What Would Ms. Hughes Do? is a blog that I’ve been wanting to write for about three years now to document my journey as an entrepreneur and studio owner. My aim is to help inspire those who have chosen to step out on faith and pursue their dreams. Every business has a story, and I will strive to share my experiences as openly and honestly as I can. This may be a bit challenging because I’m pretty private in my struggles -- and even some of my triumphs.
I’ve titled the blog What Would Ms. Hughes Do? because, as a black woman running my own media company, I often wonder how the wise and wonderful Cathy Hughes would handle certain challenges, such as dealing with people who show a lack of respect because you’re a woman or being a powerful boss while balancing love and relationships. And for those of you who don’t know who she is, well, Cathy Hughes is a tried and true media mogul! She is the founder and chairperson of Radio One, Inc., the largest African-American-owned and operated broadcast company in the nation. I respect and admire her strength and leadership. I had the pleasure of working with Ms. Hughes when Radio One, Inc. bought 100.3 The Beat in Los Angeles back in 2000. I was an on-air personality and the public affairs director there. I’m happy to call Ms. Hughes a friend and mentor. This blog's name, I'm hoping, will leave you as she so often leaves me: Deeply inspired.
The Journey Begins!
My journey as an entrepreneur started in 2013, almost a year after my father, Johnny Morris, and I had been commissioned by Herb Hudson, owner of the world-famous Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, to build and manage an internet radio studio that became known as Roscoe’s Media Center. I was in-between jobs, and the opportunity came during a period when I definitely needed employment. It was the first time I had actually managed and helped build a company --
literally -- from the ground up: Everything from managing the construction efforts to creating the logo and getting the web radio network up and running. In just under a year, I built a roster of celebrity guests and clients, a list that includes such talents as Cedric The Entertainer, Judge Joe Brown, actor Anthony Anderson, Rev. Al Sharpton and a lengthy list of comedians, community activists and aspiring radio personalities. The company was pretty much paying for itself within eight months. I loved my work, but it was hard working for a man who didn’t quite have the vision or respect for what my father and I had built for him.
Once Roscoe’s Media Center opened its doors and started to gain momentum, with a growing client base and viewer/listenership on the studio’s internet radio network, folks who were once naysayers started hovering around to see what opportunities they could get
their hands on -- most of whom were hangers-on who always had their hands in Mr. Hudson’s pockets. They would come around the studio with their own agenda, which was to use the studio for free for their own gains. Once I firmly put my foot down, and they saw that they couldn’t push me around, that became a problem, so they put a plan in place to have me fired, and dammit, it worked!
A guy named Larry W. got in Hudson's ear and told him that I had been taking money from a Chambord Vodka sponsorship and sabotaging shows with tech issues. The lies were astonishing! Yet without questioning me or giving me an opportunity to prove the claims wrong, Mr. Hudson came up to the studio during my show and told me to get my shit and leave. I asked why. He said that I had been taking sponsorship money earned by Reach Around Radio and not giving RMC their cut! HUH? What sponsorship money? After paying each host $20 a piece, that $200 a month was GONE!
I told Hudson that Larry was a fucking liar but when there was no reasoning with him, I told him I would leave once I finished my shift. I locked the doors of the studio and continued doing the Reach Around Radio Show. When I came out of the booth, Hudson had all the locks changed, including the one to my office. My co-hosts had a field day teasing me about getting fired in the middle of the show. The cold part is Larry took over after I was fired and ended up destroying the studio and taking Mr. Hudson for thousands of dollars!
So, there I was, out of work and living off of my savings. Although I half heartedly looked for another gig, I just could not bring myself to find another job. I didn’t want to work for anyone. I had helped build other people’s businesses and figured that I have over 25 years of experience in the game and that I could build my own.
During this time, I was still producing Reach Around Radio with my former Foxxhole Radio co-hosts, and we went from free studio time to paying $125 an hour at another studio to keep the show going. Thanks to the support of our fans, we were able to continue a little longer! So, in December of 2013, I decided to start a crowd-funding campaign to build a studio for my father and I that could serve as a home for Reach Around Radio and other folks who were interested in doing their own internet radio shows. I talked it over with my co-hosts and gave them a heads-up that I would be using our fan base to help raise funds. Everything was laid out in detail on the crowd-funding site. All was cool until I actually started raising the money. Once it reached over $3,000 with little or no help from them, a few of my former co-hosts started whispering behind my back, and before I could work out the issues, they went on social media to discredit my efforts by accusing me of using the funds for my own personal use. It was hard to believe that people I had worked with and even struggle with for nearly a decade, had turned on me. I ended up leaving the show. And, ironically, they weren’t able to pull together another RAR show.
When I started out on my journey, I had no idea how challenging things would be. I took the leap of faith and made many sacrifices,
everything from not being able to pay my gas and electric bills to having no new clothes or shoes for the past couple years. I had to stay laser-focused and not let the slander and false accusations of former friends take my eyes off the prize. It was a heartbreaking, seriously tough time for me. I was low on cash, but full of will and determination! The first fundraising run, I set out to raise $35,000 and only raised $15,000. I used part of that to pay my living expenses so that I could stay on my path to building the studio. Mr. Haas, an accountant I worked for after graduating high school, reached out to me when he saw that I was trying to raise funds to build the studio, and he asked how much I needed to get started. I told him $35K, but I needed to find a building first. So, my good friend Danielle Holland and I set out on a hunt and searched all over the Los Angeles area to find the perfect spot ,or at least a room that was big enough for a table and five mics -- not to mention affordable rent.
One day, Danielle happened to be driving down an alley near her home and noticed two men working in a building. She stopped in and took a look around, telling the men who were busy painting that she had a friend who may be interested in the building. A few days later, I stopped by to meet those men, who turned out to be Quincy and Byrd, the owners of the building. I was sold the moment I stepped foot into the place. There was an energy, a knowing that this was it! We found a place way better than I imagined! It happened to be an old recording studio in the early '90s, one that was once used by the likes of R&B group Tony Toni Tone, DJ Quik -- and yours truly. Yes, I had recorded there and didn’t realize it until a friend pulled up an old video from 1992 with me on the mic! Tripped me out! I knew this was where the NEW studio belonged.
Right here in Leimert Park on Crenshaw. I realized then that God’s plan for me was bigger than I had dreamed. An 1,800-square-foot building that not only was already equipped with sound proofing and multiple rooms to produce content, but also included a full kitchen, shower and conference room.
My first thought was, “I don’t know how I’m gonna do this, but I’m gonna do it!” I told the owners of the building what my vision was and that my father and I would be working together to build an internet radio studio here in the community. The two gentlemen were sold. They didn’t even do a credit check! I signed the lease, and the building was mine in which to build not only my dreams, but the dreams of others. I took Mr. Haas up on his loan offer and paid the studio lease up for six months. With keys in hand, I was full of hope, ambition and a tiny bit of fear, but that, along with my business plan, turned out to be the formula that got this dream going!
Now that I’ve got the location, what's next? Well, you’ll have to check back next week to read the rest of this story.