SoulfulDetroit.com FORUM: Archive - Beginning May 30, 2003: HAPPY 40TH ANNIVERSARY - WVON-AM
Top of pageBottom of page   By dvdmike ( on Monday, March 31, 2003 - 05:49 pm:

Excerpts from the N'digo magapaper article by David Smallwood

Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of WVON Radio. On April 1, 1963, the "Voice Of America" began broadcasting as the first full-service, Black-oriented music station in Chicago. WVON originated from the acquisition of WHFC, a 1,000-watt station licensed to Cicero, Illinois by Leonard and Phil Chess, the Polish brothers who owned the legendary Chess Records. After the Chess brothers changed the call letters, WVON hit the airwaves with a group of radio personalities that included Franklin McCarthy, E. Rodney Jones, Herb Kent, Wesley South and Pervis Spann. This extraordinary lineup of radio talent that became known as the "Good Guys" eventually added to it's roster Ric Ricardo, Bill "Butterball" Crane, Ed "Nassau" Cook, Joe Cobb, Roy Wood, Ed Maloney, Bill "Doc" Lee, Don Cornelius (later to found "Soul Train"), Richard Pegue, Isabel Joseph Johnson, Cecil Hale and McKie Fitzhugh. Under the direction of the station's general manager, Lucky Cordell, and it's "Ambassador Of Goodwill" Bernadine C. Washington, the Good Guys held Black Chicago captive for more than a decade and ranked consistently among the top three stations in the Chicago radio market. But the reach of WVON went far past Chicago: in fact, during it's heyday, it was the top Black radio station in the country. There was a good reason WVON was commonly referred to as "The Black Giant." The station was so strong that Motown Recorders founder Berry Gordy had a special arrangement with WVON that every song he produced would be sent to WVON before every other station in the country. Rotation on WVON was so powerful that it influenced airplay in other markets, which impacted the overall sales and success of any record. Airplay on WVON was so powerful that a playlist of the top 40 songs the station played was released weekly, and became a hot commodity among listeners and local record dealers. WVON's presence also helped launch the careers of such entertainers as The Jackson 5, Chaka Khan, Gene Chandler, Aretha Franklin and Al Green. In the film, "Mahogany", just before receiving her first visit from Billy Dee Williams in the "coins through the slot" scene, Diana's character, Tracy Chambers was listening to WVON on the radio. During a time when Blacks were actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement, WVON was the voice of information for local and national affairs. In addition, the whole cast of Good Guys were involved in numerous activities in a variety of areas throughout Black Chicago. But...if you've ever pondered about what happened to the dinosaurs, it might have had something to do with FM radio because that's what happened to end the Good Guys era over at the Black Giant. One minute these powerhouse radio personalities at WVON were ruling the planet, and the next, the emerging popularity of FM radio absolutely blew them out of the water. In the mid-'70s, the owners of the station decided that Good Guys era was over and fired them all in a painful bloodletting. Like the dinosaurs, the Good Guys became extinct.

After floundering for a while, and following a convoluted process of ownership and frequency changes, WVON as it currently exists ended up in the hands of former Good Guys Pervis Spann and Wesley South and Pervis' daughter, Melody, who is in charge of the station today. In 1986, South switched the format of WVON to mostly talk, the incarnation the station bears today. If anyone from Chicago, or within listening distance has any 'VON stories to share, bring 'em on!

Top of pageBottom of page   By KevGo ( on Tuesday, April 01, 2003 - 12:21 pm:

Does Richard Pegue host an oldies show late Friday nights on WVON that's very popular? I heard it when I was in Chicago last September and I spoke to Pegue via telephone - he was a really cool person to talk to.
Happy 40th to the Voice of the Negro!
Kevin Goins - KevGo

Top of pageBottom of page   By dvdmike ( on Tuesday, April 01, 2003 - 12:32 pm:

I'm not sure, I haven't listened lately.

Top of pageBottom of page   By Sly fan ( on Tuesday, April 01, 2003 - 02:27 pm:

Happy 40th!! WVON!! A lotttaa GREAT people came outta there!!!

Top of pageBottom of page   By TT from Chi-town ( on Tuesday, April 01, 2003 - 05:10 pm:

Does anyone know what happened to news commentator Earl Law? My aunt was a friend of his & wanted to know what he was up to these days.

Top of pageBottom of page   By dvdmike ( on Tuesday, April 01, 2003 - 07:43 pm:

I could ask around, hopefully I'll find out.

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