The Crusader Newspaper Group

WVON’s Cliff Kelley gets told off

‘The Governor’ of talk radio gets an earful during fun-filled roast

By Erick Johnson

It was A.R. Leak Sr.’s turn to speak. He was ready to give WVON’s Cliff Kelley a good licking.

Dressed in his typical business suit, he asked Kelley the question that he probably always wanted to ask.

“How do you get all these pretty women, ‘cuz you sure don’t look good.”

The crowd erupted in laughter.

Then there was the roast from Father Michael Pfleger of Saint Sabina Church. Some of his words weren’t holy. He said everyone knows “Mr. Kelley, that you ain’t no bulls – – – ­.”

The Parkway Ballroom in Bronzeville rocked with laughter and nostalgia on Saturday, November 16. Many of Black Chicago’s movers and shakers honored Kelley with a spirit-filled evening where they celebrated “The Governor of Talk,” whose contributions as a radio host made him a household name in a career that spanned three decades.

For years Kelley lit up the airwaves, but on this night, his guests lit him up.

Some 300 guests packed the Parkway Ballroom to express their gratitude months after Kelley signed off on his namesake show on WVON. For many longtime fans, it was a move that was bittersweet. Kelley didn’t retire, but “rewired” as he continues to host another show, “America’s Heroes Group” on Saturdays  at WVON.

On Saturday, he dined with colleagues as Chicago’s famous and influential congratulated him for hosting a show that had become an institution in Chicago. Many of the guests were titans in Black Chicago media.

AMONG THE HUNDREDS of guests attending a special tribute for the longtime WVON talk show host Cliff Kelley (far right) are Chicago Crusader Publisher Dorothy R. Leavell, Rainbow PUSH Coalition President and Founder Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., and America’s Heroes Group Executive Producer Glenda Smith.

Midway Broadcasting CEO Melody Spann was there. So was Crusader Publisher Dorothy Leavell, and former Johnson Publishing Chairman Linda Johnson Rice. So was Hermene Hartman, publisher of the N’DIGO magapaper.

In addition to Leak and Pfleger, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. and Congressman Danny K. Davis, also attended the affair.

First came the roast, then came the toast.

Former alderman Dorothy Tillman as usual wore a hat as she thanked Kelley. Tillman recalled her times with Kelley when the two frequented the defunct Tiger Lounge in Chatham to help strategize for the campaign of Harold Washington, the city’s first Black mayor.

Hartman recalled when she, Pfleger and Kelley traveled to Orchestra Hall on Michigan Avenue to appeal the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s decision to pull a mystery violinist who was scheduled to perform at the renowned institution. That performer was Nation of Islam Leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, who ended up performing at Reverend Johnnie Colemon’s Christ Universal Temple on the South Side.

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