: Mm-hmm.
Andy Ockershausen: Your Ernie Fears … my Ernie Fears was junior. He was a-
Remembering Ernie Fears – All Four Generations
Cathy Hughes: I got the third and the fourth working for me.
Andy Ockershausen: IV.
Cathy Hughes: Uh-huh. Okay. IV. I got the third and fourth. You had the junior.
Andy Ockershausen: I had the beginning.
Cathy Hughes: But you know what-
Andy Ockershausen: I even met his dad one time many years ago.
Cathy Hughes: Which was so progressive.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, it’s been great.
Ockershausen’s Hired Ernie Fears, Jr. – Considered Progressive at the Time
Cathy Hughes: Okay. So progressive of you to have him in a management position during those days.
Andy Ockershausen: That was unheard of.
Cathy Hughes: Yep.
Andy Ockershausen: People would say to me, “Well, he didn’t grow up in radio.” I said, “It’s immaterial. He’s a leader. He will lead. The station stinks, and you got to … ” And Ernie brought it up. Alone. And it’s all because of his talent, not because of his color.
Cathy Hughes: Yep.
Andy Ockershausen: Because of his talent.
Cathy Hughes: Ed Scandrett and Phil Brown. Oh my goodness. These names-
Andy Ockershausen: Me too.
Cathy Hughes: Ed Scandrett lived in my apartment building down the hall. One of the things that I really loved about you, because so many people told me when I wanted to become a broadcast owner that number one, women don’t own Black radio stations because still, to this day, Black radio was a little rougher situation to own and operate than our counterparts. But they said I didn’t have the temperament. Okay, they told me a whole host. You never did. You always told me-
Andy Ockershausen: Tough B. I know. I heard that.
Ockershausen, Mr. Radio, Always Encouraged Hughes
Cathy Hughes: Yeah. Yeah. You were like, “If you can do it, go for it. If you think you can do it, if you can believe in yourself,” you always encouraged me. Always did.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, Cathy, you–
Cathy Hughes: Excuse me, you were Mr. Radio. Okay? You were the poster child for the radio industry in the nation’s capital, the most important radio market in the world, Washington D.C., and you were king of the hill.
Andy Ockershausen: I didn’t plan it. It just happened. But you’re right, because our prominence in radio and knowing all these people. Now, I’m following you on WHUR. You’re on the faculty.
Cathy Hughes: Yes. I’m on the faculty.
Andy Ockershausen: When did you get involved in live radio?
Cathy Hughes: Well, I got involved-
Andy Ockershausen: You had WHUR, a powerhouse.
Cathy Hughes: Yeah. But I had gotten involved in radio in Omaha actually before I came here.
Andy Ockershausen: KOHW?
Cathy Hughes: Yeah, KOWH.
Andy Ockershausen: WH.
Cathy Hughes: All right.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s a powerhouse station still, isn’t it?
Cathy Hughes: Yes.
Andy Ockershausen: AM?
Back to Omaha, NE and Before DC – Hughes Starts at Top in Radio As Part Owner in Black Radio Station – KOWH – Learns Valuable Lesson
Cathy Hughes: Yes. The problem was, my father had died, and I had $10,000. And a group of athletes in Omaha were pooling their resources to buy a radio station, get a Black station in Omaha. We talked about the White celebrities born there. Malcolm X was born in Omaha, Nebraska.
Andy Ockershausen: Wow.
Cathy Hughes: Yeah, okay.
Andy Ockershausen: I thought he was Chicago. I never knew that.
Cathy Hughes: No, Omaha, Nebraska. Bob Gibson, who won the world series. Gale Sayers-
Andy Ockershausen: The greatest pitcher in baseball.
Cathy Hughes: Okay. Right. Thank you. Gale Sayers. They made a movie about him, Brian’s Song.
Andy Ockershausen: Wonderful, ABC.
Cathy Hughes: Anyway, long story short, I had this $10,000. I asked could I invest $5000, and they said, “Well, no. The cut off was 10.” So I just crossed my fingers and gave them my $10,000. Well, I got this opportunity to come be on the first faculty of Howard University’s newly established school of communications, I told them, I said, “I need that $10,000, because I don’t know anybody in D.C.” And they gave it back to me.
If I had of held on and let them hold onto my 10,000, when they sold the station, I could’ve made 100,000. So that was my first lesson in how … okay, back in those days-
Andy Ockershausen: A hard lesson to learn.
Cathy Hughes: A hard lesson. But I came to town with a little cushion in case things didn’t go well. But I came to town to be a lecturer in the school of communications. I got noticed by the administration of the university because I was working so hard with the students and the building of the school of communications that I was offered the position of sales manager at WHUR first.
Andy Ockershausen: Was that station inherited from the Post?
Katharine Graham Gifts WTOP-FM to Howard University – Sued by Investors
Cathy Hughes: It was not inherited. It was a gift that.. Katharine Graham that is a very interesting-
Andy Ockershausen: WHUR.
Cathy Hughes: Right. Howard University Radio. It was WTOP-FM.
Andy Ockershausen: FM. I understand.
Cathy Hughes: That’s right. It was TOP FM.
Andy Ockershausen: People didn’t believe in FM. You did.
Cathy Hughes: Right. She thought she was giving away an asset that wasn’t valuable.
Andy Ockershausen: No, I know that.
Cathy Hughes: She was giving away actually the most valuable asset that she had in the radio category, and during Watergate, she was sued. Do you remember that? Katharine Graham was sued for negligence in her fiduciary responsibility because she should’ve given away, they said … these were Nixon supporters actually … What they were saying didn’t make a lot of sense, but she had to settle with them. She ended up paying them off, because they felt that she had affected their investment. She, at that time, took an interest in me, and that helped propel my career in the city. Whenever she was going to speak somewhere, she would make certain that I knew about it, that I had an invitation. And she’d give me a shout-out before young people started calling it shout out.
Andy Ockershausen: Just at HUR?
Cathy Hughes: No, I wasn’t even at HUR yet. I was at the school of communications as a lecturer.
Andy Ockershausen: You were a civilian, not a broadcaster.
The Katharine Graham – Warren Buffett Connection – Graham’s Home First Stop in DC After Driving in from Omaha
Cathy Hughes: Yeah. And the reason I knew her is because most people didn’t realize that Warren Buffett was the second largest investor in the Washington Post company.
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah, that was never broadcast.
Cathy Hughes: Okay. And his wife Susie was a singer, and I was her manager.
Andy Ockershausen: Wow.
Cathy Hughes: Right. The very first-
Andy Ockershausen: I did not know that.
Cathy Hughes: Yeah. The very first person of prominence that I met in Washington D.C., the first was Donald Graham, because he answered the door when I rang the doorbell. And the second was his mother, who was standing behind him named Kay Graham. I was there because Susie and Warren were in town, and I had just driven from Omaha. I was starving. My son was hungry.
Andy Ockershausen: Wow.
Cathy Hughes: And she said, “Come here first, and let’s get a bearing for what you want to do and where you need to go.” I’ve had a interesting career.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s a pretty good beginning, isn’t it?
Cathy Hughes: Well, the same thing I say about my radio career. I started off as an owner in Omaha, Nebraska. Okay? Well, when you start off as an owner, then you have to work your way down through all the other jobs. Okay? But my first job-
Andy Ockershausen: Start all over.
Cathy Hughes: My first job in radio was as an owner. Okay? All right? And then my number one benefactor and sponsor and mentor was none other than Kay Graham. Again, I’m in my 20s. I don’t realize how abundantly I’m being blessed by the creator. I have no concept.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, it’s so true.
Cathy Hughes: Okay?
Andy Ockershausen: I know what you’re saying, because I say the same thing every day. That just launched you at the top. Warren Buffett went to school and high school in Washington D.C.
Warren Buffett Attended Wilson High School on Nebraska Avenue – Hughes Ensures Her Son Does Too
Cathy Hughes: Wilson, on Nebraska Avenue.
Andy Ockershausen: Right.
Cathy Hughes: When I saw Nebraska Avenue, and then I learned that Warren had gone and graduated from Wilson, I told my son, “I don’t care if I have to move in the gymnasium of that school, you going to attend this school,” because you know how the districts are. You can’t go outside your district.
Andy Ockershausen: Right.
Cathy Hughes: The superintendent of schools at that time got so sick of me that finally they gave me permission. They gave Alfred a waiver. He got to go to the school that was not in his district, because every day I was up there. When I want to be a good sales person, I can really convince you.
Andy Ockershausen: We know that. You are incredible.
Cathy Hughes: All right. Well, you know, sales isn’t really my wheelhouse. I love programming. I love the creative side. You tell me no, I figure law of averages says somebody, if I ask enough other people, somebody will tell me yes.
Andy Ockershausen: You created it. I lived through that, Cathy.
Cathy Hughes: Yes. Anyway, that’s how he ended up-
Melvin Lindsey – The Quiet Storm
Andy Ockershausen: Melvin Lindsey.
Cathy Hughes: Melvin Lindsey, The Quiet Storm. They’re relaunching The Quiet Storm. They’re going to be streaming it now.
Andy Ockershausen: We copied it and called it Soft Explosion.
Cathy Hughes: Yes.
Andy Ockershausen: But the same time. There were names. People don’t tune in names. They tune in people.
Cathy Hughes: That’s true.
Andy Ockershausen: But Cathy, I just love your story, because it means so much. You’re encompassing everything about Our Town that we wanted to hear about. A lot of people didn’t know about Our Town. This is helping them. We’re going to take a short break here, let you catch your breath, not that you have to. She’s a fountain, Bob. This is Andy Ockershausen, and this is Our Town. Thank you, boss.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen. This is Our Town, and a fabulous conversation with a fabulous woman that I’ve known for so many years. She still looks young and wonderful, and she is young and wonderful. She’s running an empire. I met her when she was with WHUR, but then in later years she came to Channel 50, where I was ensconced for a while and did a TV show.
Cathy Hughes: Thanks to you.
The Cathy Hughes Show – TV Channel 50
Andy Ockershausen: The Cathy Hughes Show.
Cathy Hughes: You’re the only one who would say yes to me.
Andy Ockershausen: It was a great program.
Cathy Hughes: And you made it affordable. My first television show.
Andy Ockershausen: Honey, we didn’t have any money.
Cathy Hughes: Yeah.
Andy Ockershausen: You didn’t have any money. So we were good partners.
Cathy Hughes: Yeah. There’s a television series now called Two Broke Girls. We could’ve had a show called Two Broke Broadcasters. Okay?
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, God. That was a wonderful year, a great experience for our station at the time. TV-50 is still alive, incidentally.
Cathy Hughes: It is?
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Cathy Hughes: I didn’t realize that.
Andy Ockershausen: It’s owned by-
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: CW.
Cathy Hughes: Oh, really?
Janice Iacona Ockershausen: The CW. There’s a transaction right now for sale.
Andy Ockershausen: There is? I didn’t know that.
Cathy Hughes: Wow. Yeah. Mark Pedowitz is the head of the CW Network corporately, and he’s a good friend of mine. I didn’t know that. I got to talk to him. I don’t think he knows that I got my start on television, because-
Andy Ockershausen: Right there.
Cathy Hughes: Yeah. Then when we launched TV One a few years ago now, I ended up doing 50 interviews because of my experience with you at Channel 50.
Andy Ockershausen: You did so many things, Cathy, that were great. Now, how did you get from WHUR to WOL? That is the story.
On Leaving WHUR for WYCB 1340AM
Cathy Hughes: Okay. Well, I had a big, big, big crater in my career road between Howard University and WOL, and it was a station that I now own, another very interesting story. WYCB had been dark. It was a signal that had been in the FCC dark for almost 17 years.
Andy Ockershausen: An FM signal?
Cathy Hughes: No, AM.
Andy Ockershausen: An AM. Oh. YCB.
Cathy Hughes: 1340. 1340. And a group of the most distinguished Black and White citizens of Washington D.C. These incredible people, John Hechinger, Marjorie Lawson, the list just goes on and on. It was 32 of them. They had invested their money, and they had gone through about $5 million trying to get this station out of the FCC. They stole me away from Howard. They stole me away with the opportunity to build a station from the ground up. I felt I needed that credential. I knew how to run a radio station. I did not know how to build a radio station.
Andy Ockershausen: And start it from scratch.
Cathy Hughes: Start it from scratch. I picked the call letters, WYCB. We’re “Your Community Broadcaster”. Because WOL, those call letters stood for the initials of the original builder of the station. I changed those call letters to We Offer Love. I always had this thing about call letters should mean more than just, okay, identifying the station. So anyway, I built the station from the ground up. We were located at 1140 Connecticut Avenue.
Anyway, long story short, they ran out of money. And I don’t believe in working people that I don’t pay. So I was using my retirement money from Howard University to fund their business venture that I had been successful getting out of it okay.
Andy Ockershausen: You probably had healthcare at Howard, too, didn’t you?
Cathy Hughes: I had all of that, okay?
Andy Ockershausen: And gave that up.
On Leaving WYCB – Ted Hagans and the Aqua Velva Moment
Cathy Hughes: Right. Gave up all of that. So long story short, they asked me to shop a package for them. And I said, “If you want me to go out and get funding for your radio station, then you need to give me an equity position.” Ted Hagans at that time was this big Black developer in Washington D.C.
Andy Ockershausen: Ted?
Cathy Hughes: Ted was very brash.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, tell me about it.
Cathy Hughes: Flew his own plane. Ended up getting killed in the plane himself.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, yeah. But he brought the white business people with him too.
Cathy Hughes: Yeah. I’m telling you, this group of-
Andy Ockershausen: Ted Hagans.
Cathy Hughes: This group of investors were a powerhouse. They were the ultimate, crème de la crème of the Black and White community of Washington-
Andy Ockershausen: Working together.
Cathy Hughes: Right. Working together to put this radio station on the air. Not only was the salary double what Howard was paying me, although they never paid me, okay? They offered me more than Howard. But this opportunity to build something from the scratch up-
Andy Ockershausen: From the ground?
Cathy Hughes: But also top of the list was to be able to work with this 32-member board that was all of what Washington D.C. greatness represented.
Andy Ockershausen: Our Town.
Cathy Hughes: Okay? Our Town. Okay? So Ted Hagans got insulted that I would ask for a equity position at the board meeting, and he very arrogantly said to me, “If you think you that damn smart, you need to buy your own station. I’ve lost $250,000 in this one, and I’m not giving you or anybody else a part of what my investment is.” When he said it to me, there used to be this old commercial on television for Aqua Velva, and there was a slap-
Andy Ockershausen: Nothing like an Aqua Velva man.
Cathy Hughes: Okay. Okay, and there was a slap. I got an Aqua Velva slap right across my face. I’m thinking, “Oh my God. Here this man is a multi-millionaire developer, and he thinks that I’m smart enough to do my own radio station? Because he just said to me, ‘If you think you that smart, do your own.’ I literally put all of my papers and everything from the board meeting back in my attache case. I looked him right in the eye, and I said, “Sir, that’s the best advice anyone has ever given me. I resign.” And when I left out of that meeting, I skipped down the hallway. I did not walk.
Andy Ockershausen: You felt great.
Cathy Hughes: I felt great. And Marjorie Lawson, who was the chairperson of their group at that time-
Andy Ockershausen: I remember her very well.
Cathy Hughes: Yeah. Belford Lawson, the number one Black attorney during that time in Washington D.C.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely. Powerhouse.
Cathy Hughes: Powerhouse. Okay. They tried to convince me to come back, and I said, “Oh, no. Ted Hagans would show up at my door in the middle of the night banging on it to try to convince me. “I need to talk to you about coming back to work for us.” I was like, “That’s not what you trying to talk to me about. I’m not crazy. Okay?” Because he was quite the playboy also during this time. Okay?
Andy Ockershausen: We know that.
1978 FCC Distress Sale Policy, Dead Body and Payola Allegations Make WOL Accessible to Hughes
Cathy Hughes: And I was like, “No.” And he was like, “How are you going to eat? How are you going to support your son?” I said, “I’ll figure it out.” And about this same time was when WOL had the incident where the tall tan Texan was handcuffed, gagged, and shot through the head, and dumped on 450. So the FCC could not ignore that payola was going on over at WOL. And Benjamin Hooks was on the FCC-
Andy Ockershausen: Judge Hooks.
Cathy Hughes: Judge Hooks got a policy pass that said if you’re in trouble, instead of being dark … remember, I told you, I knew about dark for the FCC, because YCB signal, 1340 AM, had been off-
Andy Ockershausen: Had been off for 17 years, right?
Cathy Hughes: Yeah, for 17 years. And OL was getting ready to run this same risk. Your disk jockey gets off the air-
Andy Ockershausen: Just give it back to the government, right?
Cathy Hughes: Okay, exactly. You give it back to the government. They just put it on the shelf. Benjamin Hooks, Commissioner Hooks, had a policy that passed that said if you have a troubled property, and you will discount it by 33-1/3% of its appraised market value, and sell it to a woman or a minority, you can sell it for 66-1/3% of its value. So WOL, because of this murder, okay, on interstate 450 … okay? The loop had a dead body in the middle of five o’clock rush-hour traffic. So the FCC said, “You think something’s going on over there at that station?” Okay. And everybody and their uncle wanted this station. Everybody wanted this station. And Dewey had worked for Egmont Sonderling, who not only owned WOL-
Andy Ockershausen: I remember him, Sonderling.
Cathy Hughes: Uh-huh. Sonderling Broadcasting.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Cathy Hughes: He was an immigrant that talked about arriving from Poland with a buck sixty five in his pocket. He owned Black movie theaters in Black neighborhoods around the country, and he owned several Black AM radio stations. Because when WOL went from being a White format to being a Black format, it became the number one Black radio station in America. It went straight-
Andy Ockershausen: It was fabulous because of you.
Cathy Hughes: No, no, no. This was way before me. This was Dewey’s time.
Andy Ockershausen: It was a music station then?
Cathy Hughes: A music station, right. This was before. So Dewey was an intern. He had just gotten out of the army, and he was interning at WOL. And this was not the first time that the FCC had investigated them for payola and irregularities. Remember back in those days we had to have public files that people could come check.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh yeah. They’d come and go through your pants. They’d do anything.
Dewey Hughes Endears Himself to then WOL Owner Egmont Sonderling – Cathy Hughes Not So Much
Cathy Hughes: Right. Exactly. So Dewey, being an intern and a former clerk in the military in the army, kept these just perfect notes. And those notes saved Egmont Sonderling from losing the license the first time. So the second time, the thing that saved him was the distress sale policy, where he could discount it by a third and sell it, because he was going to lose it a second time. And I asked Dewey to go remind Egmont Sonderling that he had saved his license once before. Now, during this time, because it’s Washington D.C., Muhammad Ali tried to buy the station. Senator Ed Brooke had just come out of the-
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, from Massachusetts. I remember Ed.
Cathy Hughes: Yes. He tried to buy the station. All these distinguished people from around the country were vying to buy WOL. Dewey went to Egmont Sonderling and said, “I want to buy the station.” And he laughed and said, “Where are you going to get the money, Dewey?” And Dewey said, “My wife’s going to take care of it.” And so he said, “Who’s your wife?” And he said, “You don’t know her,” because Egmont Sonderling could not stand me because I had created The Quiet Storm, okay? I had put a hole-
Andy Ockershausen: Sensational, though.
Cathy Hughes: I had punched a big hole in the boat called AM radio in D.C. with WHUR. Oh, the point I didn’t mention, one of the reasons that the people who sued Katharine Graham had their day in court was because it turned out that WTOP-FM, which is now WHUR, is the finest signal. It’s near perfect in the nation’s capital.
Andy Ockershausen: Correct. That signal is fabulous.
Dewey Hughes Closed WOL Deal with Egmont Sunderling at Hospital
Cathy Hughes: You can hear … okay, the 50,000-watt FM signal-
Okay. And that’s part of why I was able to punch a hole so quickly in the AM market. He didn’t tell him it was me, okay, because Egmont Sonderling would not have given us the deal if he had’ve known that I was the wife. So Dewey said, “Oh, you don’t know her. She’s just a quiet little lady that I married.” So he signed a purchase asset agreement with us from his hospital bed. He told Dewey, he said, “We’ve got to do the paperwork now. I’m going to have communications lawyer. This was way before Dick Wiley became THE communications lawyer. Anyway, he had him come to the hospital, and they did the asset purchase agreement with Dewey right there in the hospital.
Andy Ockershausen: Signed the papers?
Cathy Hughes: Signed the papers. And then I didn’t have but one problem.
Andy Ockershausen: You didn’t have any money.
Cathy Hughes: You got it.
Andy Ockershausen: But he didn’t know that.
Cathy Hughes: I’m glad you knew it, and I wasn’t dealing with you, Andy O.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, she’s an employee of the government, because HUR was not run like a broadcast, it was run like a division of the university, right?
Howard University – Land Grant, Government Agency
Cathy Hughes: No, we got government checks. We were all GS rated. Okay.
Andy Ockershausen: When you had to get pencils, you had to go sign a request for one.
Cathy Hughes: We had to go to the GSA store.
Andy Ockershausen: Right. I knew that.
Cathy Hughes: Okay. Yeah. We had to fill out requisitions for our paychecks.
Andy Ockershausen: Everything.
Cathy Hughes: Howard University is a land-grant college. Most people don’t realize that. It’s not a historically Black college. It’s a land grant, which means it’s a government agency.
Andy Ockershausen: Correct.
Cathy Hughes: And it was during my tenure as General Manager of WHUR that Dr. Cheek, who was very close to George Bush, convinced President Bush to transfer their funding to an account.
Andy Ockershausen: So he didn’t have to go to requisition everything.
Cathy Hughes: So we did not have to go to requisition, because one little error on your paycheck, it took you months to get your money. Months. Months.
Andy Ockershausen: I used to get those complaints all the time.
Cathy Hughes: Oh my God. It was the worst system. We couldn’t get people paid. Okay, we didn’t get paychecks. Our vendors-
Andy Ockershausen: But the audience didn’t know that. The audience loved the sound.
Cathy Hughes: Loved the sound.
Andy Ockershausen: And their signal was pure. Correct?
Cathy Hughes: Absolutely.
Andy Ockershausen: I listened to that, Cathy. I know what you did.
Cathy Hughes: Yeah, absolutely.
Andy Ockershausen: And The Quiet Storm was evidence to the market that this station’s got a place, should be here.
With a Little Help From Katharine Graham, Cathy Hughes Takes Her Credentials to Bank for Loan to Buy WOL
Cathy Hughes: Yeah. I start really praying on it, quite frankly, and really analyzing it. And I realized that what I had done at Howard University for WHUR was significant enough for this group of distinguished Washingtonians to double my salary and give me the opportunity to take their money … like I said, although they never came through with their money … but to promise me their money to build a station from the ground up. I said, “I think that’s a good enough credential, ready to take to a bank.” So I took it to Chemical Bank of New York, and Chemical Bank of New York loaned me a million dollars to buy WOL.
Andy Ockershausen: On your signature basically, right?
Cathy Hughes: On my signature, but I had a little bit of help, because my reference was Kay Graham. And I have to honestly tell you that the loan officer at Chemical Bank called me and thanked me for the opportunity of being able to talk to Kay Graham personally. It went past the loan officer to a senior VP at Chemical Bank, and he was so thrilled. He called me and thanked me. He said, “I just missed-”
Andy Ockershausen: Sounds like the keys to the kingdom for the guy at the bank.
Cathy Hughes: Right. He said, “Miss Hughes, I just want you to know that if I ever write a book, it’s going to start off with my day on the phone with Katharine Graham. I cannot believe this.” And he’s going on and on. And I said, “Excuse me, sir. Does that mean I’m going to get the loan?” “Oh, hell yes, you’re going to get the loan.”
Andy Ockershausen: When he heard that name-
Cathy Hughes: Right. If I had’ve known, I would’ve upped the amount of the loan application. Okay? Mrs. Graham gave me her vote of confidence, and they loaned me a million dollars.
Andy Ockershausen: Fabulous story.
Cathy Hughes: Okay.
Andy Ockershausen: So now you got to get a facility.
Cathy Hughes: But wait. I got one more part of the story.
Andy Ockershausen: Go ahead.
Cathy Hughes: Okay. The other part of the story was that the lawyer now is mad because he feels that we caught Egmont Sonderling on his death bed, which was true. Okay? But he was still functioning.
Andy Ockershausen: He wanted to do that, right?
Peaches and Herb, and Paul Cohen to the Rescue – Help Fund and Complete WOL Deal
Cathy Hughes: All right. And he owed Dewey the favor. Okay? Seriously. So he put in a stipulation that we had 30 days to prove that we had the financial wherewithal to buy it and that we had to put $100,000 in escrow that was nonrefundable. And at this time, I’m working with Syndicated Communications. Herb Wilkins and Terry Jones are putting together my whole package, because I needed more than the million for the station. At that time, remember, you had to prove that you could operate the station, that you had the revenue to operate the station for one year in order to get your license approved at the FCC. So you had to have the purchase price and one year operating capital.
I didn’t have $100,000 that I could put in escrow. Although Chemical Bank is going to give me a million dollars, funding’s going to come through, but they just don’t write you a check when they tell you you’ve been approved.
Andy Ockershausen: No, no, no. It takes a while. Process.
Cathy Hughes: You got to process. It takes a while. It was a process. Dewey grew up in southwest D.C. with Herb Fame, who at that time was the number one recording artist with Peaches and Herb. They had Shake A Groove Thing and Reunited.
Andy Ockershausen: We loved Peaches and Herb.
Cathy Hughes: Peaches and Herb. Okay? Herb Fame comes by our apartment to show Dewey an $865,000 royalty check from Shake A Groove Thing and Reunited. I pulled Dewey in the back room, and I said, “Ask Herb can we borrow $100,000 for 30 days.” Terry Jones and Herb Wilkins have said that the first piece of funding should be deposited in our account within 30 days. Dewey’s like, “I can’t do that. I can’t do that. Now, you already made me do Egmont Sonderling.” I was like, “We almost to the finish line. You got to do it. We got the deal. Now we got to fund the deal.”
Andy Ockershausen: You can’t chicken out, Dewey.
Cathy Hughes: Exactly. You can’t choke at the finish line, baby. We got to cross this line. I went back out to the living room literally dragging my husband like he was a little kid saying, “Herb, Dewey got something to ask you.” And Dewey was like, “Well, Herb. Uh, uh, uh.” I said, “We need to borrow $100,000.” He said, “For what?” And I said, “To buy a radio station, WOL.” And he said, “Well, let me ask Herb Cohen. Okay. Paul Cohen, I’m sorry. Paul Cohen was the manager of Peaches and Herb and really responsible for-
Andy Ockershausen: A local guy?
Cathy Hughes: Yeah. Paul Cohen, the Mark IV?
Andy Ockershausen: Yeah.
Cathy Hughes: Okay. The nightclub of J.Paul’s in Georgetown, Georgia Brown’s right now-
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Cathy Hughes: Okay. That’s Paul Cohen. Okay, so Paul Cohen not only managed Peaches and Herb-
Andy Ockershausen: I know him very well.
Cathy Hughes: Okay, yeah, yeah. You know Paul. Paul Cohen not only managed Peaches and Herb, he was married to Peaches. Okay? All right?
Andy Ockershausen: Then he married a doctor.
Cathy Hughes: Yeah, Linda Greene was Peaches’ real name. Herb got Paul on the phone, and Paul said, “Okay. Linda and I will put up 50,000, and you put up the other 50,000, and we’ll loan them the $100,000 to buy WOL. Because again, Paul Cohen being in the nightclub business all those years realized the value of WOL. That same day-
Andy Ockershausen: Basically still on your signature. You didn’t have anything to put up.
Cathy Hughes: Nope.
Andy Ockershausen: You had no equity.
Cathy Hughes: Nope.
Andy Ockershausen: So you got your signature.
Cathy Hughes: Once again.
Andy Ockershausen: You’re going to have the equity, but it’s not arrived yet.
Cathy Hughes: Exactly. Within like two and a half, not even three weeks, my funding came through. And I took the $100,000 back to Herb Fame for him and Peaches and Paul Cohen and said, “How much interest do I owe you?” And Herb said, “I was sweating every night. I haven’t been to sleep since we gave you this money. We don’t want any interest. Okay? We just want that cashier’s check for $100,000 back.” And I said, “Well, at least let me share our gratitude. Let me give you a part of my radio station. Okay?” And he said, “no, no, no, no. We don’t want anything. We don’t want anything. We just want the money back.” And so I said, “Are you sure?” I said, “Ask Paul.” Paul said, “No. We’re happy we could do it. Okay?” Peaches said no. To this day, all three of them say that that was the dumbest day of their life.
Andy Ockershausen: Believe me, believe me. Oh, Cathy.
Cathy Hughes: Because I was trying to give them, okay? And I didn’t know. I had never owned … I was going to give them 10%. Okay?
Andy Ockershausen: That’s a big chunk.
Cathy Hughes: I had no idea. Okay? I had no idea.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, you do now.
Cathy Hughes: Well, I do now. And we invested $100,000 in Paul’s last restaurant venture. It was right next door to the Warner Theatre downtown, in fact, that restaurant used to be Sammy Davis Jr.’s nightclub. He used to own a nightclub.
Andy Ockershausen: I know where you mean. Paul was Mr. Georgetown for a while.
Cathy Hughes: Oh, yes. Absolutely. All those restaurants were Paul Cohen’s and nightclubs.
Andy Ockershausen: Great guy, too.
Cathy Hughes: Oh, he’s a wonderful human being. So, anyway, that’s how I got the money.
Andy Ockershausen: Fabulous story.
Cathy Hughes: Katharine Graham being my reference and Paul Cohen agreeing that Peaches and Herb could loan me $100,000 out of their $865,000. So every time a royalty check, every time I hear Reunited or Shake A Groove Thing, I thank God. I’m serious. Every time. And they play it a lot, because it was such a major hit. It was number one-
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, it was a fabulous hit. It was crossover, too.
Wasn’t it a crossover? All, White, Black, everybody played that album, right?
Cathy Hughes: Oh, yeah. Oh, no. It was the number one disco hit.
Andy Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Cathy Hughes: That’s when crossover really got big-
Andy Ockershausen: I think you’re right.
Cathy Hughes: … because you had Donna Summer. You had all of these major Black artists that had dance hits because of Saturday Night Fever. Saturday Night Fever ignited a whole change in music genres. It was a whole embracing of disco that had never taken place. It almost put R&B out of business, okay? All right. Disco almost killed R&B.
Andy Ockershausen: Were you doing music when you first took WOL?
Hughes Changes WOL Format from Music to Talk Radio – Big Risk
Cathy Hughes: No. I was doing talk and news. We did a format search. We did research. Learned that from you, Andy O. I was like, “We not going with our gut. We going to go with some hard-core research.” And the research said that there was no outlet for news and information for the African American community, and yet at this time, they were 75% of the population. So we-
Andy Ockershausen: Of your signal, which is what you were interested in.
Cathy Hughes: Yes.
Andy Ockershausen: You didn’t care about the people in Anne Arundel.
Cathy Hughes: No, but of the city. Of the city.
Andy Ockershausen: You got the city.
Cathy Hughes: Right, of the city.
Andy Ockershausen: Our Town.
Cathy Hughes: Yeah, Our Town, Our Town. The nation’s capital. I stole Bernie McCain from WCR, Shelly Tromberg from WRC. I can’t remember who it was I stole from you at MAL. I got somebody. But anyway, I put together this ensemble of some of the best broadcasters.
Andy Ockershausen: Joe Madison?
Cathy Hughes: Joe Madison. Just an incredible ensemble. What I didn’t realize was how expensive news talk was. Whereas if you were a disk jockey, it’s you and the turntable back in those days. Okay? Now air personalities-
Andy Ockershausen: Screeners.
Cathy Hughes: Yeah. You have to have screeners. You have to have a producer to come up with what you’re going to talk about. You had a news person. You had an engineer. Most important part of the story, within 30 days of me closing on my very first radio station, prime went into the mid 20s.
Andy Ockershausen: 22% for you, I’m sure.
Talk Radio Format and High Interest Rate Put Station at Risk for Closing
Cathy Hughes: No. I was 2.5 over prime. Prime was 22. I was 2.5 points over.
Andy Ockershausen: Is that it? That’s right. You were points over.
Cathy Hughes: Right. I was 2.5. my million-dollar loan with Chemical Bank was 2.5 points over prime.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s a killer almost.
Cathy Hughes: The street term is juice. It’s illegal, okay? Juice is illegal.
Andy Ockershausen: That was George Bush years too when the rate went up.
Cathy Hughes: Yep.
Andy Ockershausen: I remember that.
Hughes Becomes On-air Personality Rather Than Go Back to Music Format
Cathy Hughes: Yep. And so I wasn’t able to service my debt. So my lenders didn’t want to foreclose the first 90 days, a Black woman, because we got a lot of hoopla with it. Okay. A Black woman buys a radio station. And long story short, they told me that I had to give up the news talk format. I couldn’t afford to do it, that I had to go back to music so that instead of six people to do an air shift, I could do it with one. And I said, “I can’t give up on news and information. My community needs it so badly.” This research was just so revealing. And that’s when someone else gave me an Aqua Velva slap and said, “Well, then, the only way you’re going to do it is doing it yourself.”
Andy Ockershausen: Exactly, baby.
Cathy Hughes: And that was the launch of my on-air career.
Andy Ockershausen: But that was an incredible inspirational idea. You couldn’t pay yourself anything, because you didn’t have anything to pay.
Cathy Hughes: Pay. That’s right.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s what started … I remember those days. We’re going to take a short break here, Cathy. This is a fabulous story for Our Town and for our future. We want young people to realize what an entrepreneur can do by working hard. This is Andy Ockershausen, and this is Our Town.
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Announcer: You’re listen to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen. Brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
Andy Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen, and this is Our Town. Cathy has just realized that she’s got to be from a performer, from this poor little girl from Omaha, Nebraska to an executive with WHUR. She’s going to be a performer in, not a new role, because she’s been performing her whole life. She’s on the air doing the morning show at WOL.
Dewey Leaves – Enter the Miggins and Mrs. Hughes Goes Solo with The Cathy Hughes Morning Show
Cathy Hughes: Well, it started off because Dewey and I did it together for about six months. And then Dewey decided that this 2.5 points over prime was overwhelming, that we needed to let the bank take the station back. I said, “Over my dead body. I will not give it up.” So he said he was going to move to L.A., because he was friends with the person who had produced Peaches and Herb, Freddie Perren, another D.C. native. He said, “I’m going to L.A. You’re welcome to come, but I’m not going to leave your son here with you.” He said, “I’m going to take Alfred with me and put him in school in L.A., because you can’t try to hold onto a business venture, hold onto the radio station, and raise him too.” And Alfred was at that 16-, 17-year-old point where he needed serious parental supervision. Not that he needs it any less now, but anyway-
Andy Ockershausen: He’s an adult 17-year-old now.
Cathy Hughes: You got it. So long story short, Dewey left, and he didn’t think that I should do the radio show by myself, because he really felt that he was the star of the show. Because by this time-
Andy Ockershausen: Male ego.
Cathy Hughes: Right. Well, when Dewey left WOL in the Egmont Sonderling days, he went to WRC with Jim Vance, and he discovered Sue Simmons and Glenn Harris. He won 14 Emmys.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, tell me about it. Absolutely.
Cathy Hughes: Okay, at NBC, WRC-NBC. He had 14 Emmys. So over here, this little 1000-watt AM station wasn’t exactly befitting his illustrious career, and he was really fearful that I couldn’t pull it off by myself. So I stopped, okay, going on the air once he left, and the reality is a couple, the Miggins, who had been a big client of mine, said to me, “We liked you on the show as much as Dewey or maybe even better. You should try it by yourself.” And I said, “No, no.” That is Sunday. They came over to my house, and they said, “You mind if we sleep if your guest room?” And I was like, “No. You can stay in my guest room.” So the next morning at five o’clock, I’m smelling bacon and eggs in my kitchen, and Wayne’s knocking on my bedroom door. “Get up. Get dressed.” And I’m like, “What’s going on? What’s going on?” They said, “We’re going to work. We’re going to do your morning show.” I said, “We’re going to do what?” He said, “We’re going to go do the Cathy Hughes Morning Show.” He was the one that named it, he and his wife.
Andy Ockershausen: Wow.
Cathy Hughes: They took me to the radio station and made me go on by myself.
Andy Ockershausen: Where was the station?
Cathy Hughes: 1680 Wisconsin.
Andy Ockershausen: It hadn’t moved yet.
Cathy Hughes: It hadn’t moved yet. Okay.
Andy Ockershausen: Wow.
On Moving Station Location on Halloween with Volunteers in Costume
Cathy Hughes: Yeah, thank God, because the move was a piece of cake, because by then I’m on the air running my mouth. And as you see, I’m so quiet. It’s hard to get me to talk. Okay? By then, I’m running my mouth every morning. So when I said I got to move, about 500 people showed up to move me. Okay? And we did it. My lease was up on Halloween, and Halloween is big in Georgetown as you know.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh. Big party time.
Cathy Hughes: Okay. And so here we are midnight moving. I stayed till the very last minute. All these people with kids in costumes and everything moved me right on out of there to 4th and H. Okay?
Andy Ockershausen: To your new studio.
Cathy Hughes: To my new studios. But that’s how I got on the radio. This couple refused to let me give it up, because I had thrown in the towel on it. I was like-
Andy Ockershausen: It was a genius move. You didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out.
Cathy Hughes: And listen, I love radio. I am so thankful to God that we’re not-
Andy Ockershausen: Well, this was your life.
The Foundation of It All is Radio
Cathy Hughes: Yes. Thank you. That we have TV One, and iOne Digital, and One Solution, and Reach Media. But the foundation of all that is-
Andy Ockershausen: Radio.
Cathy Hughes: Radio.
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, you’re so right.
Cathy Hughes: Okay. Radio. Radio is the immediacy medium. You can change in seconds the direction of anything that you really … When they hear your passion, when they feel your heart coming through this microphone, audiences respond. There is nothing like radio.
Andy Ockershausen: We say that all the time. It’s unbelievable the power still there. TV came on, but TV did not kill radio.
Cathy Hughes: Nope.
Andy Ockershausen: Bad management killed some radio, but not TV. And we saw it and knew part of it. But Cathy, when WOL became an institution in the market that you were after, you didn’t care about those people in Annapolis. You didn’t care about them. You cared about the people at 14th and U, 7th and U.
Cathy Hughes: That’s right. Yep. Absolutely.
Andy Ockershausen: And I lived through that from outside, and I was so impressed because you and I talked about, “We got to do something about saving AM, because this FM … everybody thinks only FM, FM, but WOL was saving AM, and I knew that. WMAL was saving AM.
Cathy Hughes: Absolutely.
Andy Ockershausen: The rest of them . . .
WOL Covered Black Listenership and the Washington Post Magazine Debacle – Hughes Launches Take It Back Protest
Cathy Hughes: I had the Black listenership covered. You had the White. And the two of us working together, because we had crossover in both categories. Interesting story. I shared with you that I got my first $1 million loan because of Katharine Graham. Well, Mrs. Graham is in China. And the Washington Post has leaked the fact that … they go through a $5 million rehab of their magazine. They wanted to become a competitor to the New York Times magazine. So they invested $5 million to redo their magazine. And they leaked the fact that there was going to be a Black on the first cover.
So one of the things that I was doing to help promote it, because we had all these advertising dollars started by the newly revamped Washington Post magazine coming out, blah blah blah. One of the things was I did a little guessing contest, a little contest, who is that Black person going to be? John Thompson came in number one, because he was coaching the Georgetown Hoyas, and they were winning-
Andy Ockershausen: Everything. Correct.
Cathy Hughes: Okay, everything. Colin Powell came in second, because of who General Powell is.
Andy Ockershausen: Chief of Staff.
Cathy Hughes: Exactly. So we have this list of prominent Black folks. Here comes the issue. The first issue comes out, and it’s a freaking drug dealer from New York City who got busted in Washington D.C. The cover is him and his girlfriend, and it’s shot in sepia tones. Now, since I’m on the faculty before all of this chapter in my life, I know all about how sepia tones are used to create an image of darkness and macabre and all of this. Sepia overtones.
Andy Ockershausen: Threatening. Very threatening.
Cathy Hughes: Very threatening. Very intimidating. And inside, they have this Negro having his toes picked by his girlfriend. I was livid. I said, “You all had us out here promoting this magazine, and you would disrespect my community like this. I have never, ever seen another picture of anybody having their toenails cleaned out and clipped by their girlfriend.” Foot all in her lap. Okay. And his only connection to Washington D.C. was the fact that he was a New York drug dealer who got busted, got arrested in D.C. I was like, “This is what you think of my community?”
So I started a protest. It was called Take it Back. Because also during this time, the Bush administration, Lee Atwater and the boys and everything had gotten clever. And if you called, on a broadcasting facility, for a boycott, you could lose your license. So I couldn’t call it a boycott. So we named it a recall. We bought the newspaper every Sunday, and we took it back and told them they needed-
Andy Ockershausen: Stacks?
Cathy Hughes: Oh, stacks and stacks and stacks and stacks. I got in trouble when the football season started, because I, in the height of my demonstration, was probably easily 300 to 400 demonstrators every Sunday bringing papers, and we just threw them up on Mrs. Graham’s front porch. Okay. The season starts, and my crowd dwindled. Okay? All right? They are either going to the game or watching the game. All right? That was during the days of the Hogs. Okay? All right? You remember the Hogs?
Andy Ockershausen: Oh my gosh.
Cathy Hughes: Right. So I’m like-
Andy Ockershausen: Glory years.
Cathy Hughes: Okay. Yes, the glory years. So I’m like, “Oh my goodness. I’ve got to figure this out, because my crowds are getting smaller and smaller.” And what was happening was becoming quite expensive for me, because people couldn’t show up on Sunday to give the newspapers back, so they’re dropping them at my radio station. So I’m having to hire trucks. I’ve got stacks of Washington Post newspapers from the floor to the ceiling that now I going to transport myself. Okay? And it dwindled down to, at its lowest day we had 72 people. But from 3, 4, 500 people, that was quite diminished.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s a big fall. Big fall.
Hughes Protest Results in Lost Revenue to Washington Post
Cathy Hughes: But then God smiled upon me, because it was the first week of December, first Sunday of December issue. And when you opened up the Washington Post magazine, without me realizing it, I had scared all the advertisers away. The Washington Post magazine, which had gone from like 25 pages of ad revenue, had three ads. And one of the pages was two ads. Okay? And then one four-page. They were down to three. Okay? And the hat company was the one full page. They were the only ones left in that magazine. And here it is Christmas. Okay? So needless to say, the next week on Saturday, we went to the Hecht company. Okay? All right? Okay? All right? So at this point-
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, absolutely. It’s all Cathy.
Cathy Hughes: At this point, Mrs. Graham comes back, and she called me. She says, “I understand your righteous indignation, but I hate your tactics.” She said, “You could’ve picked up the telephone instead of using your microphone.” And I said, “Mrs. Graham, with all due respect, I apologize to you, but Ben Bradlee would not listen. He told me that he would rather run down Pennsylvania Avenue bare-assed, okay? And I wasn’t the first person he had said that to.
Andy Ockershausen: Correct. He had powerful, powerful ideas.
Resolving the Conflict with the Grahams
Cathy Hughes: Okay. Oh, yeah. Ben Bradlee. So she said, “Well, Donald and I are going to resolve this.” So then Donald said, “Call me.” And he said, “You know, my mother’s really upset with you and me.” And he said, “But I’m going to start coming on once a week until we reestablish our relationship with the Black community and show you and your community that we are very serious. We are a home-town newspaper.” Which I didn’t know at that time, Donald Graham explained that the Washington Post is still such a credible publication that you would think that it was national. It was not. You couldn’t get a Washington Post outside of Washington D.C. They were not like the New York Times.
Andy Ockershausen: Or the L.A. Times.
Fauntroy and Rolark Accuse Hughes of Selling Out the Black Community, and Hughes Pulls Rank to Quiet Them
Cathy Hughes: Or the L.A. Times. Okay. They only wanted Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. readership. That’s what they focused on, put all their money in that, and did the best job of any of the other newspapers. He said, “I’m going to come on once a week, and the first week, I’m bringing Ben Bradlee with me.” Ben Bradlee looked like a hurricane and a tornado had hit his behind when he came in that studio that day, and my audience lit him up. Donald Graham came on several times after that, several weeks. Then Congressman Fountroy decided he and Calvin Rolark decided that they were going to say that I had sold out the Black community and made a deal for Donald Graham to come on the air. Donald Graham, okay, said, “Okay, that doesn’t benefit her.”
Andy Ockershausen: Can’t buy him.
Cathy Hughes: Okay. No exactly. Correct. Okay? I had to weather that storm, because I said, “You all didn’t bring your church congregations. You didn’t bring the United Black Fund. You didn’t bring people down there to support my demonstration. But now that I’m trying to resolve it … I said, “I was down to like 72 protestors. Okay? I’m having to lug all these papers. You all aren’t doing anything but criticizing me.”
Andy Ockershausen: They’re not helping at all.
Cathy Hughes: Okay. That’s when Congressman Fountroy and Calvin Rolark went on this campaign about my station didn’t have credibility and a bunch of things. So then I asked for an investigation of both of them, and that quieted that down. Okay?
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, you had the air. You had something that they could not touch.
Cathy Hughes: That’s what I was going to say. They had-
Andy Ockershausen: You had the air.
Cathy Hughes: Thank you. Exactly. Exactly.
Andy Ockershausen: Had the people. The people loved you.
On Hearing from Donald Graham of Katharine Graham’s Death
Cathy Hughes: Because what I said to Donald Graham was, “For the first time, Black people in Washington D.C. have the same thing that you have, the ability to DAILY talk about what’s important to them, and right now how you have disrespected us is the most important thing.” Donald Graham called me within the first hour of him being notified that his mother was dead. It’s about to make me cry now. He said, “They told me that my mother is dead, Cathy, and I knew that she would want you to know.” And I said, “When did it happen, Don?” He said, “Within the hour.” And I just broke down on the phone. For him to show me that level of respect and concern and love. He said, “My mother cared so very much about you and your career.” And that touched me so deeply. So I have said unapologetically, My number one goal in life is to be to the Black community what Katharine Graham has been to this Country, to the White community primarily, but also to this Country. I want to enlighten. I want to inform. And I want to entertain my people and make them feel good about themselves.”
Lesson Learned from Washington Post Protest Process
When this protest was going on, and Don Graham asked me one morning on the air, “What was the thing that made you so upset? Why are you so irate about this magazine?” I said, “Mr. Graham, when White people get up on Sunday morning, and they read the Washington Post, they feel they can conquer the world, because you have stories in there about their greatness, about their accomplishments, about their excellence.” I said, “When my people get up and read the paper, we think we all going to jail, we all doing drugs, and we all broke.” I said, “That’s why I’m infuriated.” I said, “But let me tell you something that I’ve learned from this demonstration. It is not your job to tell the story of me and my people. It is my job to tell the story of the Black community.” I said, “So I thank you.” I said, “Because throughout this demonstration, the best thing that was learned was that to have my own voice for my own people is the most important thing I could do.”
Andy Ockershausen: That’s a revelation.
Cathy Hughes: That’s a revelation.
Andy Ockershausen: The public didn’t believe that, but you proved it, Cathy.
Cathy Hughes: Oh, absolutely.
Andy Ockershausen: From the outside looking in, it was such a big, big thing in Our Town. I know what it was.
Cathy Hughes: Oh my God. That demonstration was front-page news, because at that time too, Sun Moon had-
Andy Ockershausen: The Reverend.
Cathy Hughes: The Reverend Sun Yung Moon, Reverend Sun Myung Moon had the Times. Okay? And he was so happy that I was down there demonstrating against the Washington Post, I was front page every day he could get me on the front page. They loved it. But anyway, sorry to get emotional, but Donald Graham calling me to let me know that –
Andy Ockershausen: Donald’s a very dear friend.
Cathy Hughes: Oh, he is one of the nicest human beings.
Andy Ockershausen: You know, the family is the one that had him go to be a cop. Did you know that?
Cathy Hughes: Yes.
Andy Ockershausen: Remember, he worked the beat over at number nine. I know the whole story of Donald.
Cathy Hughes: Absolutely. He worked-
Andy Ockershausen: To find out about Our Town.
Cathy Hughes: Yep. Exactly.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s why he was such a big part. He still is, and he’s a great guy. And what the Post has done and what the people there … they’re all still here.
Cantankerous Ben Bradlee, A Story Straight Out of Paris
Cathy Hughes: Oh. They changed the world. They changed the history. Mrs. Graham and Donald, and Ben Bradlee too, although he’s just cantankerous, okay, he’s still the best. Okay? All right? He is still the best.
Andy Ockershausen: He’s a tough SOB.
Cathy Hughes: Oh my goodness. He was a tough, tough, tough cookie. Quick fast story. When we went public in 1999, Alfred … I had never been to Europe, and he took me to Paris. And I didn’t know that the French call for demonstrations and boycott at the drop of a hat…right now where they burning up stuff.
Andy Ockershausen: Any time you could say that.
Cathy Hughes: Right. So Alfred had scheduled a car service to take us around. That day that we arrived, they had called for a nationwide cab strike. So that morning, we come downstairs to get our car to go sightseeing, and Ben Bradlee is at the front desk of this hotel raising hell like you would not believe. The Washington Post has this important meeting, and he’s just going off, and you SOBs. Okay. “You got to get me out of here. You got to get me a private car, and I’ve got to go,” and he’s just going off. And I walk up to him, and I said, “Mr. Bradlee, I don’t think they have any private cars, but we have one. Could I possibly drop you?” And he looked at me. He rolled his eyes, and he grabbed it. He’s, “Yes.” So when he got in the car, we took him to his destination. He got out, slammed the door. And I think he muttered, “Thank you,” or something, and Alfred and I are looking at each other. Okay.
And when I got back to Washington, I had the most beautiful letter. Then I didn’t know about archives and saving stuff. I should’ve saved the letter. He wrote me the most beautiful letter saying that he remembered the morning I had said to Don that the learning experience for me had been that it was my obligation to service my people, not ask the Washington Post to tell our story. And he said to me that that morning in Paris, France, that he had an Aqua Velva moment, and he realized that the old saying that there are no permanent friends or enemies in love or business was true. He ended it by saying, “I want you to know, Cathy Hughes, “I love you.” And I was like, “Oh my God. How valuable would this be now if I had had sense enough to save the dern letter.” Okay?
I showed it to folks and laughed about it and everything, but he didn’t apologize, but he thanked me in his way.
Andy Ockershausen: But he did apologize.
Cathy Hughes: But he did apologize. Yeah. He said, “Okay. Yeah.” He said, “There’s no-”
Andy Ockershausen: I can relate to that. Ben Bradlee was a famous letter writer for screw-ups. I know that.
Cathy Hughes: Oh, really? Oh, you got one of those letters? You and I both?
Andy Ockershausen: I got one, yeah.
Cathy Hughes: We could’ve sold them on eBay.
Andy Ockershausen: He did something in a column, and I never called him. And he wrote me a letter and said, “We apologize. The writer was wrong.”
Cathy Hughes: Well, he wrote me a letter.
Andy Ockershausen: He said, “And I thank you for not calling or writing.” I didn’t say anything to him. Let time take care of those things. Like you said, you’re either friends or relatives forever. But Cathy, after that, you’re becoming a national figure. You’re accumulating properties. You’re buying properties, and now you’re in 15 cities?
Radio One in 56 Cities
Cathy Hughes: No.
Andy Ockershausen: How many?
Cathy Hughes: 56.
Andy Ockershausen: With Radio One?
Cathy Hughes: 56. Right there. See that 56 on your notes?
Andy Ockershausen: 56 cities?
TV One in 80 Million Households and Number 1 Destination for African-Americans on the Internet
Cathy Hughes: 56 on radio. We’re in 80 million households with TV One. We’re getting ready to launch another network with another 10 million. Okay. We reach … right now, God has really … thank you, God. We reach 82% of all Black America every week. They either interact with us on the internet, or they watch our-
Andy Ockershausen: Oh, I know you’re big on the internet. I know that. I knew that.
Cathy Hughes: Number one destination for African Americans on the internet. We’re the largest Black-owned media company in the United States now.
Andy Ockershausen: That’s … What’s the guy’s name, Rankin or something? Rankin Smith. Was that his name?
Cathy Hughes: Who?
Andy Ockershausen: The guy that had a Black network. You said, “I’m going to be bigger than him.”
Cathy Hughes: Oh, no, no, no, no. That was Percy Sutton.
Andy Ockershausen: Percy Sutton in New York.
Cathy Hughes: Percy Sutton in New York, yeah. The chairman. He was the mayor of the Manhattan borough.
Andy Ockershausen: My friend Ralph Gill used to represent them.
Cathy Hughes: Oh, listen. Ralph Gill, Katz Radio, all of those good old days.
Andy Ockershausen: You know it all. Oh, Cathy.
Cathy Hughes: Oh, those were the good old days.
Andy Ockershausen: And the best part about it, you’re still here. You’ve still got Our Town.
More Mutual Admiration Between Hughes and Ockershausen
Cathy Hughes: No, the best part about it is that you are still here and getting ready to celebrate a very important milestone. So as I thank God for blessing me, I want to thank God for blessing you. My mother is 95, but my mother has dementia. For you to be looking as good as you look, to be in great health, but more importantly for your mind to be as sharp as it ever was is truly a blessing. I salute you, my brother. You are terrific.
Andy Ockershausen: Cathy, you couldn’t have given me a better gift than that, because I appreciate that so much, because that’s exactly the way. If I’m blessed, the Good Lord has blessed me with tenure.
Cathy Hughes: No question. Still got your hair.
Andy Ockershausen: My own, too.
Cathy Hughes: You’re own hair. I know. Okay. But your mind. Okay? Is sharp as it ever was.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, you bring it out, Cathy, because I lived through these times with you. This is not new to me, but it’s the first time I’ve heard it from you.
Cathy Hughes: But Andy O., you helped so many people, me included, throughout the years. Very few individuals ever heard the word “no” come out of your mouth. If you could, you would. And one of the things I always loved about you, if you couldn’t, you were honest up front. Okay? You shut it down up front. Ain’t no sense in petitioning me. It’s not going to happen. Okay?
Andy Ockershausen: That’s one of the critical things in my life. People say, “You speak your mind.”
Cathy Hughes: You speak your mind.
Andy Ockershausen: Well, sometimes it’s gotten me in trouble, but you speak your mind and you’ve won, and I speak my mind. Cathy, just listening to you has been an education for me all over again. Listening to these names and people that you created, and you created an empire. And I’m so proud of you. And Alfred. I remember Alfred as a little kid.
Cathy Hughes: Yep.
Andy Ockershausen: Now he is Mr. Broadcast, and he’s doing so well. But it all belongs to that poor little girl from Omaha.
Blessings and The Ultimate Power
Cathy Hughes: Yeah. Well, you know what? I really, really, really love the mission that I was assigned by the creator, which was to uplift my people to disseminate information, because information is power.
Andy Ockershausen: The ultimate power.
Cathy Hughes: The ultimate power. And when you do that which you have been destined to do, which if you believe in any of the religions is all predestined, you just have to be cooperative with it. Okay? And if you are, then you are blessed. And you and I both followed our missions.
Andy Ockershausen: This beautiful woman married me and insists I go back and be part of the church. So she’s made me back what I started.
Cathy Hughes: Wow.
Andy Ockershausen: And I’m the blessing for that. God has really helped me over so much in life. Like going back […
Cathy Hughes: Maybe I should go into church with your wife, because if I look as good as you when I hit 90, okay, maybe their baptism well is a fountain of youth or something.
Andy Ockershausen: I still bless myself every day and thank the Good Lord for you and being such a dear, wonderful, fabulous friend, but best of all, the a friend of this town, to Our Town.
Cathy Hughes: Our Town.
Andy Ockershausen: You’re as big as any friend we ever had in Our Town, and I mean that.
Cathy Hughes: Thank you. God bless you.
Andy Ockershausen: Thanks for everything you’ve done for radio and for broadcasters and people of all color. This is Andy Ockershausen. It’s been Our Town. Cathy Hughes, the greatest.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Our Town, Season 4, presented by GEICO, our hometown favorite, with your host Andy Ockershausen. New Our Town episodes are released each Tuesday and Thursday. Drop us a line with your comments or suggestions. See us on Facebook or visit our website at OurTownDC.com. Our special thanks to Ken Hunter, our technical director, and WMAL Radio in Washington DC for hosting our podcast. Thanks to GEICO, 15 minutes can save you 15% or more on car insurance.
Spencer Johnson says
Thank Ms Hughes
For Having My Band
Exodus To Play
For You Live On WOL In 1986 And
The 8th Street Festival. I Currently
Have A Music Ministry Now As I Play For God Now
And Not Money.
I Also Have A Out Reach Ministry Which We Feed Give
Clothing To The Needy. We Also Have
Prayer , Praise , Worship And God’s Word. We Start On
Father’s Day At Shepard Park On
MLK Ave & Malcolm
X Blvd In South East
This Is My 7th Year
Giving Back. And I Thank You Because
I Listened To Your
Morning Show Every
Day. And I Still Have
A Cassette Recording
Talking To You On