WGN Radio Walk Of Fame

I started listening to WGN Radio in my early teens and have never stopped.  Growing up in rural Waushara County I yearned for the drama and lights of a big city where something exciting was always taking place.  Over time I started to connect with various announcers who were best able to communicate those ideas over the airwaves.

One of my first favorites was Wally Phillips who had a most pleasant voice and had ways to inject concern and humor into his on-air delivery.  I am really glad he is one of the first group to be honored in WGN Radio Walk Of Fame.  Years later when working at WDOR (where Ed Allen,  the general manager, was also an alumi of WGN) I would listen to Phillips with a deeper sense of respect as a I knew the work it took to make an air-shift sound the way it was supposed to for the listeners.

It comes as no surprise that WGN Radio has been home to some legendary broadcasters since it first went on the air in 1924.  To honor 90 years of broadcasting  some of the broadcasters will have their names placed in stone.  This is just so wonderful as it will open more of the really rather romantic and nostalgic side of radio from the early days of broadcasting to more people who today are not aware of this medium’s glorious past.

Work is underway on the Walk of Fame, where plaques honoring 10 air personalities will be installed in the sidewalk outside the showcase studio along Michigan Ave. The initial inductees are: Jack Brickhouse, Bob Collins, Roy Leonard, Judy Markey, Spike O’Dell, Kathy O’Malley, Wally Phillips, Milt Rosenberg, Quin Ryan and Orion Samuelson.

I can not express how pleased I am to see ‘the girlfriends’,  Kathy and Judy also honored in this way.  Readers of this blog know the special place they hold.

In the inaugural year the idea was to represent all nine decades of the radio station’s life on the air,”  said Todd Manley, vice president of content  at WGN Radio.  

Chicago Tribune publisher Col. Robert McCormick put WGN Radio on the air in March 1924, with the call letters standing for World’s Greatest Newspaper. Over the years, the groundbreaking station aired everything from the first Indianapolis 500 broadcast to the Scopes Monkey Trial.

The Walk of Fame will be unveiled on June 27, the culmination of a month-long celebration of WGN Radio’s 90th anniversary. The inaugural class was chosen for its star power and longevity, according to Manley.

Famed WGN Radio Studio Headed To Museum Of Broadcast Communications

As it should be.  This is perfect news!

I hope everyone recalls Wally Phillips and “Uncle Bobby” when they see this display.

The studio that once served as the broadcast command post for Wally Phillips, Bob Collins, Spike O’Dell and other Chicago radio legends soon will be on public display. Tribune Co.-owned news/talk WGN-AM (720) is donating its former main studio equipment and furniture to the Museum of Broadcast Communications. “It’s been dismantled and we’re just waiting for them to take it,” Tom Langmyer, vice president and general manager of WGN, told me. The station recently relocated from the first floor to new state-of-the-art facilities on the seventh floor of Tribune Tower. Said Bruce DuMont, founder and president of the museum: “We would be delighted to add the WGN historic studio as part of our museum experience.”

WGN Says Goodbye To Greg Jarrett, Listeners Rejoice At Departure

UPDATE…Steve and Johnnie rumored to leave WGN airwaves.

There is no way to state how glad I am to hear that WGN’s morning drive-time windbag Greg Jarrett is leaving the famed studios on the Magnificent Mile.  Greg Jarrett is off the WGN airwaves immediately.

I do not want to sound overly rude or look like I am kicking a man when he is down.  I sincerely hope Jarrett lands another radio job, but at a station I do not listen to.

There is no way to state how utterly unprepared Jarrett was to step into the WGN chair that Wally Phillips once broadcast from.  I am old enough to recall the magic connection that Phillips had with the listeners, and I am old-fashioned enough to think that style of broadcasting is still being sought by listeners.

Jarrett never even tried.

When Jarrett arrived at WGN he felt a need to state how many people he knew, and all that he had done in radio.  There was always a need to convey to his listeners that he was important.


A professional broadcaster need not tell listeners such a thing, the day-to-day on-air work will just allow that fact to be established.

After two years WGN listeners were still waiting.

If this all sounds tough about a person in radio, perhaps that is because I have high standards for the folks who are invited into our home.  When we turn on the radio we invite the radio host or broadcaster to be our guest.  In time, it is hoped the announcer is so welcomed they no longer need to knock.

That is how I truly feel about radio.

I recall the words penned by media columnist Robert Feder that sums up all one needs to know how Jarrett blustered his way into the Windy City.

It’s been more than a year now since Jarrett got off the bus from San Francisco and stepped right into the WGN morning job — arguably the most venerated and important radio position in Chicago — without one day’s prior experience in the market. From the moment he signed on here, he’s shown a penchant for parading his ignorance of local personalities and places. Nevertheless, his bosses repeatedly have defended their decision to hire him, even as they recently announced plans to cut his show back by 30 minutes. At least that’s a step in the right direction.

With Jonathon Brandmeier having been announced today as the new morning man at WGN radio I trust another line such as I penned in August 2010 will not be needed on CP.

Isn’t there another soccer match anywhere in the world that we can pay Greg Jarrett to attend, and have him off the WGN airwaves?  The best weeks recently for morning radio in Chicago were the ones Jarrett spent in South Africa.

WGN Radio Can Again Be Polite, Professional, Popular

Every now and then when I write this blog I am reminded that my interests are not exactly in the mainstream.   I am reminded weekly how marginalized some of my concerns and interests are.  That never stops me from going forward mind you, but the fact is not lost on me that I am not always sailing with much of the world.

I fully understand my limitations when writing about the days when newspapers were read by a large swath of the nation, or Saturday nights meant listening to the Grand Ole Opry.  I am aware that the best I can do is stress their value and move on.  It would be great if I could let every household experience the sound of the newspaper ‘thumping’ on the front stoop early every morning, or the sensation of pleasure as the big red curtain rises.  But the best I can do  from this blog is write about them.

But then there are issues such as WGN radio, where my desire to see the traditional role of the medium continue in this era of fast-paced technology, that reverberates with others.  My views about WGN have connected and resonated with many all over the country.  It is times like this I know there are countless who stand with me.  And I with them.

The past eighteen months have been rough ones for those who love WGN, that iconic radio station housed in the Tribune Tower.  Listeners revolted when new management ripped treasured on-air talent from the airwaves and ushered in loud political brawlers, or those who had no sense of what Chicago was all about.

Listeners had every right to feel that way.

Radio is after all about broadcasters being invited into the homes and cars of listeners.  People would no more want a boorish person lounging on their couch as they would desire a long-winded or rude person coming in through the speakers of their radio.  After all, radio personalities are guests, and should act accordingly.

I have worked in radio, and so I know I am correct when I say that guys like me were invited into the homes and cars of listeners.  I was the guest for a period of time, and acted liked one.  I was never rude or mean.  I tried to be funny and informative and friendly.  As such I was invited back over and over.  As were those who shared the microphone with me at WDOR in Sturgeon Bay.

That is what WGN once was, and I trust after the news this week will be again.  Listeners from some thirty states who can hear the station on the AM dial late at night, or those from the midwest who can listen 24/7 want to have a station again that is like what Wally Phillips would recognize.  Polite, professional, popular.

When James and I visit Chicago we always stay overnight on Ohio Street and make the magnificent mile our home base.  Late night walks up the amazing street means stopping in front of the Tribune Tower, and looking into the showcase studio.  At times on-air talent were there, other times they were broadcasting from inside the building.  Either way it was always a connection to the friendly voices on the radio.

For the past months the fond connection with WGN dwindled for me and much of the listener base.  But we have not forgotten what it once was like.  As such we are looking forward to the WGN family being restored  and renewed. 

My radio awaits the rebirth of this broadcasting giant.

Greg Jarrett Is Best With WGN Radio Volume Turned Off

Picture from Robert Feder site linked to in story.

UPDATE–Steve and Johnnie rumored to be leaving WGN radio.

Lets face it, things could only be worse if  Greg Jarrett were on television.

Isn’t there another soccer match anywhere in the world that we can pay Greg Jarrett to attend, and have him off the WGN airwaves?  The best weeks recently for morning radio in Chicago were the ones Jarrett spent in South Africa.  Bob” Sirott filled in for the ego-driven Jarrett, and radio listeners were allowed the warmth, candor, and humor of a real broadcasting talent.  Best of all Sirott was CLUED into the city he lives in………which leads me to the latest WGN embarrassment.

Greg Jarrett knows far less about Chicago than I do, and I reside in Madison, Wisconsin. I have never…..ever…..heard such a pompous know-it-all on radio, when in reality he is not well-versed on Chicago in any way.  There are times that I just want to shake the radio!  Greg Jarrett proved again big-time why he is not suited for the Windy City, and now all are laughing over the egg Greg Jarret has on his face.  When  Greg Jarrett  plopped his over-sized butt and ego into the morning chair of WGN radio there were hundreds of thousands wondering what the heck happened.  This was the same place that Wally Phillips once called home!  Anyone who has that spot on the AM dial needs to have  better pulse of the city than to suggest that Bill Kurtis was not a Chicago institution with a local address.   For that truly stupid remark came this volley from the pen of Robert Feder.

Greg Jarrett again proved why he’s unfit to host mornings on the Tribune Co.-owned news/talk station:

“Bill, are you going to be living in Chicago again?” Jarrett asked. “I mean, you’re going to be on TV every night at 6.”

Living in Chicago again? Are you kidding me? It’s not clear where Jarrett thought Kurtis has been living for the last quarter-century. (In New York? On his ranch in Kansas? On the moon, perhaps?) But it is clear that Jarrett didn’t have a clue that Kurtis and his longtime partner, Donna LaPietra, have been one of Chicago’s most prominent and influential couples in media, social and civic circles since Harold Washington was mayor

It’s been more than a year now since Jarrett got off the bus from San Francisco and stepped right into the WGN morning job — arguably the most venerated and important radio position in Chicago — without one day’s prior experience in the market. From the moment he signed on here, he’s shown a penchant for parading his ignorance of local personalities and places. Nevertheless, his bosses repeatedly have defended their decision to hire him, even as they recently announced plans to cut his show back by 30 minutes. At least that’s a step in the right direction.

Somewhere, you just know, Wally Phillips and Bob Collins are weeping.

Legendary WGN Broadcasting Pioneer Wally Phillips Dies



Once a week for several years I would get up before the sun and leave Sturgeon Bay to visit my home in central Wisconsin.  I was in my early 20’s, working at the local radio station, (WDOR) and feeling bouts of homesickness.  On the road in my blue Chevette I would drink coffee and drive westward as the day opened.  And on the radio was a friendly voice I had known since my high school days.

As I drove along I would marvel at the way Wally Phillips weaved the calls from the listeners with wit and information in such a way that it seemed effortless.  It was obvious from his banter and gentlemanly ways that he cared for, and respected his audience.  One thing was easy to discern when listening to him, in fact it was always clear from the start, Wally Phillips cared for those on the other side of the microphone.

Today the voice died.  Wally Phillips was 82 years old.

I heard the news early this morning as I was listening to WGN radio.  It was only natural that I heard about the famed Chicago broadcaster’s death on the station that was home to Phillips, the man who pioneered modern day talk radio.  It was his warmth, wit, and professionalism that first drew me to WGN as a teenager, and I never left.  WGN has awakened me every morning of my adult life.

Wally Phillips was the first person to make me truly enthusiastic about a possible radio career. (Clark Weber and Eddie Schwartz from WIND and WGN were the others.)  I would listen to Phillips as a kid and wonder how he did the amazing voice ‘drop-ins’, and seemingly effortless talk show that took place each day.   I wondered how he was able to be so funny and yet never cut loose and laugh himself, since I found it hard to be funny and not also enjoy the laugh with those around me.  

It was after I started broadcasting school that I discovered how proficient he was as a broadcaster, and how truly remarkable his production efforts were every day he was on the air.  I discovered how hard his job was even though he made it seem as if his whole audience was just a part of a large friendly conversation.  But in the studio he was a pure professional who had his hands on the dials and buttons that made him the host of the largest audience on AM radio.  In fact, he was number one in his morning time slot from 1968 until shifting for an afternoon slot in 1986.

As the Chicago Sun-Times reports his audience was almost 1.5 million listeners per day.

At the peak of his popularity as morning star at WGN, Phillips attracted half of all Chicago area radio listeners — an audience of nearly 1.5 million each day — making him the most listened-to radio host in the country.

“When we say ‘WGN Radio is Chicago,’ I quickly add that ‘Wally Phillips is WGN,'” said Wayne Vriesman, vice president and general manager of the Tribune-owned station. “He is the most creative, humorous and innovative person I have ever met in broadcasting. . . . (with) a lifetime of great radio listening and a public service never equaled in broadcasting.”

Wally Phillips was the first broadcaster to start the use of phone calls while on the air, allowing the listening audience to be a part of what he developed as the interactive nature of radio.  The calls were fun and uplifting, and interspersed with lines that were prerecorded with funny voices and ‘dropped-in’ at a moments notice.  It was a joy to listen to!

From 1984 listen to Wally Phillips.  The audio here is one of several that can be found on  WGN ,  the above segment is one where Wally celebrates “Goof-off Day” with a series of the “Candid Camera”-style phone calls he made famous. This edited segment includes a montage of calls originally taking place over several hours, including several to people in Atlanta and Lexington, where NCAA Tournament was being held, in which Wally attempts to see if the unsuspecting victims will offer weekend accommodations to him and his large family.

As The Chicago Tribune reports Phillips had an edgy streak that won him applause form his audience.

Phillips’ delivery occasionally had an edge to it, like the time he tracked down formal-wear mogul Ben Gingiss on a cruise ship on the Pacific Ocean and got him on the phone, saying “We’re down here at the store. . . . Where do you keep the fire extinguisher?” More typical was the morning when he started his broadcast by chatting with farm reporter Orion Samuelson about the coming Stomach Rumbling Finals in Stuttgart, Germany.

The Chicago Sun Times has a slide show of  Wally Phillips.

Wally Phillips was a far cry from what passes for much of talk radio today.  He was never mean, boorish, or ‘blue’ on the air.  After his more than 40 years of broadcasting had concluded he was considered by all as the king of his genre.  Much has happened to radio since Wally Phillips ruled the airwaves and helped encouraged this kid to give it a try.  I only wish that today’s youth would have the opportunity to know and love AM radio as it once was.

Thanks for the smiles Wally!  

I might add that WGN is still that diverse and wonderful station, that is often it seems, an island of great broadcasting on the AM dial.

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