Why No One Talks Back to Cathy Hughes

The empress of black radio is using public airwaves to personally attack her enemies in Congress in the name of black progress. Who's going to put her in check?

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If you’ve tuned in to black radio in the past few months, chances are you’ve heard “Reality Radio,” a series of announcements in which radio pioneer Cathy Hughes asks the black community to fight a new law in Congress that she claims would “murder black-owned radio.”

Her definition of homicide? Performance Rights Act (HR 848), a bill that would require radio stations to pay royalties to artists for playing their music. The potential winners and losers in the bill being considered by Congress has been a source of heated debate. But it clearly would dim the already free-falling profits of Hughes’ company Radio One, the nation’s largest chain of black radio stations.

Now, your average multimillionaire business mogul might respond to a congressional threat by heading directly to K Street to hire the most powerful lobbyist money can buy. But we are talking about Cathy Hughes, BLACK multimillionaire business mogul, someone who has a long track record of using the airwaves to throw her weight around on behalf of the Darker Nation.

Thus Hughes’ calculus for the “Reality Radio” spots goes something like this: I am a black person + my business is under threat = black people are under threat.

“This bill is not in the interest of black people!” Hughes tells the 12 million listeners who tune in to Radio One stations each week, in spots that air as many as a dozen times a day. In one episode, Hughes publicly scolds bill co-sponsor Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston for assuring radio execs that HR 848 would not put them out of business. “She has never worked at, managed nor owned a radio station in her life,” Hughes says. “So how could she possibly know anything about what it takes or doesn’t take to operate a broadcasting facility?”

In another spot, Hughes goes after the bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Conyers—or rather, she details corruption allegations against his estranged wife. (She even points listeners to a Web site where they can learn more.) “What is it that John Conyers of Detroit, Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, Hank Johnson of Atlanta, Mel Watt of Charlotte and Bobby Scott of Richmond don’t understand about these facts?"

“Call or e-mail them … because they don’t seem to get it.”

But longtime Radio One listeners like Debra Brooks, a 56-year- old constituent in Lee’s Houston district, are the ones who don’t get it. Brooks has no opinion on HR 848, but she doesn’t like the smell of the smear campaign against Lee.

“I thought it was so unprofessional,” Brooks said. “We shouldn’t have to listen to that. I don’t like the fact that it is a one-sided view being broadcast on the radio. It is an outright attack that can influence the public. But it is not really about the public; it’s about a business issue.”

“It’s unfair that the radio stations are portraying the Congress in such a bad light,” artist George Clinton complained to Politico during the Congressional Black Caucus events. “They are the only ones with the microphone.”