Laughter, And Graciousness, From An Urban Legend


LAS VEGAS — In an emotional 14-minute acceptance speech in which she was “just so, so honored to be here this morning,” Cathy Hughes — the founder and chairperson of the publicly traded company now known as Urban One — graciously accepted the 2018 Lowry Mays Excellence in Broadcasting Award from the Broadcasters Foundation of America.

She began her comments by noting how, on Tuesday night, she sat at a dinner hosted by music rights organization BMI next to Emmis Communications founder and CEO Jeff Smulyan. 

He received the 2017 award and joked that he left some 45 minutes out of his speech last year and that Hughes was free to use them. Smulyan also added that Hughes should leave her son and business manager, Alfred Liggins III, out of her will.

This generated laughs, as Hughes continued, “The interesting thing was that [Alpha Media owner] Larry Wilson was sitting there … and he was agreeing! Since this wasn’t my first trip to the rodeo, and [RAB head] Erica Farber was there with me, I said, ‘You know, I probably needed to shorten my remarks. I know … I’m going to leave Jeff out of my remarks!'”

Taking a more serious tone, Hughes noted how honored she was to be with the Broadcasters Foundation once again; this is the second time Hughes was honored by the organization, and presenting the honor was a then-relatively unknown host from a Radio One station in Los Angeles named Steve Harvey.

In Harvey’s remarks, he quipped, “If there’s any broadcaster out there who wants to offer me any more money I’ll be happy to say even better things about you next year.” The crowd at the Encore erupted in laughter just as they did at that long-ago night at the Plaza in New York. But, Hughes explained, “After the presentation I saw him over talking to Lowry Mays [then associated with Clear Channel Communications], so I went over and said, ‘Mr. Mays is he pitching you for a job at Clear Channel?'”

His response? “No, Cathy. I was telling him that what I thought he said was disrespectful to you.” That left the Broadcasters Foundation crowd in silence. “That touched me so deeply, and Lowry Mays never wavered from that support of me. He felt that it was necessary to put Steve in his place even though all of us, including myself, had laughed. He thought it was so interesting that a woman had what he had what he called ‘Texas Balls’ in private.”

That’s why Hughes was a bit sad that Mays was unable to appear in person to give her another boost of encouragement; he provided video remarks shown just prior to Hughes taking the podium.

Mays was “always looking out for us … except when it came to pricing those stations that we bought from Clear Channel!”, Hughes remarked, generating more laughter from the crowd. “Other than that, Mr. Mays was always there.”

After saluting Skip Finley for helping her execute a professional business plan to get then-Radio One off the ground and her son for his efforts — while joking that she should have had more than one child, and he should have had more than one child, as Radio One was a family business — Hughes turned to the crowd to salute Joe Bilotta.

Joe Bilotta

Bilotta is the retired President/CEO of Buckley Broadcasting, which had among its stations WDRC-AM & FM in Hartford and WOR-AM in New York.

Bilotta had earlier received a Ward L. Quaal Leadership Award, and in his acceptance noted, “To those who lead today … be cognizant of the men and women who represent us at the point of sale.”

Hughes offered “a special prayer” for Bilotta, saying, “You’re such a legend, and God knows the special work that you’ve done in this industry.”

Honored by the Broadcasters Foundation along with Bilotta as Leadership Award winners were NABEF President Marcellus AlexanderABC Radio executive Steve JonesWiley Rein media partner Richard Bodorff; The Media Institute President/CEO Patrick Maines; and Alpha Media EVP/Eastern Region Bill McElveen.

In closing, Hughes offered another joke.

“Alfred, I know you do all the heavy lifting and I get all the recognition — and I thank you for that,” he said, with more laughter coming from the crowd. “He does not really care because he does not like spotlights or microphones — two things I’ve loved all of my life!”

To see and hear Hughes’ acceptance speech in its entirety, please click here.

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