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Media: June 2019

| June 1, 2019

Rick Kogan


No one in this town has been a part of the Chicago media scene longer than WGN-Radio’s (and The Chicago Tribune’s) Rick Kogan. He was literally born into it. His parents, Herman and Marilew, were both fixtures in the heyday of Chicago’s print media. They lived the life. They hung out with Chicago’s glitterati. Rick’s first name is even a tribute to that nightlife.

“My parents met in 1948 at Riccardo’s, the legendary restaurant/bar at Rush and Hubbard. They became close friends with owner Ric Riccardo and when I was born honored him by naming me, Rick. When I was old enough to realize this, I asked my mother why she had added the ‘k’ to the name. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘we didn’t want to be totally unconventional.’”

When you grow up in a home like that, it’s also natural that you become a bit of night-life person yourself, which is why it was so odd that Rick hosted a morning radio show on WGN for so many years.

“I hosted the The Sunday Papers with Rick Kogan from 6:30-9 a.m. on Sundays for about a dozen years until leaving WGN for a few months to host the daily Afternoon Shift on WBEZ. I liked that quite a bit, but it was tough juggling the show with my fulltime Tribune job, especially after a book project popped up. When I left WBEZ, the WGN folks kindly asked me to return and, having spent too many years waking up at 5 a.m. on Sundays, and thus curtailing any Saturday night fun, I pitched the notion of an evening show. They liked that, and After Hours with Rick Kogan born.”

In some ways, he now broadcasts in his natural habitat (late night), but there has been a significant change over the last few years. Of all the people who worked at the Tribune and WGN, very few had the kind of ties to that building, the Tribune Tower, Rick did. Now that the Tribune and WGN are in separate buildings–and owned by different companies–I wondered if that transition was strange for him.

“Not so strange in this wild media world in which we live,” he says. “I am just pleased that both operations remain alive and kicking. Life goes on, but that Tribune Tower will always house ghosts, and mine are particularly vivid and personal since my entire family—mother, father, and younger brother—all worked there at one time. And I, of course, have 30 years of my memories.”

What does he think about the new WGN Radio studios?

“Snazzy joint, without a doubt. I have been there during the daylight, and the views are terrific, but I actually prefer the darkness with lights twinkling all around, giving the city a sense of attractive mystery.”

Rick’s show on WGN has long been the go-to location for Chicago’s writers and authors. There are very few shows that are as kind, as encouraging, or as nurturing. He does something that very few radio hosts do – he actually reads the book.

“Perhaps because I have written more than a dozen books,” Rick explains, “I am profoundly aware of how difficult it is to write a book and, in this increasingly nutty publishing environment, get it between covers. I respect writers and the work and so its only fair that I read what they have to say. I do not ever want to be among those hosts who begin their interviews with authors by asking, ‘So, what is your book about?’”

Of course, the flipside of that equation is that Rick is continuously inundated with guest offers and blurb requests. It can’t be easy to try to accommodate everyone. His office must contain an extensive library of books.

“I tend to focus on local authors and Chicago-centric subjects. Yes, a lot of books come my way, but reading is far from the toughest job in the world. It is a joy that enriches me.”

Can you tell that Rick is really a writer at heart? He may have done radio for more than three decades, and hosted and appeared on countless television shows, but when push comes to shove for Rick Kogan, the pen is still stronger than the microphone. Rick’s Mt. Rushmore of Chicago media consists mainly of Chicago’s great writers. He has no problem naming the top four. “My father Herman Kogan, Mike Royko, Studs Terkel and Gwendolyn Brooks.”  Those remain his gold standard.

Of course, after his incredible career, Rick is now himself a Chicago media institution. He is the closest thing we have in this town to being “Mr. Chicago.” In some ways, Rick has even eclipsed the legacy of his dad. A lot of younger Chicagoans don’t remember Herman or even the The Daily News that he wrote for so many years, but everyone knows Rick. He is no longer in his father’s shadow. Unsurprisingly, the humble Kogan doesn’t see it that way himself.

“I have never wanted to shake his shadow or my memories of him and the invaluable lessons he quietly taught me about life,” he insists.

Now that Rick has done it all, is there anything still out there that he would like to do before he retires? It seems like he has done it all.

“There is always something exciting about the next story, the next guest, so I carry on with hope.”

Rick’s show airs Sunday nights on WGN Radio.

-Rick Kaempfer

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