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Ordinarily, no one likes to be the new kid on the block. But the be 100s isn’t your average neighborhood. To say the least, competition to get in is stiff. And once you’ve taken up residence, you know you’re in good company.
Which brings us to this year’s fresh crop of entrants. Like newcomers of the past, they have already proven themselves worthy businesspeople of formidable power and influence. But as first-timers in a village of veterans, their quest for equity in the list of the nation’s largest black companies is just beginning.
Among the newest neighbors are three heavyweights: one in radio broadcasting, one in food manufacturing and the last in wholesale office furniture and design. Combined, they have 73 years of business experience between them and approximately $207.79 million in revenues. Their debut not only injects new life into the existing be 100s community, it ensures that interest in gaining entrance remains high.
SENDING THE RIGHT SIGNALS
"Soft and warm, a quiet storm…" croons Smokey Robinson at the start of WBLS-FM’s evening program every weeknight at 10 in New York City. But it’s not just a Big Apple groove thing. Turn on just about any urban contemporary radio station in the country at night, and you’ll quickly find out exactly what the Quiet Storm is: programming dedicated to pumping out love tunes until the wee hours of the morning. It’s the most popular nighttime format in the urban radio market. And it’s the brainchild of Catherine Liggins Hughes, chairperson of Radio One Inc. in Lanham, Maryland.
Hughes has transformed an idea into a booming $65 million powerhouse. Founded in 1980, Radio One is the largest radio broadcasting company in the country targeting urban listeners. Upon completion of pending acquisitions, it’ll own and operate 25 radio stations, 24 of which are located in eight of the top 20 African American markets. Radio One now ranks as No. 40 on the be industrial/ service 100 list.
It all began with her idea for the Quiet Storm back in the 1970s. "I created the format specifically for Howard University radio," says Hughes, 51, who made the transition from lecturer at Howard University to sales manager for WHUR-FM in 1973. Two years later, she became the station’s first female general manager — and the first African American female general manager of a broadcast facility in Washington, D.C. But, thinking the format wouldn’t catch on, WHUR refused to trademark it. "They basically threw a million-dollar baby out the window," she recalls. Still, she managed to increase the station’s revenues from $300,000 to $3 million in her five-year tenure.
Determined to control her own professional destiny, she left Howard in 1978 to go to WYCB, where she wanted to get experience in building a station from scratch. WYCB became the first 24-hour gospel station in the country. Soon after, she went to WOL, also in Washington, D.C., to begin planning a company with her then-husband,