Defending WVON

To the editor:

I’m at a loss to account for Mike Miner’s September 27 Hot Type account of Lowell Thompson’s run-in with WVON radio. On the way to defending an unaired commercial for an undiscussed book by an unknown (to me) “black ad man,” Miner trashes WVON, the media home of Chicago’s progressive African-American community (30,000 listeners), as “a call-in station on which white folks are pilloried from dawn to dusk.”

This charge is off base on several counts. For years ‘VON has shared its 1450 AM frequency with WCEV (Chicago’s Ethnic Voice), broadcasting mornings and nights, with WCEV using the afternoon time. If ‘VON were a hotbed of black racism as Miner implies, scores of regular white on-air guests, including Paul Simon and Judy Baar Topinka, would have nothing to do with it. In my experience as a daily listener, on-air hosts quickly correct the occasional “audience calumny” that Miner complains of. More important still, most on-air callers quite plainly have bent over backwards to be on equal terms with whites.

On the phone, Miner told me he doesn’t listen much to ‘VON. Neither do other mainstream Chicago media critics. So here’s a taste of what they’re missing.

WVON morning drive-time host Cliff Kelley is one of Chicago’s two or three best-informed and most effective media personalities. By any objective standard–credentials of on-air guests, depth and breadth of discussions of topics local, national, and international, time spent on air over the years, respect commanded in the community–Kelley is to African-American progressives what John Callaway is to the audience of Chicago public TV. If I could put two political thinkers in a room to learn from each other, they would be Cliff Kelley and Noam Chomsky. He is that sharp.

Anchored by Kelley’s weekday morning call-in show (6 to 10 AM) and enriched by Deborah Crable (middays) and Lu Palmer (evenings), ‘VON’s education coverage is for my money the most informative in Chicago. If you want to know how school reform is playing out with parents of the students who actually attend city schools, WVON is the place to be. School superintendent Paul Vallas is a regular on-air guest. ‘VON isn’t perfect–like all Chicago media, it has yet to make on-air partners of young people and adults in defining and solving the problems that threaten Chicago children, schools, and neighborhoods–but it’s doing a better job of building an informed, child-centered community on the south and west sides than any other medium I can think of.

Steve Sewall