Tomorrow, April 1, is the 50th anniversary of WVON, the former Chicago R&B powerhouse from which several airchecks have appeared in the "Soul on the Air" series. To celebrate, the station is eschewing its urban talk format for "Retro Day," in which some of the stations "Good Guys" will appear and classic airchecks and commercials will be broadcast. I don't know if any items featured here will be played, but it will certainly be worth checking out. (Please see this news release for further information, including a broadcast schedule.)
In honor of this occasion, this "Soul on the Air" post features Pervis Spann, "The Blues Man," whose career at the station covers its past, present and future. Spann was one of the first DJs hired by Leonard Chess when he turned the brokered-time WHFC into "The Voice of the Negro"; when WVON's frequency was moved to 1390 AM by latter owners Globetrotter Communications and the "Good Guys" format was unceremoniously dumped, Spann set up blues station WXOL at the old 1450 frequency; when WVON's calls were changed to WGCI, he snapped them up; and he continues to own the station to the present day, with his daughter, Melody Spann-Cooper, at the helm.
I won't try to tell his multifaceted story here: it will be much better to refer you to this Chicago Reader profile of the legendary DJ/club owner/promoter/TV host/(alleged) huckster, and, if you can find a copy, Spann's book, The 40-Year Spann of WVON, of which I have an autographed copy (I met Spann at a book signing and had a short, but pleasant conversation with him - when he learned I was going to law school part time while working full time, he said "I like you a lot" and proceeded to tell me about one of his hard-working daughters, who was an attorney). Further, if you would like to see the tomfoolery that Spann presided over with comedian/actor Carl Wright for many years on Chicago cable access TV, "Blues and More," look it up on YouTube. It's something else!
On to the aircheck. I have begun acquiring what may be the largest treasure trove of WVON material (and, by extension, R&B airchecks) out there, namely, over 24 hours of WVON broadcasts from Friday, January 29, 1965 through to the following Monday, February 1. This material includes more great stuff by Herb Kent, Ed Cook, Lucky Cordell and E. Rodney Jones, but also material from Spann and other "Good Guys" for whom airchecks were previously not available, such as gospel jock Bill "Doc" Lee, early WVON personality Franklin McCarthy, and talk show host Wesley South.
This aircheck, presented in four parts, finds Spann laying down soul, blues (of course) and countrified patter for nearly four hours. There are lots of highlights here: "Killing Floor," the then-new Howlin' Wolf single, gets played (it must've been atop the station's hit list at the time, as every other aircheck I've heard so far from this time period includes it), as does "My Girl," then the new Temptations hit; Spann plays the original "Don't Answer the Door" by Jimmy Johnson (later covered by B.B. King; this Jimmy Johnson is not to be confused with Syl's brother, also a fine blues artist), asserting that it's a warning to his fellow "Good Guys";Spann does a sing-along to the Artistics' "Got to Get My Hands on Some Loving"; and he mangles - I mean, reports - the news (interestingly, during his shift, news reports of the funeral of Winston Churchill are not included; those come later in the day). And, of course, there's lots of other good music and commercials to enjoy.