Saturday, April 26, 2008
Soul on the Air #7: Big Bill Hill, 1967
Chicago radio again returns to the spotlight in this installment of the "Soul on the Air" series, this time with Big Bill Hill, R&B jock on the brokered-time WOPA in suburban Oak Park. WOPA's programming ran quite the gamut, ranging from ethnic shows to jazz programs and Hill's daily "Shopping Bag Show." Hill was a blues fan, so his show always featured more blues and harder soul sounds than the fare over at WVON, WBEE and WGRT. Among Hill's various sidelines was hosting (allegedly in a pretty wooden manner) a TV show, "Red Hot and Blues," which aired on WCIU, whose local brodcasting was the stuff of legend in the Chicago area: notable programs included "Kiddie-a-Go-Go," "Svengoolie" and the local run of "Soul Train," which made its debut in 1970 and remained a local daily series for some time after Don Cornelius moved the show to Los Angeles and took it national in 1971 (singer Clinton Ghent hosted the WCIU version). Perhaps the seed for "Soul Train" was sown by Hill's show, which featured kids dancing to R&B hits of day (check out Scott Marks' Emulsion Compulsion reminisces of Hill's show and "Rock of Ages," a gospel show hosted by WVON's Isabel Joseph Johnson).
The aircheck featured today is a "Shopping Bag Show" from August 1967, and it finds Hill playing lots of Stax stuff, some lowdown blues and harder-hitting soul. Hill does all of his own commercials, including plugs for a forthcoming "battle of the blues" between Little Milton and Albert King and a Sunday afternoon concert featuring Otis Clay, Bobby Rush, Otis Rush (incorrectly referred to by Hill as Bobby's brother), Howlin' Wolf, Shakey Jake and others, and a car dealership so intent on selling cars that if the buyer didn't know how to drive it would pay for driving lessons. It's a great aircheck in pretty good fidelity that's worth checking out. Now only if some video of "Red Hot and Blues" could be found!