NABJ Chicago statement on the passing of Pervis Spann
The NABJ-Chicago board of directors sends our deepest condolences to the family of radio pioneer Pervis Spann, including our long-time member, Melody Spann Cooper, Chair and CEO of the Midway Broadcasting Corporation. One of the Original “Good Guys,” Mr. Spann’s storied career as a disc jockey did not just change radio; it revolutionized Chicago. Making the world take notice of Chicago’s rich legacy of Black heritage, Black political power, and Black economic veracity. Mr. Spann was a “kingmaker” in the entertainment industry, once notably dubbing a young Aretha Franklin as the “Queen of Soul.” As a DJ and concert promoter, Mr. Spann was a cultural curator, not only providing an outlet for listeners to hear their favorite hits, but also providing Black Chicagoans with a platform to live freely, giving voice to the greatest hopes and fears of a generation.
NABJ National President and Chicago chapter board member, Dorothy Tucker reflects “Back in the day, almost every Black home you walked into in Chicago was tuned into to WVON. It was and still is a reliable source of news and information that reports the truth about America through an unapologetic Black lens. Pervis Spann was the visionary who made this possible. We owe him a debt of gratitude.”
And the debt we owe Mr. Spann extends far beyond his legendary career as a DJ. Along with his business partner and fellow Good Guy Wesley South, Mr. Spann established the Midway Broadcasting Corporation, purchased the 1450 AM radio signal, and launched a radio station in 1979, making them one of the few African Americans in the country to own an African-American media outlet. That rare legacy, as an African-American media owner, had an incalculable impact on Black Journalism, allowing WVON to serve as a safe space for Black truth-telling as well as a training ground for the careers of some of the country’s best-known Black journalists and media personalities.
NABJ Chicago Chapter President Brandon Pope says “Pervis Spann’s impact on Black journalists in this city was colossal. He gave Black Chicagoans the power of voice and brought much-needed diversity to the airwaves. Our stories and our culture deserve a platform, and Pervis fought for that his whole career. The station has been a pivotal opportunity generator for countless NABJ-Chicago members, including myself. This is a tremendous loss for our city, and we can’t thank him enough for the legacy he’s left. Now it’s on us to carry the torch and uplift others as he did.”
While we remain devastated by Mr. Spann’s loss, we are comforted by the fact that the legacy of his work lives on, as WVON remains. “As someone who grew up listening to WVON and still has my radio dial set on 1690, we are fortunate that Pervis’ daughter Melody Spann-Cooper continues to carry out his mission and uphold his legacy. Condolences to the Spann family. May our radio hero RIH, Rest In Heaven,” Tucker says.
Our prayers remain with his wife, children, and family.