In the world of radio broadcasting, there are figures who transcend the airwaves and become cherished icons, leaving an indelible mark on the hearts and ears of listeners.
Herb Kent, known as “The Cool Gent,” was one such luminary, a Chicago radio legend whose career spanned several decades and whose influence reached far beyond the radio waves.
In this article, we pay tribute to the remarkable life and career of Herb Kent, a man whose voice resonated through generations and whose impact on the world of music and broadcasting remains enduring.
Who Was Herb Kent?
Herb Kent was a radio personality in Chicago, Illinois, for more than seven decades, and was known as “the longest-running DJ in radio history.”
Herb Kent was born Herbert Rogers Kent on February 25, 1927, in Chicago, Illinois. He was known as the “cool gent,” a word he made up to rhyme with his own name.
His journey into radio began at the tender age of 16 when he started working as an office boy at WGES, an influential radio station that catered to the African-American community.
This humble beginning set the stage for a remarkable career that would see him become a beloved figure in Chicago radio.
How Did Herb Kent Die?
Kent died on October 22, 2016, at the age of 88. That morning, he had completed his final radio program.
Kent had been on the radio just a few hours before, as he did every weekend, and had recently celebrated his birthday.
Friends and listeners mourned Kent from the airwaves to the South Side community where he grew up.
Rev. Jesse Jackson declared in a statement, “A piece of Soul Heaven has opened up today.” “The Cool Gent has returned home.”
During the 1960s liberation movement, Kent was one of “the proud posse of African American disc jockeys and producers – men and women – that converted WVON radio into “The Voice of a Nation,” according to Jackson.
The station was the go-to place on the radio dial for the newest Civil Rights Movement news and the freshest Motown sounds. Berry Gordy sent every song he made to WVON first, before sending it anywhere else.
If a song was broadcast on WVON, the news immediately traveled throughout the country that another hit was on the way from Chicago.
Herb and the other Good Guys, including Don Cornelius, Lucky Cordell, and Bernadine C. Washington, contributed to the creation of a starry sky.”
“Herb was a legend. A symbol. “He was one of the city's greatest treasures,” said Kenny Bedford, a friend and ABC7 news photographer. “Herb sounded like he was listening to the radio. He was a quiet person who enjoyed music and had a lot of fun. You could mention any band or song, and he'd know it.”
Kent's deep voice, as well as his wardrobe, which usually always included a cowboy hat, were distinctive to those who followed him.
How Did Herb Kent Rise to Fame?
Herb Kent's time at WBEZ marked the beginning of his extraordinary journey in radio, and he soon became known for his warm and charismatic on-air persona.
His knowledge of music and his ability to connect with his audience helped him build a dedicated following.
In the 1950s, Kent was referred to as “The King of the Dusties” for pioneering the oldies format known as “dusty records,” which he invented while working at WBEE radio in Harvey, Illinois.
In 1963, Herb Kent joined the iconic radio station WVON, “The Voice of the Negro.” It was during his time at WVON that he earned the nickname “The Cool Gent” and solidified his status as a Chicago radio legend.
He hosted various shows, including “The Cool Gent Show,” which featured R&B, soul, and jazz music, and “Dusties,” where he played classic hits.
One of Herb Kent's greatest contributions to the world of radio was his passion for music.
He was not only a radio personality but also a dedicated advocate for music and artists.
His influence helped shape the careers of many musicians, and he played a pivotal role in promoting the Chicago soul and R&B scenes.