For forty years, Oprah Winfrey has built a career in media and amassed a fortune doing so. Today, Ignitia takes a closer look at the events that shaped Oprah’s life and allowed her to become one of the nation’s wealthiest women.
The Early Years
Oprah was born on January 29, 1954 to an unwed teenage mother in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Until the age of six, Oprah was raised by her grandmother in rural Mississippi. Often, the family was so poor Oprah needed to wear potato sacks as dresses. But her grandmother nonetheless taught Oprah to write and read and impressed upon her the importance of a good education. At the age of six, Oprah was sent to live with her mother in Wisconsin. Oprah’s mother was not very attentive due to the long hours she had to work, and starting at the age of nine Oprah was reportedly abused by her cousin, uncle, and a family friend. After years of such abuse, Oprah was sent to live with her ex-military father in Tennessee. There, Oprah flourished and became a high school honors student. She was voted Most Popular Girl, and placed second in a national oratory contest which earned her a scholarship to Tennessee State University.
At the age of seventeen, Oprah began to work as a reporter at the local radio station, WVOL in Tennessee. At the age of nineteen, she accepted a job as news anchor for Nashville’s WTFV-TV. Oprah was both the first female African American, and youngest person ever to accept the anchor job there. Two years later in 1976, Oprah was hired to co-anchor the nightly news in Baltimore at, WJZ. The job was a dream come true, but it didn’t last. Not long after accepting the job Oprah was let-go for being, ‘dull and stiff’ on-air. It was a devastating blow for Oprah, but rather than let her go completely the station allowed her to host their failing morning talk show. There she once again blossomed and the show soon became a hit. Then five years later in 1983, Oprah was offered a job at, WLS-TV in Chicago.
The Oprah Winfrey Show
Oprah was recruited to take over their last place rated morning show, AM Chicago. Within months, Oprah took the show from last place to first in the ratings, eclipsing the top show of the day hosted by Phil Donahue. Two years later in 1986, the show was nationally syndicated and was renamed, The Oprah Winfrey Show. By the end of its first year, the show had a reported audience of 10 million people and had grossed a reported $125 million. $30 million of this was Oprah’s salary. Two years later, Oprah opened her own production company, Harpo Studios, which took over ownership and production of the show. For the next 25 years, The Oprah Winfrey Show continued to air. With a reported average of 40 million viewers per week, the show became the highest-rated talk show in television history.
Along with producing television and movies through Harpo Studios, in 2000 Oprah announced her new women’s lifestyle magazine, O. Today, O has a reported 2.35 million monthly readers. Along with the magazine, Oprah also launched dozens of books into national bestseller heights by including them in her ‘Oprah’s Book Club’. In 1999, Oprah co-founded Oxygen Media which was a cable and internet company dedicated to programming for women. Then, in 2011, in conjunction with Discovery Communications, Oprah ended her syndicated run of The Oprah Winfrey Show in order to start her very own network, OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network). Today, Oprah still serves as Chairman, CEO, and Chief Creative Executive of the network. The company also manages Oprah.com which reportedly receives and average of 43 million users per month. On top of all of this, Oprah has raised and donated hundreds of millions of dollars for philanthropic causes throughout the years.
A Business Empire
According to Forbes magazine, Oprah Winfrey was the wealthiest African American of the 20th century. By mixing empathy and heart within her broadcast in order to build a truly global empire, Life magazine named Oprah the most influential woman of her generation. For all this, at the time of this writing, Oprah has amassed a fortune worth a reported $3.2 billion. Though she has become one of the most prolific businesspeople in the history of America, Oprah Winfrey has never lost touch with who she is or where she came from all those years ago in Mississippi.