WGN-TV sports anchor Rich King is signing off for the final time on June 15th after a 40-plus year career in Chicago media. He has been adjusting to the idea of retirement for the past few months. “When I first made the announcement, it was bittersweet,” he explains. “Now it’s mostly just sweet. As the day gets closer, I’m realizing it was the correct decision. I’ve done everything I can do in this business. It’s a good time to go. I’d like to enjoy life, and spend a little more time with my wife, which is the main reason I’m doing it.” His farewell tour hasn’t quite been Kobe-esque, but he has been feeling the love since the announcement was made.
“It’s been fantastic,” he admits. “The Blackhawks sent me a nice jersey. My friends in the business have been very complimentary. I have so many friends in the business. The only negative in this whole thing is that I won’t see these great people as much as I do now. That’s the only thing I will miss.”
The memories have been flooding back to him with every passing day. “You look back on your career and remember some of the things you’ve been able to do – to cover the great athletes like Michael Jordan and Walter Payton. To meet such great people like Jerry Reinsdorf and Tony LaRussa. Those are the things that go through your mind. How did I ever get this far? I came from the neighborhood of Pilsen, which was a very poor neighborhood when I was a kid, and we didn’t have anything really. And here I am rubbing elbows with the all-time greats. If you would have told me that when I was just coming up in the business, I never would have believed it. Working with Johnny Morris, Brad Palmer, Dan Roan. It’s just way beyond my wildest dreams.”
He’s come a long way, baby. “My first job was an intern in the news department at WGN back in 1970, and they assigned me to the 6:00 News with John Drury as a news-writer. Most of my stories never made it on the air. But one day, one of them did get on, and I remember thinking – ‘If I never do anything else in my life, at least one of my stories made it on WGN!’ I never would have believed it would get to the point I’m at now.”
Although King has experienced just about everything in the sports journalism world, there are a few things that bring him the most pride. “There are three eras of my career that I look back at most fondly,” he says. “When I became the sports director at WBBM radio, we had a great crew. Tom Schaer, Ron Gleason and I broke so many stories. I also hosted a talk show during that era, a sports talk show on Saturday and Sunday mornings that had an incredible 5.7 rating. That was definitely one of the peaks of my career. The second one was when I got the White Sox job in 1980 and 1981.
My dream was to be a White Sox announcer and I got two years in the booth with Joe McConnell, Harry Caray, and Jimmy Piersall doing the radio broadcasts on WBBM. The third one has to be these last ten years as an anchor on TV. Making the transition from radio to television is not an easy one, and it was touch-and-go at the beginning, but I feel so much more confident right now. It’s one of the reasons it was so hard to quit.”
On the other hand, there were elements of the job that made it easier to make the leap. “It becomes a bit of a grind. You work long hours, you eat bad food, you get sleep deprived – and it’s really not healthy. The older you get the harder it is to maintain your energy. That’s one of the big factors that brought on my retirement. Jeff Davis, the old WLS jock, gave me a great quote about broadcasting. ‘We work too much, we drink too much, we smoke too much, we do everything in excess – But what a way to go!’ That kind of sums up our business. It is hard, and the hours are hard, but I wouldn’t have given it up for anything. I would do it all over again.”
When someone spends more than 40 years in the public eye, he’s bound to be remembered, but when Rich King was asked how he’d like to be remembered, he had a surprising response. “This broadcast business has given me a platform of so-called celebrity status, and I’ve used that platform for the good. I’m very involved in charities, and I cherish that work. But the thing I’d most like to be remembered for are my two books: My first book My Maggie about my first wife who died, and my second book Back in the Game about my second wife April. They are both love stories. They are about life. Maggie’s brave struggle when life fought against her, and April’s wonderful gift of bringing me back to life. The journalism, the sports, that was really entertainment. The books were more than that. The books have helped so many people. That’s what I’d like to be remembered for the most.”
(Full disclosure: Rick Kaempfer’s publishing company, Eckhartz Press, is the publisher of Rich King’s second book “Back in the Game”)
– Rick Kaempfer