WVON, Cicero, IL, January 1965
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
remains an active member of Chicago's African American
community. Cordell was interviewed by
The HistoryMakers on January 16,