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Lucky Cordell

Disc jockey Moses “Lucky” Cordell, affectionately known as “The Baron of Bounce,” was born in Grenada, Mississippi, on July 28, 1928, to Grace and Moses Cordell. At age three, his mother died unexpectedly and his family moved to Chicago. Cordell attended Chicago Public Schools and graduated from Dunbar Technical High School in 1946. Shortly after graduation, Cordell joined the U.S. Army, serving in the Special Services Branch. While in the military, Cordell developed his theatrical ability. He received an honorable discharge in 1948. He was hired at WGES as a disk jockey in 1952 to work under Al Benson.

While working at WGRY in Gary, Indiana, Cordell hosted the popular show House of Hits. The show was well known for its audience participation and became a community favorite among African Americans in Gary. In 1956, local newspapers held an election for the “Honorary Mayor of the Negro Community” and Cordell won unanimously (beating four other radio personalities, religious leaders and political leaders). He held this honor for four years, until he decided not to run in 1960.

Cordell worked at several other radio stations in the Chicago area before taking a position as a disc jockey at WVON in Chicago. WVON, owned and operated by Chess Records, would become one of the most influential radio stations in United States history. Cordell became WVON’s program and music director in 1965, and in 1968 he was promoted to assistant general manager. After a change in station ownership in late 1970, Cordell became general manager. Under his leadership, the station increased its ratings and almost doubled the income received from advertising.

In the late 1960s, Cordell joined the Chicago Urban League. After retiring from the radio business, Cordell remained an active member of Chicago’s African American community.

Cordell passed away on September 6, 2015.

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James R. Doolittle, Jr. Elementary School

Dunbar Vocational Career Academy High School

Radio Institute of Chicago

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Las Vegas, Nevada

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Chili, Chicken

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Short Description

Radio personality Lucky Cordell (1928 - 2015 ) , affectionately known as “The Baron of Bounce,” Cordell was a disc jockey at WVON in Chicago becoming the program and music director in 1965 and the general manager in the late 1970s. Under his leadership, the station increased its ratings and almost doubled the income received from advertising.


United States Army

WGES Radio

WGRY radio station

WVON Radio

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Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Lucky Cordell interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Lucky Cordell's favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Lucky Cordell remembers his father

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Lucky Cordell discusses his mother

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Lucky Cordell recounts an accident in his family

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Lucky Cordell discusses his upbringing

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Lucky Cordell remembers his childhood friends

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Lucky Cordell shares memories from his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Lucky Cordell recalls a dangerous encounter from his youth

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Lucky Cordell explains his nickname

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Lucky Cordell remembers inspirational figures from his youth

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Lucky Cordell explains choosing a vocational education

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Lucky Cordell details his service in the U.S. military

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Lucky Cordell describes his pursuit of a career in radio broadcasting

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Lucky Cordell details his business relationship with radio personality Al Benson

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Lucky Cordell explains his interest in radio broadcasting

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Lucky Cordell remembers radio personality Al Benson

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Lucky Cordell discusses radio personality Al Benson's career ascent

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Lucky Cordell describes the radio industry in the 1950s

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Lucky Cordell details the end of radio personality Al Benson's career

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Lucky Cordell discusses his radio career at WGRY in Gary, Indiana

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Lucky Cordell recalls his participation in the Skyloft Players theater troupe during the 1950s

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Lucky Cordell describes his popularity in Gary, Indiana in the 1950s

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Lucky Cordell talks about establishing his reputation as the 'Baron of Bounce' at WGRY in Gary, Indiana

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Lucky Cordell explains his transition from WGRY in Gary, Indiana to WGES in Chicago, Illinois in 1961

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Lucky Cordell talks about the music and the disc jockeys on WGES in Chicago circa 1961

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Lucky Cordell discusses leaving Chicago's WGES for Chicago's WVON in 1964

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Lucky Cordell dicusses his relationship with Leonard Chess, owner of WVON and Chess Records

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Lucky Cordell addresses the subject of working for a radio station owned by a record company

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Lucky Cordell shares an anecdote about a disc jockey named The Magnificent Montague

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Lucky Cordell discusses his alliance with the disc jockeys during changes in WVON's ownership

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Lucky Cordell talks about running afoul of advertisers at WVON

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Lucky Cordell describes the office environment during his stint as general manager at WVON

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Lucky Cordell explains why he was chosen to be general manager of WVON

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Lucky Cordell dicusses the Black History Week programming that he produced at WVON

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Lucky Cordell describes WVON station politics surrounding the management shift and disc jockey Joe Cobb

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Lucky Cordell talks about WVON disc jockey Herb Kent's personality

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Lucky Cordell relates an anecdote about WVON disc jockeys Herb Kent and E. Rodney Jones

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Lucky Cordell talks about some of the WVON disc jockeys during the 1960s

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Lucky Cordell talks about the nicknames used by the disc jockeys at WVON

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Lucky Cordell discusses 'The Black History Series' he produced

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Lucky Cordell discusses a CHA radio project he worked on with Chicago Mayor Harold Washington after leaving WVON

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Lucky Cordell talks about his affiliation with Reverend Jesse Jackson and Operation PUSH

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Lucky Cordell discusses changes in black radio from his career through the present







Lucky Cordell details his business relationship with radio personality Al Benson
Lucky Cordell relates an anecdote about WVON disc jockeys Herb Kent and E. Rodney Jones
I went to Al Benson who gave me a job. It was an Al Benson production and Lucky Cordell show. And I started with I think it was fifteen minutes, or half-hour or something. It was a short amount of time. And he put Tom Duncan--Tom Duncan and I like at each other. It was like these two young men wanna be disk jockeys on the Al Benson program. Now you send in, I don't know, bottle caps or something. I think it was Budweiser beer or something. But he had the audience voting for us by sending in these labels. And so now the thing is the label of the beer, whatever it was wasn't selling good. So he was very smart. He was smart enough to say, how can I jack up the sales? So he didn't care if I had my family and friends go out and buy tons of the stuff. You know, he didn't care. All he wanted was the response. So I won that. I became the disk jockey. Then I got a half-hour with him. Finally got an hour with him. And I'd say to him, "Mr. Benson I'd really like to get some sponsors." So he says, "You're not ready yet." So I was asking, "Can I go out and sell." You know. 'Cause I knew that's where the money was. Every time I'd ask him, he'd say, "You're not ready." I saying to myself, how do I get ready? So he had a newspaper. And he said to me, "Well you know, I'm not gonna pay you this money for you to do an hour at night." I said, "Well what--" He said, "I want you to work at the newspaper office during the day." Okay so there I was working in the newspaper office during the day and working the radio at night, which meant I had no time to go and get any sponsors. Benson was not selling at the time. And he used me and the other young fellow to say to ownership, look, I got these two hotshots in here. They're not selling anything. Better than me not selling, you know. So the break came when I--one day I went to work and on my lunch period, I went to a cleaners and sold them an account. Came back to the newspaper. And this was when I began to realize what was happening. I said, "Mr. Benson, good news. I just sold my first account." And he went off. "You did what? I didn't tell you were ready! You're not--" He says, "You know, you can't sign any contracts because I work for the radio station. You work for me." I said, "Yeah I know that. I didn't sign it." Then the--you see the light go on over his head. He said, "Oh maybe you are ready." He put his signature on it. Which means he sold it. Okay? Then he gave me free reign. You know, like, you're ready now. You can go out and sell whatever you want to." And I must have sold six accounts. And an account called in. 'Cause one of the accounts that I sold said, "I'll buy this time. But you must do my commercial. I don't want Benson doing my commercial." There were some who, because he talked, you know, very--and they wanted somebody that spoke better. He came in one night feeling good. He had some guests with him. He said, "Lucky," he says, "Listen I've got some friends here and you take the night off. I'm gonna do the show." So he's gonna do my show. "Okay Mr. Benson." He did the show and he did the commercial. The people called up the next day infuriated. "I'm not paying for that commercial. I told Lucky when he sold me that I was only gonna do--" Dr. Dyer. The light went on in his head. He called me upstairs. Now this was--he said--sent me a message. Lucky, Dr. Dyer wants to see you." Benson had threatened me within an inch by saying, "Don't you ever go upstairs. You have no business up there. Because you work for me." 'Cause he didn't want a closeness between the owners and me. So here I am. What do I do now? He said don't go up there and the man who owns the station says he wants to see me. So I took the shot and went on up to see him. And it went something like, "Lucky you're doing good and I just want to congratulate you. And listen you've sold several accounts haven't you?" I said, "Yes sir." He said, "About how many?" "Well I don't know five or six." He said, "Listen I'm looking for my list around here. Can you remember who they were?" I'm innocent. I started naming the accounts. 'Cause I didn't know Benson was taking credit and not telling the man that I was involved. So after that meeting, when I came in that night--I still got the letter. There was a letter. Dear Lucky: As of tonight I will no longer need your services. I will be doing the show myself. Maybe we can work together in the future. Signed Al Benson. 'Cause I'd gone upstairs. So the next day, I went up to see Dr. Dyer. And I said, "Dr. Dyer." I said, "Is there any time that is available that I can get my own time? Because Mr. Benson just fired me." He said, "He did what?" I said, "He said he no longer need my services." He said, "Well I--you come in tonight to work. I'll speak with Mr. Benson." They tell me he cursed him up one wall and down the other. "You're trying to get rid of this kid whose selling and you're not selling." And blah blah blah. So then I came in the next night as if I came in to pick up my things. There was another letter. Dear Lucky: I have reconsidered your position as disc jockey and you will continue in your present position for the time being or something. So I stayed there with him like I say for at least a couple of years. Finally realizing I can't progress under this man. Everything I do he's gonna take credit for. So I put the word out that I was looking. And it was Leonard Chess who said to me one day when I visited him in his office--Because who would hear about jobs. Record people. Music people would hear about jobs available. I was about ready to go out of town. He said, "Lucky there's a position open in Gary, Indiana. A little station called WGRY." Well Gary at that time sounded to me like going to the moon. I didn't realize it was a stone's throw. So I thanked him and I did go out there. I took the audition. The man liked me. And I stayed out there for eight years. And finally I said, I wanna go back to Chicago radio. That's when I went to Dr. Dyer and he gave me my own show.$[E.] Rodney [Jones] and Herb [Kent] were in a contest together. Now this was a station [WVON radio station, Chicago, Illinois] promotion. It was the same kind of thing that had been done many stations--many times. Send in a label and vote for your favorite DJ [disc jockey]. Now this was all the disc jockeys. And that gave them the opportunity of hyping saying, "Vote for me." You know. "Hey, you know, I'm in this contest. Vote for me." So Herb and Rodney were the closest. They were the leaders. Everybody else had fallen behind. And there was a guy who was a sponsor of Herb Kent's who pulled a truck. He owned a grocery store. He pulled a truck up in the lot and had two people in there ripping off labels, gonna vote for Herb Kent. Well Herb Kent won it thumbs down. I mean the man unloaded half a truck of labels. To show you how people get involved. Here he is a sponsor. He wanted the one that he was pulling for to win. 'Cause Herb did his commercials. The story goes that he was like a lightweight gangster. And one day Rodney was called into the office. And this guy had--he was a little guy. But he had two big guys with him. Oh--the reason he wanted to see Rodney was Rodney jokingly made fun of the fact that Herb Kent had stolen the, you know. "He didn't really beat me. But he stole the election. " You know. And that was like calling this guy's representatives a thief. He came out there. He said, "And don't you ever call me--say I'm crooked!" Pow! Fired on him. And Leonard was there. And it was hushed up. It never was, you know, never known. I'll tell you who the guy was. He was the guy that later was busted for--he had a plant. And they were wrapping--they were putting butter wrappers on margarine. It was really margarine. And they had a plant doing it. So naturally, he could undersell any store in town. Butter, you know, so much a pound. They caught up with him in his operation. They busted that. So there were a couple of things that, you know, were a little shady about the boy. And nobody ever knew that. That's really--because, you know, that's the kind of story--who's gonna tell it? Have him coming after you, you know.