Urban One Switches Gears to Better Represent Black Community

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO jwright@afro.com
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One of the largest Blackowned media companies recently announced its expansion of offerings to the American consumer, with its eye on promoting Black culture. Urban One, formerly known as Radio One, explained its new corporate layout and addition of platforms in a media conference call on May 11.

Cathy Hughes, founder and force behind Urban One, and her son plan to run the corporation in a slightly different direction to better promote the Black culture. (Courtesy Photo)

“For starters, this marks the culmination of what’s been a two-year journey of development to rename and rebrand our great company, but most importantly, it marks a really pivotal point in our company’s 36-year history,” Yashima White AziLove, vice president of corporate communications for Urban One said. “We are proclaiming, but really we have been for some time quite frankly, that our corporate name never quite exemplified, and that is what we are, the largest African-American owned multimedia company in the country. We opted to officially change our name on May 5 because it was symbolic for us.”

May 5 marked the 18th anniversary of Radio One’s IPO, the offering of company shares to Wall Street and outside investors.

Urban One started in 1980 when Cathy Hughes, a former Howard University School of Communications lecturer and general manager of WHUR, purchased a radio station, WOL-AM on H Street, N.E. in the District of Columbia. For many years, Hughes and her son, Alfred Liggins III, worked intensely to create a profitable venture, with Hughes hosting a popular radio talk show that regularly had local, national, and international figures as guests.

In 1999, Hughes became the first Black woman to chair a publicly-held corporation when she took Radio One public. In 2004, TV One was launched by Hughes and Liggins and their ventures began to grow with its radio division in 57 markets and 22 million listeners and the television segment with 59 million households, presently.

The new platforms are R1 Digital that works with digital strategy for radio; iOne Digital Interactive One that seeks to become the largest digital distributor of urban Black content; BHM (Bossip, Hip-Hop Wired and Madame Noire) Digital that will offer entertaining content; One Solution that offers media, client service, and branded contest products and services to customers such as Walmart, Coca-Cola, and McDonald’s, and a financial services unit that created a partnership with MGM at National Harbor and offers a non-banking financial card.

AziLove made it clear that while Urban One is expanding, it will not forget its core customer base. “Mr. Liggins often says we’re in the Black people business, and we believe that Black culture is sexy, it’s hot, it’s appealing, and we know that Black culture impacts every area of American life,” she said.

Dr. Ben Chavis, president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publisher Association (NNPA) said he supports Urban One’s plans. “You can be rest assured that our 211 African-American-owned newspapers across the United States are going to support Urban One as you’re going forward,” Chavis said on the conference call. “We’re going to help you achieve all the market penetration that you desire.”

Some Black media professionals have concerns about Urban One’s direction. Jason J. Clark, the host of a nightly weekday show, “The Heat” on SiriusXM Radio, told the AFRO that Urban One’s plan “sounds like consolidation.”

“It seems that they are putting all of their services and operations under one umbrella,” Clark said. “That would seem to take away from local programming even though all of their services would have the same type of branding. I will keep an eye on their developments.”

Clark admitted that Urban One is the “biggest dog in the fight” when it comes to Black media. Nevertheless, he voiced concerns about the small number of Black voices in America’s media spectrum and the state of Black ownership. “We as Blacks are still under-represented when it comes to the media ownership and in the media field,” he said.

Malcolm Beech, past president of the National Business League, said he likes what Urban One is doing. Beech said he understands Clark’s underlying concerns, Blacks don’t have the financial wherewithal to be more competitive in the mainstream market but doesn’t fault Hughes or Liggins for that. “It is my understanding that even though they are expanding, Cathy Hughes and her son are still in control of the company,” Beech told the AFRO. “You have to find capital to build a company and they have found a way to do that without selling out. Capital is required to grow a company and the future is digital.”

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