Saturday, April 26, 2008

Soul on the Air #7: Big Bill Hill, 1967

Listen Music - Embed Audio Files - Big Bill Hill, WOPA Aircheck...

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!


edie2k2 said...

Awwww YESSS!!!! I get so excited for these! My heart is racing and I'm listening to Soul Man and it takes me right back to my junior year in high school...ahhhhh!

Oh how I just APPLAUD you for this series Jason. You have made my day, once again!

Big Bill Hill is a beautiful sound to mine ears!!! Whew!!!

"center cut poke chops, just $.38 cents.." those we're the days!

Thanks again dear!

Have You Heard said...


I checked out your show a while ago through the GA podcast network, and I wanted to email you because I think your shows are interesting. I've had fun listening through them. The episodes keep getting better and better.

I'm always looking around for new shows to listen to because I'm a podcaster too. I do a weekly music review show called Have You Heard ( We interview musicians, talk about music news, and review two new records every week. You should check it out. I'd love some feedback on the show.

Support GA podcasters!

-Adam Trimble

Blue Balls said...

I grew up on Big Bill Hill, Herb Kent and Pervis Span when I was in grammar school, over 45 years ago. It's amazing that 2 of the above are still going strong!

I remember when Bill managed Howl'n Wolf and blatantly promoted Wolf constantly on his show.

Also, Bill used to broadcast a live show Saturday nights from a bar on the Westside that featured live blues acts, mostly a white blues act named Chicago Slim which Bill also managed. One night a group of us went down to the bar to see the show only to find out the club burned down days before.

Those were the days.

invisaman75 said...

"Now only if some video of "Red Hot and Blues" could be found!"

That would be a real treat!

Take&Don't Give said...

I have heard so much about this Big Bill Hill that I wish I had the opportunity to have spent at least part of my adult life with him he seems so amazing and talented. The memories that I have of him are flying in from Oakland CA to Chicago IL during the winter and walking up to this house where there were at least two generations of people in the house one of which I will never forget is my great Aunt who chewed tobacco and would always do my hair in pigtails that went the way they choose. She would spit into an old coffee can and spit at least three feet and make it every time. However I think my brother spent the best time with Big Bill Hill at the radio station he and my dad. One thing I do know is that this man Big Bill Hill loved us. R.I.P

Douglas and Bernadette Hill
Children of Thomas L. Hill

longmoneywolf said...

my mother is Billie marie hill. iam very proud to be William BIG BILL HILL's grandson. April 6 is BIG BILL HILL DAY

Mallam A Tifah
st louis mo

invisaman75 said...

Maybe one of the "Hills" could respond to this request:

Janice said...

I want to thank my nephew, Mallam and Grandson of the legendary trail-blazing Chicag radio personality pioneer Big "Bill" Hill for finding this site!!! Thank God for brought a tremendous feeling of joy to hear our Dad again...But even more important is possibly being able to hook up with our Brother Tommy's family in California, Douglas and 702-493-2053 ASAP please!!
Janice (Hill)Muhammad
Las Vegas, NV

Brenda said...

I believe I just found my long lost sister Janice! My name is Brenda and I'm the daughter of Minnie Thomas and Big Bill Hill. I never met any of my brothers and sisters on my father side. Yes, thank God for modern technology!!! I found this site over a year ago too. I have been looking all over the internet for anything related to my father. I even found a book that he's mentioned in. God is good and He answers prayers. Thanks to Mallam I have been able to get in touch with at least one of my sisters. I hope we can meet in person real soon. Longing to know the Hill's.


Brenda (Thomas) Jervier

keith said...

Hi, Friends
I lived across the street from Mr.Hill 3252w.Grenshaw st. And i must say we had a good time on that block in the 60,s.Yes he was well known. Central Park & Roosevelt Rd was where his radio show was broadcast,if i remember right. He had a T.V show like soul train ,before soul train. I am from the south too . And i really like what he did for black kids in those days.Much Love to the Hll Family. Terry Brinston

Always Changing said...

I remember one night on Red, Hot, and Blues they lit the end of a cardboard toilet paper tube on fire and set it over the end of the camera lens. What a cheap "special effect", but it was what made the show fun. That and the ads. "We don't care if you white, black, or whatever. Just grab your old lady or somebody else's old lady and come on down to Don's Cedar Club, Milwaukee at Division Street, where the happy people meet. The other just as bad commercial ads were a laugh. and I mean that whether you have good credit, bad credit, or no credit at all, your credit is good.

Thomas said...

Thank for this site My name is Thomas Mosley I am the grandson of The legendary Big Bill Hill I live in southern Ca. I would like to talk to all the Hill family.Thomas L Hill is my father. I am a Grandfather and I have 10 please call me. (951-570-8928)Pleas call me anytime I am a T.V.and film producer Stepfather call me Too.

Always Changing said...

"Broadcasting live from Don's Cedar Club, Milwaukee at Division Street, where the happy people meet." I heard that plug a hundred times watching "Red, Hot, and Blues with my brother Bob and my two brothers from another mother, Jim and Tom. We watched every weekend and had so much fun. Big Bill Hill was really something. I liked the live music part of the show too. I have been searching for a song that was sung one night called, Wishing Well I think. It started like, "I threw a nickel in the wishin' well, But my wishes just didn't come true. So I went to see an old Gypsy woman, to see what she could do." I think the guy singing it was Little Leon or something like that. Anybody can help me? I really would love to see some old videos of the show. Some of the commercials were great. One was for P&P, and the brothers doing the commercial were so nervous they couldn't get anything to go right. Those were good times.

Unknown said...

Thomas Mosley will like to talk to people doing research for accuracy I am one of the surviving grand sons.
(702) 473-0267

Gracie said...

In MY junior year to senior year listened to Big Bill Hill WOPA Oak Park. Broadcasted live from. "a lounge on Madison Street" One night he played. Never loved a Man". by Aretha 10 times in a row!! I was hooked!

dagardenguy said...

I worked the overnight engineering shift at WOPA AM & FM during Big Bill Hills show (I was going to college). I would do the hourly breaks from the Oak Park Arms Hotel and then switch to his bar / studio for his show. A great leaning experience!

Walt Jankowski
Bluffton SC

Unknown said...

what a great pleasure to hear this short clip of Bill. Used to listen to his show religiously as a young teen and loved hearing all the great Chicago blues artists live on the air.

davideternity99 said...

Does anyone remember the name of the song played when Red Hot & Blues came on???
The theme song...

Crazy Bob said...

I think it was "Chicken Shack"