Herb Kent, Chicago Radio Legend
Herb Kent, was an urban radio pioneer. He was a voice of the community, a father, a friend and a living history lesson. To many Chicagoans, Herbert Rogers Kent, also known as the Cool Gent®, The King of the Dusties™, The Honorary Mayor of Bronzeville and Herbie Baby, stands for all these things and more. As one of the most important figures in Chicago radio history, Herb Kent was not only able to entertain and inform listeners on his weekly radio show, he also opened many doors for African Americans. Simply put, Herb Kent was a Chicago treasure and a bankable commodity.
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago in the Ida B. Wells housing community, a young Herb Kent displayed an early interest in radio when as a teenager, he built radio equipment, including his own set of microphones, from surplus World War II parts. Kent's strong desire to learn as much as he could about the radio industry was eventually realized at the age of 16 when he was accepted into the highly competitive WBEZ Radio Workshops.
From his early start at WBEZ, Kent went on to join a local community theater group known as the Skyloft Players. Young and eager to learn, Kent performed on stage and soon realized that many of the skills required to be a successful stage actor applied to radio as well. Kent’s early theatrical training would later help develop such popular radio characters as, "The Wahoo Man," "Gym Shoe Creeper," and "The Electric Crazy People." "I brought theater of the mind to radio," said Kent.
While attending Northwestern University a white professor said, “Herb you have a great voice and are the best student in the class but you’ll never make it in radio because you’re a Negro.” Those words motivated Herb to push even harder.
In 1949, Kent received his first paid radio job at WGRY in Gary, Indiana for $35 dollars a week. WGRY at that time had only two radio personalities. With Herb being one of two DJs, he was able to learn every aspect of putting a radio show together from producing, writing, and interviewing, to polishing his own on-air presence on twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week.
Back in the fifties, Herb Kent’s first fan club was formed and the nickname, Cool Gent was born. Around that same time Herb coined the term, dusty records™ to describe old-time favorite hits. "The dust in the grooves makes them crackle," said Kent. Throughout his radio career working at stations like WVON, WJJD and WGCI, Herb Kent interviewed many of today’s music legends including, Duke
Ellington, Smokey Robinson, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and Marvin Gaye just to name a few. Kent even gave career advice to a young man with his own dreams for success in the entertainment industry, Soul Train creator Don Cornelius. Herb also began forming challenges he called Battle of the Best®.
In addition to his accomplishments as a radio personality, Kent was an active community and civil rights leader. He spent many years serving as a role model to the African American community by encouraging young people. "Stay in school and avoid gang involvement, that was my theme" stated Kent. In the 1960’s, during the height of the civil rights movement, Herb hosted a program with Stevie Wonder, for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last visit to Chicago. Ironically, it was also Kent, who, after the assassination of Dr. King, took to the airwaves to calm rioters on Chicago’s West Side in the late 60s. For his many years of service and dedication to the community, the City of Chicago has bestowed numerous honors upon Kent, among them, a street named in his honor, "Herb Kent Drive" and Honorary Mayor of Bronzeville. In 1995, he was inducted into the Museum of Broadcasting’s Radio Hall of Fame.
In the late 90’s Kent ventured into local television as the host of the popular dance show called, "Steppin’ at Club Seven", later to be renamed "The New Dance Club."
Herb hosted two highly rated shows on WVAZ FM, Kent was also a lecturer to communication students at Chicago State communication students at Chicago State University. Herb always reached back to youth to share his knowledge and experiences. Just as in the 60's, Herb continued to coach youth and tell them to stay in school and never give up your dream.
In January 2009, Herb released a book telling his story titled, The Cool Gent: The Nine Lives of Radio Legend Herb Kent.
In 2014, Herb began the documentary titled Froze In My Clothes started. The documentary is now a finalist in The 2018 Africa World Documentary Film Festival. The 3-D documentary will be released early Spring 2018.
Herb passed on October 22, 2016.