Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The First Black Radio Announcer (Part 6)

Charles Walton called Al Benson the Godfather of Black Radio.He was a DJ (obviously) a musician and recording artist, a record producer an ordained minister, and a civil rights activist. Born in Jackson,  Missisippi, Benson worked vaudeville as a child and relocated to Chicago with his parents in 1923. He was only 15 years old. The success of Jack L Cooper on WSBC opened the door to some possibilities in Chicago and Benson walked through it.

The Chicago Tribute wrote that he "worked as a probation officer, railroad cook and precinct captain..." He went on to found a small church under his real name Arthur Leaner. Then in 1943 he began to broadcast his church services, sermons and gospel music on 1390 WGES-AM Sunday nights. The station signed on in 1925 as WTAY-AM and in the 1920s was a 3-way dayshare with WSBT and WJKS. In 1925 Coyne Electrical School purchased the station changed its call letters to WGES. It changed hands a coupel more times and in 1941 WGES left the share and moved to 1390 kHz and increased it's power from 500 watts power to 5,000 watts. By 1945 Benson also had another program spinning blues and jump music.

Benson introduced his show with the song  "9 O'clock Beer" by the Barney Bigard Quintet. He would stay with WGES until 1962 when it flipped to Top-40 as WYNR. The new owrner, Gordon McLendon fired all of its foreign language programmers and black DJs... including Benson. (It failed and went all-news in 1964)
 Benson was popular in Chicago. He cross the street and began DJing at WJJD. But the uproar over WGES continued. There were complaints the the FCC. There was a big polish population in Chicago that just got the palm.  The FCC held hearings.. but nada.

Benson cross the street to WHFC-AM and when the station was bought by Leonard Chess it was a dream come true. Under Leonard the station became a 24/7 black radio station as WVON. But he worked only a month more and announced his retirement in 1963. He did a couple part time gigs at WAIT, WWCA and WIMS. He died in 1978.