Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Soul on the Air #5: The Evans Happening, 1967
I had planned to feature a different aircheck as #5 in the "Soul on the Air" series at a later date, but I acquired this aircheck a couple of weeks ago and the very end of it struck me as being very appropriate the day after the "Super Tuesday" Presidential primaries, in which, for the Democrats, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both had impressive showings. The last minute or so of this aircheck is a PSA about "the power of the ballot," and how in Tuskegee, Alabama, attempts to block the implementation of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 failed and black voters were able to elect a black sheriff, black city councilmen and other public officials. Last night, Obama won the Alabama primary, which shows just how far things have progressed.
Now, on to the aircheck. As I discussed in the very first "Soul on the Air" feature, WVON was the dominant R&B station in Chicago, a position it would hold until the mid-to-late '70s. One of 'VON's competitors was WGRT ("W-Great"), which replaced jazz station WAAF at 950 on the AM dial in 1967. Although "Great Radio," as it was also known, was able to keep its R&B format for much longer than other WVON competitors (WBEE abandoned its R&B format in 1968, and WYNR, Chicago's first black-focused station, collapsed as soon as WVON hit the scene, due in part to its Top 40-heavy playlist and the political leanings of its management) under the WGRT calls and then as WJPC (upon the acquisition of the station by Ebony and Jet publisher Johnson Publishing Company; presently, the WGRT calls belong to a station in Port Huron, Michigan), the station never was as popular as WVON and has received scant historical study. (Your ever-lovin' Stepfather of Soul would love to hear from anyone who has memories or info about this station.)
Today's feature is an hour from the afternoon of Sunday, August 27, 1967, with John Evans presiding over "The Evans Happening" for the bulk of the time before handing off to Tony Quinn. I know that WGRT employed some white DJs (on Reel Radio a Larry O'Brien aircheck from this era is posted), at least in the earlier years, and I think that both Evans and Quinn may be white also. (Again, any information would be welcomed. I have later airchecks featuring black jocks, and I know that black radio legend Richard "The Real" Steele would eventually be the station's program director in the WJPC era.) Regardless of these guys' race, they lay down some great tunes, including "Take Care" by June Conquest, Otis & Carla's version of "Knock on Wood," "Forget It" by the Sandpebbles, the Shirelles' version of the Northern classic "Last Minute Miracle" and Bill Cosby's funky 45 "Little Ole Man" (which is accompanied by an ad for a Cosby appearance in Chicago - "we're gonna sock it to you," Cos says). Evans in particular provides some very entertaining patter (dig the pointed commentary Evans makes in connection with a radio ad for the Sidney Poitier film To Sir With Love). Also of interest is the "20/20 News" and commercials for C.E.T., a Chicago television store whose "MOhawk 4-4100" phone number jingle - pretty un-PC by 2008 standards - was as ubiquitous in Chicago as Empire Carpet's "588-2300" jingle years later.
(EDITOR'S NOTE - Again, the limitations of AM radio and trading apply to this aircheck; the volume is somewhat low, and in portions there is some interference.)