Resonating across the airwaves with his slightly gruff baritone, E. Rodney Jones was a beloved legend to the listeners of WVON radio in the 1960s and 1970s.
He became known to the station's audience as one of "The Good Guys," five radio personalities handpicked by the owners, Leonard and Phil Chess of Chess Records. The 1,000-watt AM station, whose call letters stood for the Voice of the Negro, debuted in Chicago in 1963 with a rhythm-and-blues format.
Mr. Jones, 75, was the station's 3 to 7 p.m. disc jockey for more than a decade and its longtime program director. He died after a long struggle with lung cancer Friday, Jan. 2, in his home in Baton Rouge, La.
E RODNEY JONES VIDEO-R&B TIME
E RODNEY JONES - 2 TRACKS
E. Rodney Jones & The
Hippies Band - Right On , Right On
E. Rodney Jones & Larry the
Hippies Band - Chicken On Down
He remained at WVON-AM 1450 during what former colleagues called its "golden era" as a music station. It now has a black-talk format. New owners fired Jones and other staff members in 1978 and the call letters came to stand for Voice of the Nation.
"Rodney had a 1,450 percent personality, bigger than life," said Richard Pegue, who first joined the station in 1968 and returned in recent years to host a late-night oldies music program. "He was a grand person to work with, with a lot of electricity."
WVON was the first 24-hour radio station aimed at the black community in Chicago, helping to launch and solidify hundreds of black artists' careers. The station also staked out a role as a voice, listener and cheerleader for Chicago's African-American community by addressing social issues such as civil rights while encouraging its listeners to support black-owned businesses in the city.
"It was the perfect time for the expansion of black radio into society," Pegue said. "Whoever was there at that time was in the position to be the first to blanket the city and service Chicago with a full-time format.
"His delivery was not overpowering but very dominating. He was very friendly, somebody that you could love after you heard him for a while. Just a great guy to listen to on the radio," Pegue said.
Among the black artists crediting Mr. Jones with their group's success is Marshall Thompson, leader of the Chi-Lites. The Chicago group had platinum records in the 1970s for its songs, "Give More Power to the People," "Have Your Seen Her" and "Oh Girl."
"We called him the godfather," Thompson said. "Rodney was the one who started our career and put us in the position to still be on tour [40 years later]."
Mr. Jones' career began at a radio station in his native Texarkana, Ark., where he met his wife, Amanda, after being discharged from the Army. The couple married in 1948. Within a few years he moved to a station in Kansas City and then St. Louis, before coming to Chicago to work for WVON, his wife said.
"Rodney was very dedicated to his work, really loved being on the radio because it meant he could reach out and help a lot of people," she said. "He was very outgoing and congenial and would give you the shirt off your back, as they say."
The couple separated in 1982 and Mr. Jones moved to Louisiana. A member of the Black Radio Hall of Fame, he retired a few years ago after spending many years as disc jockey at WXOK-AM, and then KQXL-FM in Baton Rouge. Sadly,his son Rodney Jr. died in 1982.
Other survivors include sons, Otis, Andre and Andrew; his daughters Earlene, Nichelle and Rocquin Bogard; 11 grandchildren and a great-grandchild.