Chicago Tribune | tc048
When Leonard and Phil Chess bought WHFC-AM 1450 in 1963, their goal was to promote Chess Records, renaming the outlet WVON — for Voice of the Negro. With just 1,000 watts of power, the station surprised everyone by becoming a broadcast sensation, indeed giving voice to a culture and community otherwise marginalized on the airwaves. Though music dominated — thanks to blues records from Pervis Spann and R&B tracks from Herb Kent and others — Wesley South’s legendary “Hot Line” talk show crackled with political discussion.
The rise of FM radio in the 1970s, however, reduced WVON’s audience and clout, precipitating several changes of ownership and shifts of position on the dial. WVON never quite recaptured the enormous audience of its past, but in 1986 it switched to a talk format that reclaimed Chicago’s imagination.