Lovers Lane
In The Flesh

Media: December 2018

| December 1, 2018

As 2018 comes to an end and a new year begins, it’s time once again to pay tribute to the people who passed away this year. Once again, we lost some of the all-time Chicago greats. Among them, the long-time anchor and reporter Warner Saunders. Saunders’ award-winning 29-year stint at NBC-5 in Chicago touched countless lives.

Another television pioneer, John Coleman, preceded him in death earlier this year. Though he worked for both WBBM and WMAQ, Coleman was part of the original Eyewitness news team that dominated the ratings in Chicago. His WLS Channel 7 colleague, Joel Daly, offered this assessment of the former weatherman. “The critics called him a clown!  He once did the forecast standing on his head, an acknowledgment that he ‘blew’ the prediction of a big storm. He was a genius! He told the weather with chroma-key effects while other [weather forecasters] were still using puppets and cartoons. He’s the only non-corporate individual to reserve space on an early communications satellite for his vision of a 24-hour presentation of world and local weather he called ‘The Weather Channel.’ He was a gambler, who lost The Weather Channel in a dispute with his financial backers. But most of all, he was a pioneer who never received credit for his vision!”

Sadly, these weren’t the only losses in Chicago’s television community. Don Sandburg passed away this year as well. He will always be remembered for his contributions to WGN’s Bozo’s Circus, as well as for playing Sandy the Tramp. WBBM-TV’s Jerry Harper was the staff announcer for thirty years – a familiar voice to Chicago television viewers. WTTW’s Elizabeth Brackett’s contributions were more in the traditional reporting world. The Peabody Award-winning journalist died in a tragic bicycling accident earlier this year.

Towards the end of the year, we lost WBBM-TV’s Mike Parker. Fellow reporter Jim Williams worked with Mike for many years and offered this tribute to his comrade. “Mike Parker had an extraordinary combination of talents that made him an all-time Chicago great: beautiful voice, eloquent writer, gravitas, insatiable curiosity. For those of us fortunate to call him a colleague, Mike was an invaluable presence in our newsroom. One more thing: he was hilarious.”

The radio world also lost some Chicago treasures. Among them was Art Hellyer, a man who dominated the airwaves in Chicago during the 1950s and 1960s at radio stations like WGN, WCFL, WMAQ, and others. Chicago radio historian Chuck Shaden knew Hellyer well. “Art Hellyer might have been called ‘Peck’s Bad Boy of Radio,’ but only by station program managers who wanted Art to be something he wasn’t. He just wanted to do his style of good, clean humor and play the records he loved, but when a program director or station manager told him to ‘play more music,’ or ‘don’t talk so much’ or ‘give more time and temp’ or any of a hundred standard killjoys, Art balked. “Just leave me alone and let me do the job you hired me for.’  If the PD pinned a note to the bulletin board directing Art to do this or don’t do that, Art would rip it off the board and read it to his listeners, who often responded by calling the PD and protested the directive. Most PDs don’t have a sense of humor and Art was fired more times than anyone can count. Art usually responded, ‘You can’t fire me, I quit!’  and before anyone knew it, he was on another station and took his audience along, leaving his former PD with a hole in his rating book. Art was a one-of-a-kind, radio original. He was among the first to use “wild lines” flying at him without notice from his beloved record-turner, Lenny Kaye. Art burned his bridges after him — and sometimes he burned them before he got there, but he always maintained his brand of showmanship and integrity. And his listeners loved him for it. He was Number 1 in Chicago for many years.”

The IQ of the Chicago radio dial also took a hit with the death of WGN’s longtime intellectual, Milt Rosenberg. Mary June Rose was Milt’s program director for several of those years, and she remembers him fondly. “I was honored to have worked with Milt for a number of years near the end of his career, and I miss him. He was the smartest person I have probably ever met, and yet he talked to me as though I was his equal (I’m not). He and I didn’t always agree, but our mutual respect made it possible to learn from each other. We need more of that today.”

The Chicago sports radio world also mourned the loss of one of our favorite play-by-play men. Joe McConnell passed away this year, but his calls of Bears and White Sox games remain a gold standard. Cheryl Raye Stout worked with McConnell at WMAQ. “When WMAQ radio acquired the rights to carry White Sox baseball in 1982, Joe McConnell became the play by play voice and partnered with color analyst and former Sox pitcher Early Wynn. Joe was already an accomplished broadcaster with his Bears and college sports. It was seamless the way he transitioned to the White Sox. Joe was always prepared, took copious notes and was a perfectionist. His voice was passionate and was full of energy. By the way, working with Early may have been one of his biggest challenges in broadcasting, but you never knew that on the air. Joe was brilliant at his craft.”

All of these broadcasting greats left us in 2018, and so did scores of behind the scenes television and radio pros, but their contributions to the business will not be forgotten. It’s hard to believe that we are forced to enter 2019 without them.

-Rick Kaempfer


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