|Broadcast area||Chicago metropolitan area|
|Branding||AM 1690 WVON|
|Frequency||1690 AM (kHz)|
(also on HD Radio)
|Translator(s)||W252AW (98.3 MHz, Chicago)|
|First air date||2003|
|Power||10,000 watts (day)|
1,000 watts (night)
|Callsign meaning||"The Voice Of the Negro"|
"The Voice Of the Nation."
|Former callsigns||WHTE (1998–2003)|
|Operator||Midway Broadcasting Company|
(CC Licenses, LLC)
|Sister stations||WEBG, WGCI-FM, WGRB, WKSC-FM, WLIT, WVAZ|
|Webcast||Listen Live (via iHeartRadio)|
WVON ("The Voice of A Nation") is a radio station licensed to Berwyn, Illinois, serving the Chicago market, which airs an African-American-oriented talk format. WVON is owned by Midway Broadcasting Corporation, and broadcast on the 1690 kHz frequency via a LMA local marketing agreement with frequency owner iHeartMedia. WVON has studios on the city's South Side in the Avalon Park neighborhood, and a transmitter tower is located at 87th and Kedzie in the southwest side. WVON plans to move to the South Loop.
In 1963, the radio station's new owners began programming soul, and rhythm and blues music, changing the call letters to WVON. The station is noted for its cultural relevance and commitment to community advocacy and empowerment. For more than 50 years, the station has been at the forefront of issues impacting the Black community. It was a voice for Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s and a springboard for Barack Obama during the early days of his political career. Currently, the station has some of the country's best-respected thought leaders as talk show hosts including Al Sharpton, Tavis Smiley, Roland Martin, and Jesse Jackson Sr.
WVON began as WHFC in 1926, broadcasting from the Hotel Flanders in Chicago. Like many small stations of the time, WHFC was squeezed into a shared-time frequency, with as many as five stations taking turns on 1310.
In 1930, they were given permission to move to 1420 with two other stations. WHFC bought out the other two in 1936 and changed its city of license to Cicero, Illinois. WHFC was shifted to 1450 in 1941.
In 1963, WHFC became WVON when it was purchased by Leonard and Phil Chess, the owners of Chess Records, a successful record label specializing in blues music. WVON debuted on April 1, 1963 and quickly became a success playing R&B music, ranking consistently among the top five most listened to stations in the market. Despite having only 250 watts of power, WVON's non-directional signal was engineered well enough to blanket the south and west sides of Chicago.
WVON was a "heritage" station to Chicago's black community featuring great Black air personalities like Moses "Lucky" Cordell, Bruce Brown, Herb Kent "The Cool Gent", E. Rodney Jones, Cecil Hale, Joe "Youngblood" Cobb, Ed "Nassau Daddy" Cook, Bill "Butterball" Crane, Pervis Spann, Yvonne Daniels, Don Cornelius, Sid McCoy (who would accompany Cornelius when he formed Soul Train), Richard Pegue, Bernadine C. Washington, Jay Johnson, newsmen Roy Wood and Jim Moloney, a very young reporter/engineer Larry Langford and many others. WVON became well known outside the Chicago area as well. Berry Gordy, the president of Motown Records, sent every song he produced immediately to WVON before any other station. Other similar stations across the country took inspiration from WVON's format. The station also had an active role during the Civil Rights Movement, covering it extensively.
After Leonard Chess died in 1969, the Chess family decided to sell WVON to Globetrotter Communications, owned by George Gillette and Potter Palmer. In 1975, Globetrotter bought WNUS-AM-FM from the McLendon interests; they moved WVON from 1450 to the 5,000-watt former WNUS signal on 1390 on February 5 of that year at 3:30 p.m., which increased WVON's coverage area significantly. The 1450 frequency was left silent for a time. On August 24, 1976, FM classical music station WFMT was allowed to simulcast on 1450 as an interim operator while the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) evaluated applications for a new license for the frequency.
The FCC process resulted in a shared-time situation on the 1450 frequency, as applicants Midway Broadcasting Corporation and Migala Communications reached an agreement to split the broadcast day. Two former WVON personalities, Pervis Spann and Wesley South, were the principals of Midway Broadcasting. They accepted the random issue call sign WXOL. Migala chose WCEV ("We're Chicagoland's Ethnic Voice") as their call sign. Under the agreement, WCEV would operate from 1PM to 10PM Monday through Friday, with WXOL taking the rest of the hours. Both stations were on the air by October 1979; they shared a transmitting tower, but used different transmitters and processing chains. The 317-foot tower was located at the old WVON site at 3350 South Kedzie Avenue. WXOL broadcast from studios at that location, while WCEV built its own facilities on the northwest side of Chicago and used phone lines and later a 950 MHz studio-to-transmitter link to feed the transmitter elsewhere.
Meanwhile, in 1977, Globetrotter sold WVON to Gannett along with WGCI-FM, the former WNUS-FM that Globetrotter had picked up when it acquired the 1390 frequency. WGCI was also programmed to appeal to black audiences, and it and other FM stations won away many of WVON's listeners. WGCI became so successful that Gannett changed the call letters of 1390 from WVON to WGCI(AM) in 1983. Midway Broadcasting immediately filed a request with the FCC to change WXOL's call sign to WVON, thus returning the WVON call letters to their former home at 1450.
In 1986, WVON adopted its current black-oriented talk radio format.
On September 18, 2006, the station got another signal up grade when WVON's call letters and programming moved to 1690 AM broadcasting with 10,000 watts during the day. This happened when Midway Broadcasting took over management of the station using an LMA (like a lease agreement) on the frequency licensed to Berwyn, Illinois and owned by Clear Channel Communications (now known as iHeartMedia). The move displaced the oldies format of Clear Channel-operated WRLL on 1690. The WRLL call letters were assigned to Midway's half of the time-share on 1450.
- 50 years of Chicago's WVON: A Chicago voice that echoes nationwide Reich, Howard. Chicago Tribune. March 29, 2013. Accessed December 30, 2013
- Columbia College-Inside the Radio Studio with Dick Biondi & Herb Kent-100 Years On the Air-April 10, 2010 Archived May 20, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
- Forgotten Hits.com April 2, 2010-transcript of Robert Feder's Chicago Sun-Times column about the event
- Herb Kent-Radio Hall of Fame
- Kent, Herb; Smallwood, David, eds. (2009), The Cool Gent: The Nine Lives of Radio Legend Herb Kent, Lawrence Hill Books, p. 272, ISBN 1-55652-774-8, retrieved 2010-04-27
- Deeb, Gary (February 6, 1975). Chicago Tribune. pp. B10. Missing or empty
- "Classics on AM in Heavy Return to Chi Territory", Billboard. September 11, 1976. p. 39. Retrieved May 12, 2019.
- "Frequent Pals: Polka /R&B", Billboard. August 4, 1979. p. 20. Retrieved April 1, 2019.
- "Call letters", Broadcasting. October 17, 1983. p. 82. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
- http://hdradio.com/station_guides/widget.php?id=4 Archived 2016-09-16 at the Wayback Machine HD Radio Guide for Chicago
- Official website
- Query the FCC's AM station database for WVON
- Radio-Locator Information on WVON
- Query Nielsen Audio's AM station database for WVON