Oct. 19--When Radio One founder Cathy Hughes was 8, she said during a recent Houston visit, "I imagined I had a radio show in our bathroom."
She lived in low-income public housing in Omaha, Neb., she recalled, and she'd lock the door while she played.
"I only did news. My toothbrush was my microphone," Hughes said. "Sometimes my brothers would be waiting outside to attack me, and they became the lead story."
Hughes still loves radio news, but Radio One is mostly about R&B, rap, hip-hop, urban adult contemporary, gospel and soul -- as well as urban talk shows hosted by Al Sharpton, Roland Martin and others.
The Washington, D.C.-based radio network owns 55 stations, with four in Houston, including FM stalwarts The Box 97.9 and Majic102, locally rated Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.
But Hughes has a soft spot for another of her Houston holdings, News 92 FM, the only all-news station in the chain.
"It makes me happy that we're the first and only African-American run company" to have a 24-hour-news station in the general market, said Hughes, who is now 66 and chairwoman of the company. Her son Alfred Liggins is CEO.
For Radio One, News 92 has been a challenge. Its ratings are nothing like those for top-rated The Box, a rhythmic Top 40 format, or the adult urban contemporary Majic102.
News 92 has been rated 25th out of 44 locally in the Nielson Audio market profile over the past four months. But Radio One is not about to give up on news, she said, and for good reason.
All-news radio stations can be strong revenue generators, said Frank Saxe, managing editor of Inside Radio, an industry trade publication.
The all-news format "over-performs" in revenue in relation to its ratings, he said, because its listeners represent a high-income, highly educated demographic. The all-news WTOP in Washington, D.C., has the highest revenue from ad sales of any station the U.S., he said.
With News 92, Radio One can go after a mainstream audience, "where most of the fish are," he said.
Music stations are limited in the number of commercials they can run because the ads are perceived as disruptive by listeners, said Don Watson, president of News Talk Media, a Pensacola, Fla.-based consulting firm. He was news and program director for Houston's KPRC radio in the 1970s when it was a news station.
But with spoken-word radio formats, he said, ads are viewed as a form of information and not as intrusive -- at least to a degree. That means talk and news shows can run more ads per hour.
Unlike some political talk-radio formats, which can scare away some advertisers, all-news is a safe environment, Saxe said. He said that's increasingly important in the age of social media, where controversy can spread quickly.
But all-news stations are expensive to run because they require larger staffs. News 92 has about 50 employees, including locally known members of the media.
Morning anchors J.P. Pritchard and Lana Hughes were fixtures at KTRH-740 AM when it was a news station and moving more into talk radio. Former television personalities Mike Barajas, Carolyn Campbell and Craig Roberts are also on-air, for example. Norm Uhl is managing editor.
'Breaking the mold'
News 92 airs a mixture of national news on the hour, local headlines, traffic, weather, sports, business and local stories a minute or so in length.
"Over the past decade, we haven't seen many all-news stations sign on," Saxe said. "They're breaking the mold a little bit." It often takes three years for a music station to catch on, and five years for all-news, he said.
All-news is a tough format today, but it can be done, Watson said, if it offers compelling, reliable programming.
"Houston is a big city with a lot of traffic," he said, "and you know you've got a lot of people in those cars."
In the important morning hours, News 92 has competition from KUHF-88.7 FM with "Morning Edition," a well-known brand from National Public Radio, Watson said.