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WVON Celebrates Five Decades on the Air

Chicago’s only black-owned news-talk radio station turns 50

Chicago’s WVON(AM) is celebrating 50 years of success as a minority-focused, 10,000W station regularly besting 50,000 W competitor stations when comparing talent, programming, impact and other notable measurements.

The station was founded by the Chess brothers, owners of the famous Blues record label, Chess Records. After several ups and downs, frequency changes and a format change to urban talk, the station is now controlled by the daughter, Melody Spann Cooper, of one WVON’s best known personalities and managers, Pervis “The Blues Man” Spann.

WVON gained fame as pop hits station featuring artists such as Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, BB King, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Impressions, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, Al Green, Minnie Riperton, Earth Wind & Fire, Donald Byrd and Roy Ayers. Many of these artists appeared at the station.

In the mid-1980s, as FM music station ate into its audience, the station changed to an urban talk format. Journalist and commentator Roland Martin came into the spotlight through a talk show on the radio station. WVON is also closely tied to the Chicago political scene with Martin Luther King and future Chicago Mayor Harold Washington being associated with the station along with Barack Obama. It was also the first station to hire black women as executives.

Its DJs came to define personality radio, also forging the way for local radio and an important recognition of the intersection between talent and content.

WVON is today owned and run by Melody Spann Cooper, chairman of Midway Broadcasting Corporation. Here is a long piece from the Chicago Tribune on the anniversary.