Monday, December 10, 2007
Soul On The Air #2: Bill Kenner, 1966
Today's post is the second of a new series I'm doing called "Soul On The Air," dedicated to the R&B jocks of the classic soul era. Last week, I kicked off the series with an April 1970 WVON aircheck from Radio Hall of Famer Herb Kent. Thanks to all of you who provided feedback, either on the blog or via email, and I'm glad to have you aboard for what I think is going to be a very fun series.
Today's feature covers another of Chicago's R&B stations. WBEE (1570 AM, licensed to south suburban Harvey, Illinois) was one of WVON's top competitors when 'VON started in 1963, but by 1968 the station, unable to keep up with 'VON's popularity, would switch to a jazz format, which it kept (save for Sunday brokered-time gospel programming and a very short-lived attempt at a financial news format in the late '90s) until 2003, when the station was sold and changed into a gospel station (a country FM station in New York state now holds the WBEE call letters). From 1955 to 1960, Herb Kent was at the station, but during the soul era the top jock at 'BEE was Merri Dee, "The Honey Bee," whose 1966-68 stint at the station was the start of a legacy career in Chicago media (Dee hosted talk shows on TV stations WCIU and WSNS before joining WGN in 1972 as a news anchor, staff announcer, host of various specials and, for many years, the emcee of the daily Illinois Lottery drawings; she is still with WGN today, as a community liaison for the station).
The WBEE aircheck featured today came from the afternoon of September 8, 1966. I don't know anything about Bill Kenner, but his more energetic style stands as a nice antithesis to the laid-back style shown in the Herb Kent aircheck. Kenner's got some great wordplay going on (check out the opening of this aircheck and his outro for J.J. Jackson's "But It's Alright"), and there's lots of neat stuff in this aircheck: the Olympics' "Baby Do The Philly Dog," Koko Taylor's "Good Advice" and Billy Butler's "Right Track" are played on this aircheck (this was where I heard those three tunes for the first time); the news break features Strom Thurmond's filibuster of a 1966 civil rights bill, the mass murderer Charles Whitman, and the election of a minister who opposed Martin Luther King's urban housing crusade as the head of the National Baptist Convention; and a WBEE station ID includes a nice recording of "We Shall Overcome" (does anyone know which version of the song this is?) Also dig Kenner taking phone requests on the "Bee Line" segment ("You're 17, and he's 18, and he's your baby? Oh, he's your boyfriend ... gotcha covered, queen bee.")