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There are few constants in the evolution of house music in Chicago. The clubs, including the legendary Warehouse, where most suggest the genre name “house music” was derived. There were also the juice bars such as the North Side’s Medusas and second-generation hybrid venues such as Webster Streets and Green Dolphin Street; Broadway Street’s AKA’s and Coconuts dance clubs have come, had their heyday and are now gone. 

In the mid to late 1980s, Chicago’s house music scene exploded, taking its DJs and artists from South and West side basements to stages in London and Berlin clubs. In 1981 Chicago’s WBMX (then 102.7 FM) created a home for house music with the “Saturday Night Live Ain’t No Jive” dance party show. 

The show’s initial hosts — Kenny “Jammin” Jason, Scott “Smokin” Silz, Ralphi “Rockin” Rosario, Farley “Funkin” Keith (a.k.a. Farley “Jackmaster” Funk) and Mickey “Mixin” Oliver — brought the sounds of the South, West and North sides using a combination of Latin and Black flavor on the air, but where did other DJs showcase their skills? 

Chicago’s unsung hero in supporting house music creatives and audiophiles during and after that time are its college radio stations including WNUR 89.3FM, WKKC 89.3FM and WHPK 88.5FM.  These stations encouraged students and patrons to appreciate and ignite Chicago-grown music forms, but have also invited Chicago and its suburban friends, DJs, producers, musicians and “househeads” inside their studios to broadcast across their airwaves for almost 40 years.

WNUR 89.3 FM

According to Northwestern magazine, “Northwestern’s student-run radio station, WNUR 89.3, turns 72 this year. In spring 1950, the station began broadcasting using a 10-watt transmitter with a range of 5 to 7 miles beyond Northwestern’s campus. By 1975, WNUR had acquired a 7,200-watt transmitter and programmed 24 hours, extending its reach to a wider Chicago-area audience.” 

In the early days, the station was located in the dark and gritty, often mice-infested basement of NU’s Annie Mae Swift Hall. WNUR’s “StreetBeat” show began in fall 1983 as an evolution of the “Soul Show,” which developed from an innovative, and embattled show entitled “Third World Report,” a news, music and information show featuring topics relevant to people of African descent.

The Soul Show to the Streetbeat Show Fall 1983 @Northwestern University Press

As with most Black music, the “Third World Report,” Blacknuss, the “Soul Show” and their DJs were under constant attack by the station and Northwestern University. DJ’s including Vernon Prince, Gerald Scott McCarthy (Scott on the Box), Steve Kohn and Leroy Cooper persevered and the “StreetBeat ” show is now approaching its 40th Anniversary.

WNUR DJ’s dismissed in 1982 @Northwestern University Archives

Pioneering “StreetBeat” DJs — including Lee “Easy Lee” Cross, Vincent “Vinny Divine” Long, Tim “T. Chablis” Harris, Mike “ Magic Mike” Palos, Rob Olson, Meredith “Sweet MD” Johnson, Larry Myers and Ira “The I” Brown — were at the cutting edge of the formation of hip-hop and House Music. The “StreetBeat” show, heard on 89.3 FM throughout the Chicagoland area after midnight (when WKKC’s programming at Kennedy King College ended), consistently promoted pioneering house music producers and DJs in the WNUR studios. 

House music legends — including Frankie Knuckles, Kenwood Academy’s Jesse Sanders and DJ Chip E, and female legend DJ Khrissie “First Lady” Henderson  — visited the station to promote their new music and show off their vinyl-mixing skills. In 1987, “StreetBeat” show producer and Evanston native DJ Rob Olson said he left the station armed with compilation CDs that he sold in Europe to rave reviews and a new career in music. This was a clear indication of college radio’s critical role in the distribution of Chicago house music throughout the nation and internationally.

Mendel Catholic High School (infamous for its bi-level house music dance parties) and Northwestern alum Tim Harris (known as DJ T. Chablis) were two staples in the Chicago music scene. He collaborated with pioneers including DJ Tyree Cooper and had residencies at clubs throughout the city. On Chicago House DJ Day in January 2011, DJ T. Chablis was listed as one of the top 100 Chicago house music pioneers, solidifying the impact of the station to Chicago music lovers. The DJs and WNUR belonged to the record pools and regularly hung out at Importes Etc., the legendary record store formerly located at 711 S. Plymouth Court in Chicago. They also sponsored weekly parties on campus and at Chicago’s underground clubs, according to an interview with “StreetBeat” alums.

Today in its new campus headquarters at Northwestern University’s John J. Louis Hall, the WNUR “StreetBeat” show continues to be a force in the Chicago and international music scene. Recent “Streetbeat” show alums and current DJs include Gramaphone Record Store owner Micheal Serafini, Chicago’s first woman dee jay DJ Lori Branch, the Chicago Readers 2021 DJ of the year, DJ Derrick Carter and popular turntablist DJ VitiGrrl. WNUR’s current DJs promote Chicago’s rich house and electronic dance music (EDM) culture at events throughout the Chicagoland area.


Kennedy King College’s radio station WKKC, formerly housed at 6800 South Wentworth in Chicago’s gritty Englewood community, received its construction permit on Aug. 5, 1975, and additional licenses were filed in October 1975 raising its power from 10 to 250 watts by 1985.

WKKC boasted many house and hip-hop DJs, but none more relevant than Kennedy King College alum DJ PinkHouse. Born Isadore Pink, DJ PinkHouse brought house music to the airwaves, but also hosted and promoted events throughout the city. He hosted dance events with DJ pioneers including Ron Hardy, DJ Gene Hunt and DJ Mike Williams. The party was on at the station, but also inside the school. DJ PinkHouse, noted for his knowledge of music and the music industry, went on to become a founding disc jockey at WEJM 106.3 FM/950 AM also called 106 JAMZ when it was created in June 1994, according to the Chicago Tribune.

By 1997, WKKC, its professors and students were winning national awards for its sound education.  DJs including DJ Purple and Chosen Few DJs member Mike Dunn have credited WKKC and its on-air DJs as inspirations for sharpening their skills and moving their careers forward, according to 5 Mag.

1988 WKKC Kennedy King College Event @Dance Music Foundation – Gene Hunt Collection

Today, WKKC brands itself as “The New Sound of Soul,” but its Friday night line-up is cultivating a new breed of house music stars with shows featuring women DJs including Lindblom Tech’s own DJ Dreea and DJ Melody. WKKC has three frequencies — WKKC-FM 89.3,  WKKC-HD 1 and WKKC-HD2. All are broadcast within a five-mile radius of Kennedy King College, now located at 6301 South Halsted Street. In 2000, the college built a new campus and new studios for the station.

@Courtesy of DJ Dreea

WHPK 88.5 FM

On March 22, 1968, WHPK (standing for “Woodlawn-Hyde Park-Kenwood”) made its first broadcast at 88.3 FM with 15 watts of broadcasting power. In 1985, WHPK purchased a new 100-watt transmitter, and the station moved to 88.5 FM. Broadcasting from the Reynolds Club at 5706 S. University Ave. on the University of Chicago’s campus, its tag line is the “Pride of the South Side” and they are proud of their commitment to educate and entertain their communities, according to the University of Chicago Chronicle.

Both WHPK and WKKC claim to be the first to air rap music to Chicago audiences; however both broadcast house and dance music sounds throughout their South Side communities. In 2015, 5 Magazine journalist Terry Matthews mentions he “first heard Drum’N’Bass (which we then still called ‘jungle’), probably on WHPK, the college radio station whose signal you could just barely hear where I was living at the time.”  Although small, WHPK groomed Chicago area writers and journalists, house music lovers and fostered new music genres. WHPK is still spinning electronic music throughout their programming schedule.

College radio has its supporters, but also its critics. Often young adults are programming and introducing new music and ideas to more established station managers and community members, and that’s where a clash is inevitable. In 1993, WHPK received aldermanic pushback for playing Sensuous Black Man by comedian and Dolemite-creator Rudy Ray Moore that made city-wide news, according to the Chicago Sun-Times article in the image below. There is no guarantee these stations will remain open to Chicago youth and established residents. Assaults against playing and producing new music and pushing it to the airwaves continues, but house music continues to flourish.

Sun-Times Article on Aldermanic Pushback against WHPK @University of Chicago Archives

Today, even during the pandemic, house music is enjoyed and new creatives are birthed with the assistance of college radio. Other Chicago college stations, including Loyola University’s WLUW 88.7 FM  and Columbia College’s WCRX 88.1 FM, have cultivated DJs and sound engineers who became staples in Chicago’s house music community.   

Claire Hughes, in her 2004 book, Waking Up In Chicago: A Music Tour of the Windy City, reflected that “…here in Chicago, it seemed like history was erasable…and couldn’t believe how little the city made of its musical landmarks and historical musical achievements.”  

Hughes recognized that “by the mid-1990s, university-based radio stations like the University of Chicago’s WHPK and Northwestern’s WNUR, were hosting hip-hop themed shows – but young, fresh, Black, urban music in Chicago was better represented by what was going on in the underground house…scenes.” 

Now that pop, hip-hop and R&B superstars Beyoncé and Drake have recently released dance and house music tracks respectively, house music and its history is a global conversation, with commentary and coverage from Australia to middle-America Memphis. 

So now is the time to ensure the world knows that many Chicagoan’s contributed to the canon and ethos of what some may have considered a minor music subculture. House music has become the music industries’ greatest success, with dance music festivals out-performing concerts and music sales. 

Still standing and cultivating music powerhouses are Chicago’s college radio stations that deserve recognition and celebration for decades of producing legends. When DJs needed to spin, promoters needed to market and producers needed to have their music heard, they could always rely on Chicago’s college radio stations.

is a music archivist, community historian and podcast host. She is Co-Founder of the Modern Dance Music Research and Archiving Foundation and Co-Host of the Vintage House Show Radio and Podcast heard on Wednesdays at 10:00 a..m on WNUR-FM 89.3FM and YouTube ( In all of her work she preserves and celebrates the life, history and artistry of House Music and its pioneers. She lives in Chicago, IL. @DanceMusicFound