Chicago radio station WVON was born 50 years ago on April 1, 1963. WVON was geared toward Chicago’s African-American community, which was otherwise underrepresented on the airwaves. Personalities like Herb Kent “the Cool Gent”, Bill “Butterball” Crane, E. Rodney Jones and others provided sweet, wholesome, soul music to the masses. Their accessible, charismatic and fun but dignified personalities also provided role models for youth.
WVON played records from Chess, Motown and other big and small labels Music stores on major streets in the ‘hood often played WVON's most popular tunes on loudspeakers. As a matter of fact, back then, Chicago’s black community was filled with music. Especially impressive were live music revues at the Regal Theater located at 47th and King Drive (which was then South Park Avenue). In synergy with WVON, those shows featured major soul music artists in star-studded lineups that were affordable to all. Diverse Chicago audiences enjoyed those shows.
WVON radio also featured talk shows that shed light on issues of the day. Today WVON, at 1690 on the AM radio dial, primarily offers talk show programming. The talk format has proven successful for the station, which remains a Chicago icon.
WVON’s birthday programming today, April 1, features archival music played by legendary deejays from the years 1965-1969. All music buffs should tune in. As for me, there is a song called, “Last Night A DJ (Disc Jockey) Saved My Life.” It was released in 1982 and pretty much describes metaphorically what radio station WVON’s music did for me in my youth and what today’s youth needs, because music, WVON style, provided ambiance, catharsis and joie de vivre. That’s no exaggeration. That’s the power of music with a positive, enjoyable message.
A big birthday celebration will be held on Saturday, April 6, at the Chicago Theater. The station call-in line is (773) 591-1690.