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WVON was one of the greatest (and some will argue THE greatest) big-city black radio stations of the 60's/70's era. It had monster ratings, ruled the soul music scene and became a radio legend -- all with only 1000 watts days and 250 watts at night on 1450.

WVON logo A short history: WVON, the "Voice of the Negro" started on April 1, 1963 after Leonard and Phil Chess, the owners of Chess Records, bought WHFC in Cicero, IL. They hired a lineup of DJ's known as the "Good Guys" — Bill "Butterball" Crane, E. Rodney Jones, Herb Kent, Joe Cobb and others — who stayed with the station for years as it climbed in the ratings. The studio and transmitter were at 3350 S. Kedzie Avenue near the Stevenson Expressway, midway between the West and South sides of Chicago and the city's large black populations, which enabled WVON's big audience numbers. (And they had white kids in the suburbs like me who listened too!). Sometimes WVON hit the top 5 along with the big stations like WLS or WGN. With a hot format of soul music, great personality jocks, local news and strong community involvement, WVON was in the right place at the right time.

WVON ran a large playlist, often 45 songs, and was a big influence on national airplay. According to the station's official history (see: WVON History), Motown records founder Berry Gordy arranged for every song he produced to be sent immediately to WVON before any other station.

The legal ID was "WVON Cicero," which ironically was a nearly all-white suburb.

WVON was a union shop that operated with the jock and an engineer, and some of their jocks really kept the engineers on their toes with tight, complicated overlays. The energy level was tremendous! Other jocks, such as Herb Kent, ran a more laid-back show.

After Leonard Chess died in 1969, his family sold WVON to Globetrotter Communications and the station went thru changes in the 70's. It moved to 1390 with 5kw for better coverage. The Good Guys era ended and they were eventually replaced. The station changed to WGCI in 1984 under the ownership of Gannett, and the WVON call letters came back to 1450 for a while. In 2009, WVON is all-talk at 1690 under the ownership of Midway Broadcasting, formed by ex-staffers Pervis Spann and Wesley South.

G2/5.0 compatible TOP STREAM 32Kbps (12Khz)
PLAYHerb Kent, WVON Chicago, May 19, 1971 (15:49)

. . . Has anybody seen the 5000 foot tall chicken? . . .

[Description by contributor Greg Barman]

Deep-voiced, tall, skinny, laidback and free-spirited, Herb Kent had a sound and style all his own. He was known variously as The Cool Gent, HK the DJ, Herbert Rogers Kent, and The King Of the Dusties. For more than a decade Herb Kent did the evening shift on WVON with a spontaneous freewheeling style. He would say anything he wanted at any time, often in the middle of a record. On this show he felt like clicking his tongue a lot. He apparently had the freedom to play artists not on the regular playlist, or occasionally, a long soul LP cut. He did running bits such as The Electric Crazy People, the Gym Shoe Creeper (a crimefighter with smelly feet), The Wahoo man, and as you'll hear on this aircheck, a 5,000 foot tall chicken. And he had a loyal following, especially with the teen audience.

Picture of
Herb Kent, 1971 (Photo by Greg Barman)

In 1971 I did a high school TV interview project on Chicago DJ's and Herb Kent was a guest. As preparation for the program I visited WVON and asked him for this studio aircheck of his show. "What do you want on it?" he asked. "I dunno," I replied, "maybe throw in some jingles." Which he did. The aircheck begins with part of Jim Maloney's news headlines at :14 (part of WVON's "14-50 news"). The aircheck has a few skips due to tape decay.

Herb Kent recently turned 80 and as of this writing (March 2009) he is still on the air in Chicago on the weekends at WVAZ(FM). Kent was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1995. He authored a book, "The Cool Gent: The Nine Lives of Radio Legend Herb Kent".

Kent did his final radio broadcast Saturday morning October 22, 2016. He died that evening. He was 88.


G2/5.0 compatible TOP STREAM 32Kbps (10Khz)
PLAYJoe Cobb, WVON Chicago, May 31, 1972 (07:49)

. . . I got a pain I can't explain . . .

[Description by contributor Greg Barman]

Joe Cobb handled morning drive on WVON, a high-energy jock with superb timing who kept it all tight and cookin'. Recorded in downtown Chicago where WVON had a strong signal, Cobb is working on the Memorial Day holiday, starting his show at 5:30am as usual. Joe has a lot to say! There's one song he likes so much, he plays it twice.


G2/5.0 compatible TOP STREAM 32Kbps (9Khz)
PLAYCecil Hale, WVON Chicago, June 8, 1974 Pt.1 (50:40)

. . . You got Hale, takin' you high through the power of your own mind . . .

[Description by contributor Greg Barman]

Cecil Hale, 2000
Cecil Hale started as a weekend DJ, gradually becoming fulltime on WVON, then assistant PD and assistant MD. His style was super-tight. This aircheck features Cecil on a rainy Saturday morning shift. Most of Ed Cook's newscasts are telescoped out, and there are occasional skips in the aircheck either from tape dropout, or sometimes I had paused the tape. I recorded this in Evanston, IL about 20 miles from WVON, hence the occasionally noisy audio.

Cecil Hale followed his radio work with a career in record promotion at Phonogram/Mercury records and as a VP at Capitol Records. As of 2009, he is a tenured professor at the City College of San Francisco.


G2/5.0 compatible TOP STREAM 32Kbps (9Khz)
PLAYCecil Hale, WVON Chicago, June 8, 1974 Pt.2 (34:43)
Play Scoped This Exhibit 'SCOPED (16:02)



. . . The sound of soul, the sound of success in music . . .

Here's more of Cecil Hale on WVON on June 8, 1974. This is a continuation of the aircheck above.

It is also classic Chicago Soul radio from The Black Giant, including some Top-40 crossover.



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