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11 Jan 2010

Wesley South: A Radio Pioneer

Listed under: Blog

Wesley South, pioneering Chicago radio owner and personality, dies at 95

By William Lee
Chicago Tribune

Wesley W. South, 95, a longtime journalist who was a staple at the black-owned WVON radio station, died Saturday, Jan. 9, in his home in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, according to a statement from the station.

Mr. South, who was the chairman emeritus of Midway Broadcasting Corp. and hosted the popular talk program “Hotline,” was a pioneering voice in African-American talk radio.

Mr. South, a former columnist for Chicago’s American, began his radio career with WVON in 1963. The program’s first major coup was when it aired one of the last interviews with civil rights activist Medgar Evers before he was murdered in June 1963.

Out of WVON’s small Brighton Park studio, Mr. South, a veteran of World War II and a former union activist, interviewed such luminaries as Sen. Robert Kennedy, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., baseball great Jackie Robinson and activist Malcolm X, according to the station. One notable local, however — Mayor Richard J. Daley — refused to come on Mr. South’s program, the Tribune reported.

The program’s ability to attract political heavyweights and its willingness to tackle hot-button topics ushered in the station’s switch from music to talk.

In 1975, Mr. South and disc jockey Pervis Spann formed Midway Broadcasting and acquired WVON. In 1986, Mr. South changed WVON’s format from music to full-time talk, positioning the station as a powerhouse for community activism and empowerment. The change caused tension between Mr. South and Spann, who would battle for years over control over the station.

Mr. South, one of the first African-Americans to graduate from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, also wrote for the Chicago Defender, the Chicago Daily News and Johnson Publishing Co.