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January 2023: Media • In Memoriam

| January 1, 2023

Bill “BJ” Jackson and the Blob


As we enter a new year, we do so without a talented group of broadcasters we lost in 2022. I won’t be able to name all of them, but here are a few that passed away from the world of radio and television.

It became clear that 2022 wasn’t going to be a great year when we lost former WGCI stalwart Harold Lee Rush on New Year’s Day. He was far from the last. Some greats from the hey-day of Top 40 radio in Chicago (the 60s & 70s) also died in 2022, including legendary disc jockeys like Bobby O’Jay (WVON & WBMX), Bob Bateman (WFYR), Chuck Benson (WIND, WMAQ, WFYR), and a man who created the music radio stations played before becoming a disc jockey himself, Ramsey Lewis (The Ramsey Lewis Trio, WNUA).

In addition, one of the most influential radio programmers of all time, Ken Draper from Super-CFL, passed away in August. I interviewed one of the big stars Draper brought to Chicago, WCFL’s Ron Britain, a few years before Ron passed away. Britain gave all the credit for his own success to Draper.” So I flew up to Chicago and met with the folks at WCFL. I thought you know what? This is a great radio town. Maybe this is where I should go. Ken Draper, the guy who hired me, and Jim Runyan drove me into the city. All these lights were lit along Michigan Avenue, and they told me that they decorated the city just for me. I took the job, but I was scared to death. I had never worked at a place that had so much talent. It was just unbelievable—I was intimidated by it. They had guys I really respected, like Jim Runyan and Joel Sebastian. I thought, how I can work alongside great talent like this? I was so scared when I went on the air the first time—I didn’t know what to do. I thought what I had been doing before wasn’t good enough. My first night on the air, I was using squeaky toys, and I got a note from Ken Draper. The note said, ‘We hired Ron Britain, not Pinky Lee.’ Of course, he was right.”

 We lost quite a few more radio pros in 2022, including Jim Bohannan (WGN), Ken Alexander (WAIT, WNIB, WDCB), Bob Gelms(WXRT, WLUP), Pervis Spann (WVON), Steve Crocker (WBBM-AM), Dick Stone (WIND) and Dick Rakovan (WFYR), but probably the biggest shocker occurred in January when the Score’s Les Grobstein passed away suddenly. His death triggered an outpouring of goodwill and led to Mayor Lightfoot declaring Les Grobstein Day in Chicago.

This year when the anniversary of former Cubs manager Lee Elia’s rave-out occurs, think of Les. He was the only broadcaster on hand to record it. If you’ve heard the expletive-filled tirade, you’ve heard Les’ tape. When I interviewed Grobstein in 2011, he told me all about it. “That tape was on every continent of the planet in three days. Only Antarctica we’re not sure about, but they probably heard it there too. Tommy Edwards on WLS-AM and Steve & Garry on WLS-FM were the first two shows to actually play it on the air. But the Cubs announcers heard it first. I played it for them in the press box. Vince Lloyd said, ‘Geezus Lou, he’s going to get his ass fired.’ Lou Boudreau said, ‘You may be right, Good Kid.’ And Harry Caray couldn’t believe it was really Lee at first. I said: ‘I have a feeling the Lee Elia pre-game show is going to be canceled.’ They didn’t fire Lee right away, but he was gone before the season was over.”

Chicago’s television community lost some key members in 2022 as well. WGN-TV’s Merri Dee passed away in March, and before the station was even properly able to pay tribute, weatherman Jim Ramsey died in April. WGN-TV also lost former station manager Bob Ramsey (who served as GM at WCIU as well) and former assistant news director, Charlie Schumacher at the way too-young age of 62. In addition, nationally known newscasters and reporters with Chicago roots, like Ken Bode (NBC, PBS, CNN) and Bernard Shaw (CNN), perished in 2022.

For Chicagoans of a certain age, we lost a big part of our childhood when Bill “BJ” Jackson died in January. The host of “BJ & the Dirty Dragon” was a huge kids-TV star on Channel 32 in the 1970s. In 1973, at the age of 10, I attended a Bill Jackson personal appearance at the Gateway Theater in Chicago. He was famous for drawing pictures out of the initials of kids’ names. I can still palpably feel the excitement I felt when he transformed my RJK into a drawing of a dragon. I wish I still had that somewhere.

But probably the most tragic Chicago media death in 2022 occurred in November when Louise Monger, a contributor to the recently canceled Windy City Live, was found in her home in Westmont with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The British native was only 40 years old.

As we enter another new year, we remember the contributions of all of these talented media professionals we lost in 2022. They probably never fully realized the impact they had on our lives. They were with us in our homes, in our cars, and in our hearts.

And they will live on in our memories.

-Rick Kaempfer

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