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Media: July 2021 • “Radio Joan”

| June 30, 2021

Joan Esposito

Joan Esposito was known to Chicago audiences as a television reporter and anchor after her many years at Channel 5 & 7. Still, when she accepted the job as afternoon host at Progressive Talk WCPT (820 AM), it was not her first job in the medium.

“When I first got into broadcasting, I got a part-time job at a television station in Columbus, Ohio, and I got a part-time job for a radio station—so I started my media career working in both. So, going back to radio was somewhat a return to my roots.”

On the other hand, doing talk radio was a different animal. On talk radio, you don’t just report the news. You have to offer your opinions on the news of the day. For a trained journalist, that’s often a difficult Rubicon to cross. Joan acknowledges how big of a step that was.

“Once you cross that bridge, there is no going back. You have left the world of journalism behind you. For me, yes, I had two decades in the business, but I also had a 15-year buffer where I was at home raising my kids and doing media training. So, it wasn’t as difficult a transition for me. But I think for some of the audience, it was a more difficult transition. I remember when I first started, an older lady called in to talk on the radio and said, ‘You know, I followed your career when you were on Channel 7 and Channel 5, and I never knew you had opinions!’ She was horrified.”

One other big change since her television days was simply the pace of news in general.

“It feels like it’s coming at you with a fire hose, on the local level, the state level, and the national level. The news cycle used to be, between September and May, there was a lot going on, but then in the summer months, you’d start pulling out your features and evergreen stuff.  That’s just not how it is now. It’s 24/7 and 12 months a year. I keep waiting for the lull. I’ve been waiting for the lull since I started.”

It has required a level of multi-tasking she had not been forced to master before.

“While I’m on the air, I have a tab open on the Tribune, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Sun-Times, *Crain’s, Block Club Chicago, and Twitter. While I’m on the air, I repeatedly refresh all those, plus I have an iPad next to my computer, and I have CNN on with closed captioning. So, if something like the insurrection happens, I don’t have to wait for AP to report it.”

And she also remains focused on what she considers one of the most important parts of the show.

“The callers. The first year there were trolls who called in just to insult me, but that doesn’t really happen much anymore. I still get Trump supporters and Republicans who call in to question me on certain things, but my attitude is, ‘I don’t care if you disagree with me. That’s how we both learn.’ The one thing I won’t tolerate is if someone calls up and says things that are factually incorrect. We can have a discussion, but not if you’re going to say things that aren’t true.”

Guests are also a regular part of the show. Joan talks with journalists, opinion columnists, newsmakers, and elected officials.

“Don’t forget Tony,” she says. “(Artist) Tony Fitzpatrick is on the show every Thursday. With Tony, you never know what he’s going to say, but you know it’s going to be good. The audience loves him.”

Has the media business changed significantly since she stepped away from television?

“I have to believe it’s better now for women.  When I was coming up, there was lots of harassment, and to speak up was career suicide. I was having lunch with my boss one time, and he told me the way he decided which women reporters to hire was he used his ‘penis meter’. You had to develop the skill of extricating yourself from a situation without torpedoing your career—not always an easy balancing act. There’s a whole different attitude amongst younger women these days because they won’t put up with it. I love that about them.”

And she helps the up-and-coming generation as much as she can.

“A young woman from Northwestern, Rupa Palla, is leaving me and going to work for NBC in New York. Dina Bair from Channel 9 was my intern. I really do like helping other women in this business. The best advice I can give them is that you have to believe in yourself, and you have to be able to accept ‘no’ as you try to get that first job, but it only takes one yes to get that job. Don’t give up.”

What’s Joan’s favorite part of her current job?

“I feel engaged with the world in a way I didn’t feel when I was out of the business. I like being back in the world of current events. Carol Marin used to say to journalism classes, ‘Do you really love information because that’s what this job is all about.’ And I love it. I love talking to other people who do, who come at it a little differently than I do. Parts of my brain have been reactivated.”

Joan Esposito can be heard every weekday afternoon on WCPT, AM 820.

-Rick Kaempfer

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Category: Columns, Featured, Media, Monthly

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