- Published on Thursday, 14 March 2013 10:11
WVON-AM turns 50 years old on April 1st. The following weekend, the station will celebrates its half-century as one of the most influential stations in American radio history with a special party, followed by a grand concert event the day after that.
In early 1963, Chess Records owners Leonard and Phil Chess purchased WHFC-AM, with the idea of owning a radio station that would just play Blues artists from their Chicago-based record label. Not legally allowed to only play music from one record label, the Chess brothers opened up the station to focus on Blues, Soul, and Rhythm & Blues artists. They changed the call letters to WVON, then standing for the Voice Of the Negro (although the call letters now represent the Voice Of the Nation). The station made its debut on April 1, 1963 on AM 1450. Despite is fairly weak signal, WVON-AM became one of Chicago's most listened-to stations month after month.
Some of Chicago's most famous DJs worked at the station in the 1960s, including: Herb "The Cool Gent" Kent, Richard Pegue, Don Cornelius, Yvonne Daniels, "Lucky" Cordell, E. Rodney Jones, Bill "Butterball" Crane, Sid McCoy, Wesley South, and the man who would later own the station, Pervis "The Blues Man" Spann.
Following the death of Leonard Chess in 1969, the Chess family began looking for a buyer for WVON-AM, eventually selling the station to Globetrotter Communications. In 1975, Globetrotter moved WVON-AM to a new frequency, from the weaker AM 1450 to the 5000-watt AM 1390. Pervis Spann then formed Midway Broadcasting with fellow WVON-AM DJ Wesley South, along with Chicago Tribune columnist Vernon Jarrett and others, to try and bring a station to AM 1450. It took five years of battles, but eventually, the FCC issued a split license for the frequency, giving half to Migala Communications, who operated a brokered ethnic programming as WCEV-AM from 1:00pm-10:00pm, and half to Midway Broadcasting's WXOL-AM, who operated a Blues station the rest of night & following morning, using many former WVON-AM personalities. In 1983, Spann was able to reclaim the original WVON call letters for the station, bringing WVON-AM back to its original frequency. With music on the AM frequency dying out, in 1986, WVON-AM changed to an Urban Talk format. In 2006, the station signed a Limited Marketing Agreement with Clear Channel Communications to move the station to Clear Channel's stronger signal of AM 1690, where it still is today.
Midway Broadcasting remains partially co-owned by Pervis Spann. It is now run by his daughter, Melody Spann-Cooper, who purchased controlling interest in Midway Broadcasting Corporation in 1999 and then took over as its Chairman and WVON President/General Manager. Pervis Spann, 80, remains as President Emeritus.
On the first weekend of April, WVON-AM will celebrate its 50 years of broadcasting, as well as its cultural and historical contributions.
First will be a party taking place on Friday, April 5th at Alhambra Palace (1240 W. Randolph St., Chicago). The party will feature a concert by longtime Funk/Soul/Blues/Jazz artist Roy Ayers. (Tickets for this event are not yet on sale.)
On April 6, 2013, WVON-AM will hold its gala anniversary event, entitled "Impact 50," which will take place at the Chicago Theatre (175 N. State St., Chicago). The night will begin with a gold carpet event and a special pre-reception for invited guests VIP ticket purchasers. The highlight of the evening will be a concert performance by six-time Grammy award winning singer, Toni Braxton.
The night will also feature speeches by Melody Spann Cooper and other special guests, including Herb Kent, Dick Gregory, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Roland Martin, Cathy Hughes, and Rev. Al Sharpton. During the speeches, there will be a chronological dance routine choreographed by Andrea Kelly. Additionally, there will be a performance by Terisa Griffin, the Chicago-based powerhouse singer and contestant on last season of NBC-TV's "The Voice."
"Impact 50" will be hosted by WVON-AM's morning show host Matt McGill and actress Tracee Ellis Ross.
Chairs of the event include Governor Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Susan Whiting (Nielsen Company), Mellody Hobson (Ariel Investments), Cathy Hughes (Radio One), Earl Jones (Clear Channel Media + Entertainment), Jim Reynolds (Loop Capital), and Kenny Williams (White Sox).
Melody Spann Cooper said today "It has been a historic journey for WVON and our golden anniversary deserves to be celebrated."
Those with VIP tickets can also attend a VIP after-party later that evening, which will be held a few blocks away at The Museum of Broadcast Communications (360 N. State St., Chicago). There will be some surprise special guests attending the after-party, with live music provided by Ricky Rainbow and the Over the Top Orchestra.
There are three ticket levels for the April 6th "Impact 50" event. The $100 basic tickets (which gives the ticket holder access to upper level seating at the Chicago Theatre) and the $250 premium tickets (which give the holder entrance to the VIP parties, as well as upper level seating) are on sale now at this link HERE
. The $500 VIP tickets, which give the holder access to all of the Saturday night events, plus closer seating on the main floor, can be purchased from the WVON website