WVON originated from the acquisition of WHFC-1450AM, a 1,000-watt station licensed to Cicero, Illinois, by Leonard and Phil Chess, the owners of Chess Records, a successful record label, which produced mega-hits for local artists such as Muddy Waters, Lil' Howlin' Wolf, and others. The brothers envisioned one station that would pull together the best radio talent who could galvanize all of black Chicago.
On April 1, 1963, WVON hit the airwaves in Chicago with a group of handpicked personalities: Franklin McCarthy, E. Rodney Jones, Herb Kent, Wesley South, and Pervis Spann. They became known as "The Good Guys," and Ric Ricardo, Bill "Butterball" Crane, Ed Cook, Joe Cobb, Roy Wood, Ed Maloney, Bill "Doc" Lee, Don Cornelius, Richard Pegue, Isabel Joseph Johnson, Cecil Hale, and McKee Fitzhugh eventually joined the roster. Under the direction of the station's general manager, Lucky Cordell, and its "Ambassador of Good Will," Bernadine C. Washington, The Good Guys held Black Chicago captive for more than a decade and ranked consistently in the top 5 of the "most listened to" stations in the market.
The power of WVON went beyond the Chicago market. Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, had a special arrangement with WVON that every song he produced would be sent immediately to WVON before any other station. Rotation on WVON was so powerful that it influenced airplay in other markets, which impacted the overall sales and success of the project.
WVON has always been more than just a radio station. During a time when Blacks were actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement, WVON was the voice of information for local and national affairs. During the riots that followed the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., WVON on-air personalities were there to lift the spirits and ease the tension that had erupted in neighborhoods across the city.
Following the death of Leonard Chess in 1969, the Chess family decided to sell WVON to George Gillette (heir to shaving products company) and Potter Palmer (heir to Palmer House), who formed Globetrotter Communications. Their first order of business was to move WVON from 1450 frequency to the 5,000 watt 1390 signal, which would improve their coverage of Chicago. The 1450 frequency was left dormant.
In the mid '70's, as the radio market in Chicago became more competitive and FM radio began to gain momentum, new management at Globetrotter Communications decided that the Good Guy era had run its course and fired the entire staff. New personalities took to the airwaves, but never with the fanfare of the Good Guys.
In 1977, Globetrotter Communications sold WVON to the Gannett Company, whose major holdings were in print media. Gannett had purchased an FM station in Chicago, which became known as WGCI.
Many of the Good Guys revitalized successful careers in other endeavors. Pervis Spann and Wesley South formed Midway Broadcasting Corporation and purchased the 1450 frequency. Their station. WXOL premiered in August 1979. In 1984, following Gannett's decision to drop the WVON call letters from their signal, WXOL's owners immediately filed with the FCC to obtain the WVON call letters and the Voice of the Negro returned to 1450.
In 1986, at the height of the Black community's political involvement in Chicago, which resulted in the election of Harold Washington, Chicago's first African-American mayor, Wesley South, co-owner of WVON, opted to change the station's format to talk, providing Chicago with its first Black-talk radio format.
For over 50 years, WVON has been and remains the drum major for the African-American community of Chicago. It continues to provide a platform on which Black Chicago can air its concerns, voice its differences, and discuss the issues that affect our society.
From "The Voice of the Negro" to "The Voice of the Nation", WVON has carved a special niche in the history of Chicago radio.
To read more about the history of WVON and Midway Broadcasting Company, visit www.wvon.com.
1000 East 8th Street
60619 United States