Thursday, March 07, 2024

E. Rodney Jones, The World's Greatest Disc Jockey

I first found Mr. E. Rodney Jones on the back of a cassette. It was the back of the album: War Live  UA-CA193-J to be specific. (By the way, it's a fine album) Looking online for more info on the release I couldn't actually find any about the cassette, but that's common for 1970s tapes. Here's an image of the 8-track, a format which has somehow retained more cultural caché. [LINK]

So the note is just a one line attribution. "Introductions By E. Rodney Jones Of Radio Station WVON, Chicago, Ill."  This would be WVON-AM. The station moved from 1450 to the former 5,000-watt WNUS signal on 1390 in February of 1974. This particular "War Live!" album was released that same month and year, so it's pretty likely that the frequency was 1450 when it was recorded but that Jones would have been giving the station ID as 1390 WVON when he first spun the record. The band War released 13 albums between 1970 and 1979, so suffice it to say that Jones probably said their name a lot.

While researching this record I learned that The "E" in E. Rodney Jones stands for Earl. I also discovered that he has a robust discography of his own. It includes an oddity, released in 2005 the album "E. Rodney Jones, the World's Greatest Disc Jockey Presents... the World Series Of Blues & Soul Vol. 1"   [LINK])  Similar to his intro on "War Live!" Jones introduces the compilation. What follows is 19 tracks of blues and soul artists like Guitar Shorty, Ruth Brown, Jimmy Reed, Lightning Slim and several folks I've honestly never heard of.  It looks like something you'd find in a truck stop record bin. But wait is that Tom Joyner on the left?

Tom Joyner was born in 1975 so he was all of 30 years old on that album cover. E. Rodney Jones died in 2004, so this is probably his last recording at the age of 76!  The art is honestly a little cheesey, with the clip art, but E. Rodney Jones is a legend. I needed to hear this. I found a copy on Amazon for $1.50. Apparently people do not agree with me that this is a collectors item.

Jone's short bios usually say something like "The late E. Rodney Jones may have been the most prolifically-recorded of the great R&B DJs." Below is a list of just recordings where he was the writer and/or performing artist. He also produced records for folks like Mel Brown, wrote the liner notes for Major Lance and Jackie Ivory. He even wrote lyrics for Richard Parker, Mamie Galore, and Snooks Eaglin.

LP  E. Rodney Jones/Lafayette Leake Trio
 Might is Right
 E. Rodney Jones  At Heave's Grocery Store
 1982/Hep' Me
E. Rodney Jones R&B Time Pt. 1 / R&B Time Pt. 2
E. Rodney Jones & Larry & The Hippies Band
Right On, Right On / Chicken On Down
1970/Double Soul
E. Rodney Jones & Larry & The Hippies Band Right On / Football
E. Rodney Jones & Willie Henderson
The Whole Thing / Loose Booty 1972/Brunswick
E. Rodney Jones Peace Of Mind / Do The Thang ?/Tuff
V/A ...The World Series Of Blues & Soul 2005/S.D.E.G.
War War Live!
45 E. Rodney Jones  Pushing The Buck / Soul Sister
?/Double Soul
45 Syl Johnson & E. Rodney Jones Soul Heaven/Is It Because I'm Black Pt.2
E.Rodney Jones & The Prairie Dogs
Country And Western
1970/Concert Hall

Was this pay back for play back? Probably some of the time. Alan Freed did the same thing and Jones wasn't just a DJ, he was also a manager. In 1973 Jones testified (with immunity) about payola in Federal Court along with several other radio programmers. I'll re-quote the New York Times article here:

"E. Rodney Jones, program director of WVON, Chicago, said he had received a total of $2,000 on six occasions from Mr. Moore, which the witness described as “a token of his appreciation” He said he also received airline tickets from Mr. Moore... “Gifts or money have never had any influence on my playing of records,” Mr. Jones said. “If I didn't believe it was a potential hit, it wouldn't have been played.”"

Mr. Moore there would be Melvin Moore, a promoter from Brunswick records. Moore was in many ways similar to Jones. He was a jazz trumpeter and vocalist from Tulsa, OK. He performed with Ernie Fields’ orchestra and Zoot Sims, Lucky Millinder, even Dizzy Gillespie's band. In 1963 he got a straight job at Decca Decca Records as a promoter, then moved to Brunswick records in 1966. By 1970 he was their director of R&B promotions. More here and here.

The breadth of Jone's career is difficult to measure. He worked for more than 20 years at WVON-AM in Chicago with an afternoon program calling himself "the Mad Lad."That's the tenure his was best known for, but he moved all over the country which in may ways spread his style of R&B programming, he personally shaped R&B as a radio format.  

Jones was born in Texarkana, AR in 1927 (or 1928). Every biography fixates on his long tenure at WVON. But his career didn't stop or start there. A 1968 radio programming guide [LINK] gives one of the more plausible biographies of his early years:

 "[He] began his career as a band musician in Texarkana. Later became a MC., then worked a trick in Kansas City, Mo., moved to KXLW in St. Louis and WBBR in East St. Louis for 8 yrs. In 1962, the "Mad Lad" moved to Chicago joining WVON in 1963."

There are biographies that claim he worked at a local station in Texarkana, this is difficult to corroborate. The band story makes more sense. And can be corroborated. [SOURCE] We can even narrow down what station pretty easily.  Between the 1947 and 1957 editions of the radio Broadcasting annual only three stations exist in Texarkana: 1230 KCMC-AM/98.1 KCMC-FM and 1400 KTFS-AM, only adding 790 KOSY-AM to the market in 1951. That's three of the 5 radio stations in the whole state of Arkansas. He confirmed it was KTFS in a taped interview [SOURCE] for the book Black Radio : Telling It Like It Was. He also names the old top-40 station 1490 KUDL in that interview but not KXLW though the latter has many citations. KUDL signed on in 1953 so that does little to box in the time frame. But his brief time at WBBR is time-bound, they only used the call WAMV from 1961 - 1963. It's corroborated by a short "Good Guys" bio in the 1968 WVON Holiday LP.

1400 KTFS  Texarkana, AR
1490 KUDL
 Kansas City, MO
1320 KXLW
St. Louis, MO
1957 - 1960
1500 WBBR
East St. Louis, MO
1961 - 1962
1390 WYNR
Chicago, IL
1450 WVON
Chicago, IL
1963 - 1976
1570 WBEE
Chicago, IL
940 WYLD
New Orleans, LA
1090 KAAY
Little Rock, AR
1310 KDIA
San Francisco, CA
1460 WXOK
Baton Rouge, LA
106.3 KQXL
Baton Rouge, LA 1994

I think Jones had departed WVON in 1977 or 1978 as WVON and WXOL had been forced into a time share agreement by then changing both stations. One Billboard reference in 1994 reports that he was a program director at KDIA, but that's hard to fit into his timeline. Multiple references cite his combined tenure at WXOK-AM and KQXL-FM in Baton Rouge to be more than 12 years. It seems highly likely but there are few references to confirm the dates.

E. Rodney Jones time at WVON -AM in the 60s and 70s made him a superstar. He became known to the station's audience as one of "The Good Guys," one of five radio personalities handpicked by the owner Leonard Chess. 

We don't have line ups today like The Good Guys on WVON 1390. We barely have line ups. Above is the top 45 at WVON from June 20-26 1975. The word soul today evokes an entirely different genre really. But check out those DJs: Lucky Cordell, Bernadine Washington, Pervis Spann, Bill 'Doc' Leem Joe Cobb, Bill Crane, Jay Johnson, Cecile Hale, Herb Kent, Wesley South, Richard Pegue, Isabel Johnson, Ed Cook, Jim Maloney, Earl Law, Larry Langford and E. Rodney Jones! Don't touch that dial!  A 1972 list would have looked quite similar missing only Langford from the list.

E. Rodney Jones is a member of the Black Radio Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Living Legend Award in the Radio Smithsonian Institute. He career spanned over 40 years but he is forever one of the Good Guys.


  1. Jose, I have a couple airchex of Earl Rodney. Let me know if ya want a copy.

  2. Anonymous10:17 AM

    hell yeah

  3. To what email should i send the audio file?

  4. mackdaddyg1:00 PM

    Sharing those airchecks someplace like would be greatly appreciated as well.

  5. Freud2:21 AM

    The "World Series..." discogs album link goes to a Chumbawamba album called The Boy Bands Have Won. Freudian slip?

  6. Anonymous1:57 PM

    I like it when people find my Easter Eggs.