Kam Williams | 9/2/2009, 7:06 a.m.

Catherine Elizabeth Woods Hughes was born in Omaha, Neb., where she would later attend Creighton University and the University of Nebraska. But before graduating, she began working at KOWH, a local black radio station, where she handled assorted jobs en route to a successful career in the industry.

After a stint as a lecturer at Howard University’s School of Communications in Washington, D.C., she became sales director at WHUR-FM in the nation’s capital. By 1975, she was named the radio station’s general manager, and four years after that, she and her husband, Dewey Hughes, purchased a small radio station, WOL, which would become Radio One.

When the marriage failed, Hughes purchased her husband’s half of the business, giving up her apartment and sleeping at the station in order to make ends meet. Over time, she turned it into a profitable operation, while also going on the air herself to host a talk show that would blossom into a hit program. By subsequently purchasing radio stations in other cities, Radio One eventually became the nation’s largest black-owned chain.

In January 2004, Hughes launched TV One, a television network targeting African Americans that offers a broad range of lifestyle- and entertainment-oriented programming. Since its inception, the network’s aim has been to both respect its audience’s values and reflect its intellectual and cultural diversity. Today, Hughes stands alone as the first black woman in the U.S. to head a company whose stock is publicly traded on an exchange.

Hughes recently took a few moments to speak to the Banner about her career, the network’s celebration of five years on the air, and hosting the celebrity interview show “TV One on One,” which airs Thursdays at 10 a.m.

Tell me a little about your childhood and how you got started in the business.

I grew up in the projects. At the age of 8, my mother brought me a transistor radio, and that’s when I fell in love with radio. I used to lock myself in the bathroom and then pretend that my toothbrush was a microphone, and do commercials and the news every morning before I left for school.

When I think of Omaha, I automatically think of Gabrielle Union, who is the only other black person from there I’ve ever interviewed.

Guess what? Gabrielle’s mother, Theresa, and I were best friends all through our childhood. We thought we were blood sisters. Gabrielle’s grandmother was my godmother, and I lived with the Union family for a few years because my mother, Helen, traveled a lot as a musician. They used to dress us alike and they sent us to the same school and we did everything together.

Years later, when Gabrielle first started her career, I was very impressed with her, but had no idea she was Theresa’s daughter until the day I got a call from her mother saying, “I just want to thank you for recommending Gabrielle for that magazine cover.” I asked her, “How do you know Gabrielle Union?” She said, “Fool, that’s my daughter.” I was like “Get out of here!” because I hadn’t put two and two together since her mother has a different last name, Glass. She still uses that. It’s been wonderful watching Gabrielle’s career take off. And even after she got big, she’d come to the station and refer to me as her Aunt Cathy.