State of Sound

State of Sound Radio Studio

Gates Stereo 80 On-Air Control Board, ca. 1970s

Due to its location in the center of America, the sound of Pop, Rock n’ Roll, Blues, Jazz, and Country music on Illinois radio resonated across the nation. You cannot tell the story of the sound of Illinois without honoring the heartfelt connection between music and radio.

A clear channel frequency blasts out 50,000 watts and on a clear night, Chicago radio can be heard in nearly forty states and southern Canada. WLS-AM’s clear channel power is best known for its Rock years. But the Chicago station was founded in 1924 by Sears, Roebuck, and Company with the abbreviation of “World’s Largest Store.” WLS-AM was the home of the “National Barn Dance” between 1924 and 1959. Over the years, the barn dance featured live performances by Gene Autry, Red Foley, and singing cowgirl Patsy Montana.

The station lassoed the moon in May 1960, when it adopted a full-time Rock format. WLS-AM disc jockeys became Midwest celebrities. They included Dick Biondi, Clark Weber, Larry Lujack, John “Records” Landecker, Art Roberts, Bob Sirott, and Yvonne Daniels. WLS-AM continued to play music until 1989, when it moved to the all-talk format that remains today.

No Chicago radio station had more of a socio-personal connection with listeners than WVON-AM. WVON was born in 1963 with the call letters “Voice of the Negro” (now “Voice of the Nation”). Chess Records owners Leonard and Phill Chess acquired the station as a way to promote their Black artists. WVON was the only AM station in Chicago where you could regularly hear artists like Muddy Waters.

Like lightning on a tree, the arrival of FM rock splintered AM audiences across America.

Chicago’s earliest progressive FM stations included WXRT-FM with Radio Hall of Famer and beloved WXRT star Terri Hemmert, who got her start at Oak Park’s WGLD in 1970 after graduating from nearby in Elmhurst College.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, WSDM-FM played smooth Jazz and was known as “The Station With the Girls” because of its all-female on-air talent that included Yvonne Daniels and future television newsperson Linda Ellerbee.

In 1977, WSDM became WLUP. “The Loop” ushered in a new, raucous style of Rock radio. The station’s first stars were Steve Dahl and Garry Meier, Sky Daniels (also music director), and Mitch Michaels. Dahl, Meier, and “The Loop” achieved national attention for their 1979 “Disco Demolition” shenanigans. “The Loop” continued a forty-year-run with talents like Jonathan Brandmeier, Mancow Muller, and Bob Stroud. “The Loop” closed down in March 2018 by playing AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” before it transitioned into a Christian station.

What was known as “deep album rock” had high times between 1970 and 1981 at WTAO-FM in Carbondale. WTAO had a rapt audience with Southern Illinois University students, so programming included live local music, the syndicated King Biscuit Flower hour, and Sunday morning talks from spiritualist Baba Ram Dass.

“The Midnight Special” is Chicago’s longest-running Folk music program. The weekly show on Classical music/fine arts WFMT-FM was created in 1953 by Mike Nichols when he invited Blues singer Big Bill Broonzy and banjo player Fleming Brown to perform in a small studio in the Hotel Guyon on the West Side of Chicago.

Gates CB-77 Pro Broadcast Turntable

ITC Pro 1/4" Reel to Reel Tape Recorder

ITC 3-Deck Pro Tape Cartridge Machine

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