An Open Letter to Cathy Hughes
Dear Ms Hughes:
As the Founder of Radio One, the nation’s largest African American broadcaster, I have admired your unprecedented accomplishments for close to thirty years. While starting my career in Washington DC, I watched and listened to you for years during your humble beginnings at WOL-AM. In the late 80’s, I will always be grateful for you hiring me to program WMMJ, your first FM outlet.
Our accomplishments during my tenure at WMMJ continue to be the highlight of my career. Rising with a weak signal in a competitive DC market, Majic 102.3 was the third in the country to adopt the Urban AC format. Taking WMMJ from a zero market share to the number 4 AC spot, in a mere nine months, was the catalyst for what now makes you the dominant force in urban radio.
In recent months we have witnessed a media uprising of coverage that I believe is a direct effect of America’s first Black President.. Broadcast media is the country’s trend setter and Black radio continues to be Black America’s only mainstream voice. Although CNN airs Black in America in the midst of summer, and the complexion of pundits has darken during the rise of Obama, cable television and network TV still has no person of color hosting a prime time show.
What happens behind the cameras and microphones has been getting worse. Minority ownership is down, while the executive barrier in management still mirrors the post civil rights era. Debra Lee, Black Entertainment Television’s CEO, is a prime example of a face that accepts socially unacceptable imagery that permeates most corporate machines. BET continues to blind us with shows like “Franke & Neffe”, the modern day equivalent to the slapstick “Amos and Andy”. Historically, Black America has always been short changed in our images, perceptions and representations. We can’t expect change, unless people of color program it, demand it and change the Madison Avenue view on Non Urban Dictate. Educating listeners of what goes on behind the scenes will help not hurt. TV One has been a huge step in the right direction and for that I applaud you.
Few are in the position to empower, organize and inform millions of people that are thirsting for content, information and representation. Black radio needs voices now more than ever. Rush Limbaugh, is a prime example of a business plan that not only is financially rewarding but changes direction in American culture.
The old attitude that people of color don’t want or need information has now been proven false. The digital age has brought millions online, searching for news, talk and information.
Basheer Jones, the 24 year old morning talk show host at your Cleveland outlet is a prime example. Active, smart and in touch, Basheer is the voice of a generation never heard by the so called mainstream. Radio One gave him that chance. Someone has to end the bleeding of this music only culture that pumps only bling, misogyny, drugs and sex on future generations.
Ms Hughes, you have that power. For the past few months, your voice has been heard on over fifty of your stations, in a series of two to three minute announcements, 10 to 12 times daily. Those who have not heard the announcements (www.RealityRadioonline.com) might guess the subject might be health care, the economy, education or maybe a response to the racist attacks by Tea Baggers, Birthers, Glenn Beck or Fox News on President Obama.
Instead you aimed your microphone in opposition to HR 848, The Performance Rights Act. You have berated members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) for months, without even a minute of an honest debate. The truth is Ms Hughes, you have pushed that button because you knew you could. Mainstream media rarely covers any issue except black on black violent crime. If Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly railed on distinguished CBC members like John Conyers, Sheila Jackson-Lee or Hank Johnson, Black radio and press would be outraged. Al Sharpton, Tom Joyner and Michael Baisden would be defending the CBC members you have furiously attacked. But for now their voices are silenced only because their allegiance to you. Power often brings a free pass.
Fear tactics seem to be today’s replacement for news and information. Unfortunately, the listeners you are licensed to serve continue to get your commentary with only entertainment news. While in DC, you made your mark as the “Queen of information”, brand ing “Information is Power” on your flagship station WOL-AM. News content is none existent in a world where a Black adult is 25 times more likely to hear a syndicated music host like Tom Joyner or Michael Baisden. Syndication on Black radio has increased at an alarming 343%, while white music syndication has decreased in the past ten years. The “less is more” philosophy basically adds up to controlling the messengers.
Your voice for the first time has become an example of Black media telling Black America a series of distortions. The Truth is the HR 848 would not kill Black radio, 80% of Black owned radio stations would pay a mere $5,000 or less royalty fee. What you have failed to mention in “Reality Radio” is a tax goes to the government. The “PRA” would help thousand s of musicians and singers to be paid a royalty, just like the songwriters have been paid for decades. HR 848 is simply a civil rights issue. HR 848 is not about Jay Z or Beyonce the few millionaires, it’s about Ron Smith, the guitarist from Frankie Beverly and Maze who continues to keep your listeners entertained in the hybrid of music only formats that Radio One and most broadcasters deliver everyday.
Only the US, China, North Korea and Iran don’t pay radio royalties to performers and musicians. I do understand protecting your bottom line, but doing the right thing and stating facts is not an option.
The marriage between the recording industry and radio continues to bring in tens of millions of dollars yearly in commercials, summer jams, jam jams, free concerts and record company giveaways. The musical attack on young minds is another issue, but more importantly the recording industry marriage has allowed a profitable way to often satisfy stakeholders while forsaking content for young listeners. In 2008, Radio One claimed 137 million in profits for 53 stations. The Performance Rights Act is passed the worst case scenario guesstimate would cost 5 million in royalties, not bad at all saying that music makes up 85% of programming.
Black America is starving for representation on a myriad of issues, I hope you decide to focus your energy, influence and voice on any issue that might help the listeners that you are licensed to serve. I fully understand your business acumen but the door is wide open for meaningful growth and profit.
I will never forget your on-air effort against the once racially biased Washington Post. The then bold move to have listeners burn copies of The Post, into a raging fire outside the studio on 4th and H in DC. I burned the Washington Post one morning well before I ever met or worked for you. I hope to see that same Cathy Hughes leading by example.
It is time to stop living on a legacy and continue to keep building on one.