DJ Herb Kent has worked in radio for more than 60 years, and today he’s at V103. Credit: SUN-TIMES NEGATIVE COLLECTION

When I was a child, I listened to childish things. I put a B96 bumper sticker on my mom’s car in grade school, I was glued to Loveline and Q101 all through middle school, and I studied classic-rock radio with naive devotion in high school. So when my car’s tape player broke down six years ago and I was forced to listen to the radio again, I was excited to revisit all my favorite stations. But I quickly grew tired of my stereo presets—they were too familiar, too repetitive, and too clogged with commercials. I wandered up and down the dial till I eventually landed on WVAZ 102.7 FM. I never moved the tuner again.

V103 excels in three essential radio functions: it showcases the most skilled DJs, it has the most entertaining talk show hosts, and it plays the best music. At a time when terrestrial radio has to compete against podcasts and SiriusXM, it’s the only station in town that seems to focus on making the basics as strong as possible.

V103 hosts The Steve Harvey Morning Show, quite possibly the finest morning programming on terrestrial radio (and syndicated all over the country). The insightful and hilarious Doug Banks Radio Show, which aired in the afternoon, was just as good—I fervently recommended it to everyone until its host died this past April.

But music is what keeps me coming back to V103. It plays jams no one else does, and most important, its programming isn’t built around any kind of orthodoxy. If you tune in to classic-rock radio, you have to listen to “Free Bird” or “More Than a Feeling” or “All Right Now” at least once a day. Sometimes it seems like V103 doesn’t play the same song twice in a month.

Though in industry terms V103’s format is “urban adult contemporary,” it’s basically an R&B station. And its definition of “R&B” is flexible: Saturday I heard Loose Joints’ “Is It All Over My Face?,” a song I’d characterize as postpunk or avant-garde disco or protohouse. On weekends V103 might play obscure soul or Sade deep cuts. Once I was at a party with incredible music on the stereo, and when I asked the host what we were listening to, she said it was V103 DJ Maurice “Ice” Culpepper—she’d taped his sets of disco and funk and cut out the commercials.

Maybe you like to listen to NPR do imitation New Yorker stories on why humans are nervous, or turn on classic-rock radio and have your biases confirmed. But when I listen to the radio, I’m seeking out something I don’t know. The act of discovery gives me joy, and nothing on FM radio makes me happier than V103.  v