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Black Radio History ..♪♫♪ Part 2


Herb Kent,
WVON, Cicero, IL, January 1965

http://www.grammy.com/files/styles/news_photos/public/news/herb_kent_181377011.jpg?itok=zSKA7bLJ

Franklin McCarthy


Jay Johnson, WVON Chicago | 1972



WVON had great personalities from Joe Cobb (the voice of Soul Train

… at least at the beginning, Herb Kent “The Cool Gent”, Bill
“Butterball” Crane, E. Rodney Jones, Cecil Hale, Richard Pegue,
Pervis Spann and others.
After WVON, he ventured to WTLC in Indianapolis

to serve as PD and on air duties.

He was Super Jay in his twilight at WVON and
carried over into the Indianapolis market.

Has anybody seen the 5000 foot
tall chicken?

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 asThe 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 has also authored a book,

"The Cool Gent: The Nine Lives of
Radio Legend Herb Kent".

The First Black Radio Announcer

The first black radio station owner was Jesse B. Blayton Sr. in 1949. But he was not the first black man in the radio industry by any stretch. A lot of the obvious answers are wrong. While Vernon Winslow was on
WMJR-AM, he was programming, never on the mic. He didn't announce until he was on air in New Orleans as Dr Daddy-O in 1950. The earliest all-black program I have ever found that was "A Harlem Family" which aired on on
WMCA in 1935.  But the earliest black radio announcer is usually credited to one of two credible contenders: Joe Bostic Sr. or Jack Cooper.  You've probably never heard either name. But both of them were radio announcers before Jackie Robinson was a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers. More
here.

Bostic is mostly remembered for his sports broadcasting. In 1947, he became the first black to be licensed as a ringside announcer.  In 1972 he became the main ringside boxing announcer for Madison Square Garden. But before all that he did radio.  He was born in March 21st 1908 in Mt. Holly, New Jersey.  His parents did right by him and sent him to college.  He had to pay his own way so he boxed under an assumed name to make money.  He had won letters in boxing at Atlantic City High School. After he graduated from
Morgan State University, in Baltimore Maryland he stopped getting punched in the head and started DJ'ing a gospel program at
WCBM-AM in Baltimore. He was the first black announcer at the station.

He wrote for a black newspaper the
Baltimore Afro-American. After he married in 1930 he relocated his new family to New york so he could go to Columbia University gad school.  On the side he began to announce baseball games for the negro league games. It was how he began to segue into his sports career.  But The Encyclopedia of American gospel music calls him "The Dean of Gospel Disk Jockeys." Where does that fit in?  In 1937 he started hosting a program on
WMCA-AM called
Tales From Harlem. In 1939 he crossed the street to become host talent shows on
WNCW-AM. (They became
WLIB-AM in 1942.) In the book
The Golden Age of Gospel, Horace Clarence Boyer got the
WNCW call letters wrong, noting it as
WCMWbut he boldly described Bostic in the following words:

"...New York City's Joe Bostic could ensure a career by playing and commenting on certain recordings. While other DJ's ruled the South,  Joe Bostic ruled New York City."

He stayed at
WLIB until 1963 having started another gospel program
the Gospel Train in 1959. But he was slowly spending more and more of his productive time promoting gospel music. He continued to work in radio and gospel promotion into the 1970s. He even became the first black man to book a show at Carnegie hall.  That is a lot of firsts for one man.  He died in 1988. More
here. George L. Hiss wrote the definitive book on him: The Joe Bostic Story: First Black American Radio Announcer. But definitively George L. Hiss is wrong.

Jack L. Cooper

http://ionenewsone.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/jacklcooper.jpg

Most historians name  Jack L. Cooper as the first black American radio announcer. Cooper was called in one article "The God-Father of Black Radio."  It's well deserved. His program, "The All Negro Hour ", debuted November 3, 1929 on
WSBC-AM in Chicago. This late 1929 start is where the debate begins. There is no firm start date on Joe Bostic.  It's just dated usually to after his college graduation and assumed to be in early 1930. It's close to Cooper, but probably about six  months after.

WSBC has the oldest call letters in all of Chicago. It's pretty sad that it's now relegated as a brokered ethnic station.  This really could have been a heritage brand.
W.S.B.C. stands for
World
Storage
Battery
Company. the station began broadcasting in 1925 from the hotel Crillion. It was founded by Joseph Silverstein.  It began as an ethnic station with various slots playing Greek, Polish, Italian or other programming for first generation immigrant groups.  Silverstein just wanted to sell batteries, race was irrelevant. It's why he hired Cooper.  To a pure capitalist it was just another demographic. it sounds cynical now, but at the time it was a very liberal position. In 1930 racial discrimination was a civic duty.

In the 1930s it was located at 2400 W. Madison St. in Chicago with co-owned
WGRB-AM and
WCDB-AM. The All Negro Hour ran at 5:00 PM on Sunday nights. It ran once a week initially but expanded to a Weekday 2-hour program. The program aired until 1935. Over his career, Cooper also broadcast over
WHFC-AM,WWAE-AM,WBEE-AM, and
WAAF-AM all in Chicago.Cooper had previously done advertising and sales for the
Chicago Defender newspaper, a daily that targeted African-American readership.

It's interesting to note that Cooper's first radio gig wasn't in Chicago.  It's the Chicago gig that gets him the certified credit for first black radio announcer but he was on air before that. But that gig has a questionable date.  Most sources cite  a year between 1922 and 1925. but the station is always
640 WCAP-AM in Washington D.C.  But that gig wasn't as successful as the Negro Hour.
WCAP, like much of the nation at that time was segregated. He actually had to enter the station from a rear door.WCAP was a share-time with
WRC-AM and was founded by the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company.  It only existed from about 1923 to July 1926.Occam's razor trims off the early 1922 date.. but the rest are still possible. (I favor the 1924 date.)

Cooper certainly didn't go straight for radio.  He was born in 1888 in Memphis, TN. He quit school in the 5th grade to support his family. Similar to Bostic, Cooper was big on sports. He boxed as a welterweight and played amateur baseball. He even spent some time in vaudeville as a song and dance man. It was that vaudeville material that got him on the air at
WCAP doing comedy skits. It also was probably that experience that got him into the Chicago Defender initially as a theater critic.

In his mid sixties health problems led to a case of permanent blindness. He retired from radio in 1959. he died in January 1970 at the age of 81.  In 1975, the Chicago Park District declared 4.3 acres of land in the West Pullman neighborhood as Cooper Park, named for the first black radio announcer: Jack L. Cooper.

 

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Lucky Cordell Biography








Disc jockey Moses "Lucky" Cordell, affectionately known as "The

Baron of Bounce," was born in Grenada, Mississippi, on July 28,
1928, to Grace and Moses Cordell. At age three, his mother died
unexpectedly and his family moved to Chicago. Cordell attended
Chicago Public Schools and graduated from Dunbar Technical High
School in 1946. Shortly after graduation, Cordell joined the
U.S. Army, serving in the Special Services Branch. While in the
military, Cordell developed his theatrical ability. He received
an honorable discharge in 1948. He was hired at WGES as a disk
jockey in 1952 to work under Al Benson.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_KY1Ez0TsjN8/SQ2V2ibOhnI/AAAAAAAAGl4/Y_vR_ZNbDZE/s400/1031354718.jpg

While working at WGRY in Gary,
Indiana, Cordell hosted the popular show House of Hits. The
show was well known for its audience participation and became a
community favorite among African Americans in Gary. In 1956,
local newspapers held an election for the "Honorary Mayor of the
Negro Community" and Cordell won unanimously (beating four other
radio personalities, religious leaders and political leaders). He
held this honor for four years, until he decided not to run in 1960.
Cordell worked at several other radio stations in the Chicago
area before taking a position as a disc jockey at WVON in Chicago.
WVON, owned and operated by Chess Records, would become one of the
most influential radio stations in United States history. Cordell
became WVON's program and music director in 1965, and in 1968 he was
promoted to assistant general manager. After a change in
station ownership in late 1970, Cordell became general manager. Under
his leadership, the station increased its ratings and almost
doubled the income received from advertising. In the late 1960s,
Cordell joined the Chicago Urban League. Now retired from the radio
business, Cordell
remains an active member of Chicago's African American
community. Cordell was interviewed by

The HistoryMakers on January 16,
2001.

Pervis Spann

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...distinguished himself as a broadcaster, exposing generations to
the blues. Spann worked hard from an early age, caring for his
mother after she suffered a stroke. At age fourteen, he managed the
Dixie Theater, a local all-black theater.

In 1949, he moved with his mother and sister to Battle Creek,
Michigan. However, Spann soon left to work in Gary, Indiana.
Spann enlisted in the U.S. Army toward the end of the Korean War.
After completing his service, he moved to Chicago and settled down.
He became interested in broadcasting and attended the Midway
Television Institute and the Midwestern Broadcasting School on
the G.I. Bill. In the 1950s, Spann was granted a four-hour
overnight time slot on WOPA. In 1960, he organized his first concert,
showcasing B.B. King and Junior Parker. In 1963, Phil and
Leonard Chess bought the radio station, which became WVON, a
twenty-four-hour blues station. Spann became the "all-night
blues man."
He gained notoriety with an on-air eighty-seven-hour "sleepless
sit-in," raising money for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Spann
widened his sphere of influence during the 1960s and began
managing
talented performers such as B.B. King. He booked major acts,
including the Jackson 5 and Aretha Franklin. Spann also owned
several South Side clubs in Chicago, including the Burning
Spear.
In 1975, WVON was sold and changed frequency. Forming a
business
syndicate with Vernon Jarrett and Wesley South, Spann bought
the license to the original frequency in 1979. Listeners to the new
station, WXOL, heard an all-blues format and many of the same
voices from the old WVON. The station reclaimed its old call
letters in 1983. In the 1980s, Spann added another station to
his radio empire, WXSS in Memphis. He later sold this station. His
focus then returned to building WVON with his daughter, Melody
Spann-Cooper, at the helm. He continues his career promoting
the blues as the co-host of the popular cable show Blues and More.

http://www.airchecks.webplusshop.com/stores/store_5448/media/Ed%20Cook.jpg

Ed Cook








Mr. Cook's radio career spanned more than 30 years, beginning in Nashville. After his career as a disc jockey, he was a radio newscaster for several years and then became a free-lance writer for magazines after retiring from radio.

"He was a very gregarious guy, well-loved, well thought of," said Lucky Cordell, who worked with Mr. Cook at WVON.

Mr. Cook was part of the station's "Good Guy" team that took part in fundraising events for organizations such as the Urban League, NAACP and Operation PUSH.

A native of Chicago, Mr. Cook was raised in Lake Forest.

He was an Army veteran.

"Ed was really before his time in many many ways," said his wife, Bernadine C. Washington, former vice president and general manager of WVON.

"One day he told listeners to listen the next day, but didn't tell him what he would be doing," Washington said. "Instead of following the format, he played an album by Malcolm X.

"He was suspended for a week, but they didn't dare fire him because the phones were ringing off the hook wanting to know where he was."

Continue To Part 3

Return To Part 1

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