President and chief executive officer, Radio One
Born: 1965, in Omaha, Nebraska.
Education: Attended University of California, Los Angeles, and University of the District of Columbia; University of Pennsylvania, MBA, 1995.
Family: Son of Alfred Liggins Jr. and Catherine Liggins Hughes (radio station executive).
Career: Light Records, 1984, sales executive; CBS Records, 1984–1985, production assistant, Radio One, 1985–1987, account manager; 1987, general sales manager; 1988, general manager of Washington, D.C., operations; 1989–1995, president, treasurer, and director; 1995–, president and chief executive officer.
Awards: Entrepreneur of the Year, Ernst and Young, 2003.
Address: Radio One, 5900 Princess Garden Parkway, 7th Floor, Landham, Maryland 20706; http://www.radioone.com.
■ As chairman and CEO of Radio One, Alfred Liggins headed the leading urban market radio company in the United States. As of 2004 Radio One had become the seventh largest radio company in the nation. Building on the success of his mother, the Radio One founder Catherine Hughes, Liggins developed the company into a major media force by focusing on African American listeners, whom he correctly recognized as a lucrative and underserved demographic. Liggins capitalized on the homogenizing, and exclusionary, effect of radio consolidation during the 1990s. He transformed small local radio properties into popular stations aimed at African Americans and demonstrated the vast untapped potential of ignored urban minority audiences.
Liggins was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and reared by his mother. Hughes was 17 at the time of Liggins's birth and a
single parent after her two-year marriage to his father failed. In 1969 Liggins, an only child, moved with his mother to Washington, D.C. In Washington, Hughes worked at Howard University's radio station as a station manager and respected on-air host.
Liggins was immersed in the radio business from an early age, accompanying his mother to work and often doing homework and having meals at the station. Although he grew up amid the drugs and fast money of Washington's crime-ridden inner city, Liggins was deeply influenced by his mother's work ethic and self-discipline. By middle school Liggins was earning $100 a week doing odd jobs. When she spotted her 13-year-old son wearing expensive designer-label jeans, Hughes began charging Liggins rent, explaining that he should help her build her business rather than wasting money promoting someone else's.
In 1979 Hughes purchased her first radio station, WOLAM in Washington. The following year she founded Radio One. The $1 million price tag strained the family's finances, and after Hughes sold her house and car to finance the venture, mother and son lived for a time in the station's trailer studio. When he graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1983, Liggins sold shoes and worked at a friend's pet store before heading to Los Angeles to enter the recording industry. He landed a job as a sales executive with Light Records, a gospel label, then worked as a production assistant for CBS Records while taking classes at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Although he had begun to establish himself in the recording industry, Liggins returned to Washington in 1985 to work as an account manager at his mother's floundering radio station. Liggins insisted that his mother focus on programming and her talk show, leaving sales and promotion to him. Trading on his mother's reputation as the firebrand voice of Washington's African American community, Liggins soon began reeling in quality advertisers, and the station flourished. Liggins also took night classes at the University of the District of Columbia but dropped out to concentrate on his work at the station.
In 1987 Hughes purchased a second station, WMMJ-FM in Washington, for $7.5 million and replaced the station's light rock programming with a rhythm-and-blues format that appealed to adult African American listeners. This strategy—purchasing inexpensive, underperforming low-wattage metropolitan stations and converting their programs into African American–friendly formats—became the key to Radio One's success. Liggins was promoted to general manager of WOLAM and WMMJ-FM and by age 23 was earning more than $100,000 as the stations under his supervision turned profitable.
In 1989 Liggins was promoted to president, director, and treasurer of Radio One, while Hughes remained CEO. During the early 1990s, when Federal Communications Commission rules concerning media ownership were relaxed, Radio One purchased additional stations in Baltimore and Washington. In 1995 Liggins earned an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's top-ranked Wharton School, an unusual accomplishment because he never completed an undergraduate degree. Hughes, however, had stipulated that she would not turn the company over to Liggins unless he earned a degree. She kept her promise, and Liggins took over as CEO in 1997.
With the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which further deregulated the media industry, Liggins initiated an aggressive expansion plan that included the purchase of 18 new stations in a 20-month period. In 1999 Liggins took Radio One public on the stock market, a move that raised much-needed capital and made Hughes the first African American woman with a NASDAQ-listed company. Also in 1999 Liggins brokered a $1.3 billion deal with Clear Channel, the nation's largest radio company. The deal added 12 stations to Radio One's roster and took the company into major markets in Houston, Dallas, Miami, and Los Angeles. In 2001 Radio One became the largest urban market radio company when it bought out its competitor Blue Chip Broadcasting. The $200 million acquisition netted another 15 stations. By 2003 Radio One controlled 66 radio stations in 22 metropolitan markets and had approximately 18 million mostly African American listeners nationwide.
In 2003 Liggins made news with the development of TV One, a cable television network aimed at African American audiences and inspired by the success of Univision's multichannel Hispanic programming. Launched in collaboration with Comcast, the leading cable company in the United States, TV One was perceived as a direct challenge to Black Entertainment Television, the only African American–centered cable network at the time. Liggins dismissed any rivalry, noting that TV One would merely cultivate a neglected and undervalued minority audience ripe for growth.
Expressing a desire to appeal to African Americans of all ages, Liggins implemented a media strategy that involved the purchase of at least two radio stations in each city, one labeled "urban" that played rap, hip-hop, and other youth-based music and another that catered to older listeners with smooth jazz, soul, and classic rhythm and blues. Liggins admitted that unlike his socially conscious mother, he was more concerned with corporate balance sheets than local politics or activism. However, Liggins's commitment to African American audiences contributed to the elevation of urban minorities as desirable consumers. This form of economic legitimization benefited other historically marginalized populations, such as women, gays and lesbians, and Hispanics.
Alexander, Keith L., "Radio One's Mom-and-Son Team Deliver Urban Appeal," USA Today , October 3, 2000.
Jones, Joyce, "Not Missing a Beat," Black Enterprise , June 2001, p. 48.
Milloy, Courtland, "15 Years Later: More Successful, No Less Driven," Washington Post , January 26, 2003.
——, "Making It—Legitimately," Washington Post , April 26, 1988.
"Mother/Son Makes Radio One," Broadcasting and Cable , August 30, 1999, p. 14.
Simon, Clea, "Mining an Untapped Market, Radio One Becomes a Force," New York Times , December 25, 2000.