WGN Radio – Celebrating 100 Years of Radio

A look back at some of the key moments in the history of WGN Radio:

1921

December – The Chicago Tribune agrees to supply news and market reports for Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company’s KYW, Chicago’s first radio station. Thousands of listeners in a 500-mile radius from Chicago tune in to a nightly music and news program broadcast from the top of the Commonwealth Edison building.

1922

Elliott Jenkins and Thorne Donnelley
Elliott Jenkins and Thorne Donnelley Founders of WDAP

May 19 – Two socially prominent young Chicagoans and radio enthusiasts–Thorne Donnelley and Elliott Jenkins–form Midwest Radio Central, Inc., and start WDAP as an experimental station. The first broadcasts originate from the Wrigley Building, where they are said to have had an “erratic effect” on the famous tower clock. Programming includes talks, weather reports, and three concerts a week.

July – After a tornado damages the antenna at the Wrigley Building, WDAP moves its studios to two handball courts on top of the Drake Hotel. The station has only one employee, Ralph Shugart, whose duties include engineering, programming, announcing and marketing. The station also has only one microphone, which is occasionally carried downstairs to the Drake ballroom, while on the air, for live dance music from Jack Chapman and his Orchestra. Chapman’s programs increase the volume of station mail from 200 to 800 letters received a day.

October – Donnelley and Jenkins hire employee #2–Myrtle E. Stahl–who handles programming, publicity and public relations. She put together a schedule and a staff and herself originated one of radio’s first amateur hours. Her radio career would last until her retirement in 1960.

1923

The Board of Trade purchases WDAP from Jenkins and Donnelley. . . . WDAP programming expands to include luncheon and dinner music by Henry Selinger and his Drake Hotel Concert Ensemble and music by Irving Margraff and the Blackstone Hotel Quintet. . . . Col. Robert R. McCormick, editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune, arranges for his mother a demonstration of “the little box that picks up sounds from the air.”

May 12 – Zenith launches radio station WJAZ, broadcasting from the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Broadcasts originate from the glass-enclosed “Crystal Room” studio in the hotel.

1924

January – A Chicago Tribune survey reveals that there are more than 100,000 radio receiving sets in the Chicago area.

Col. Robert R. McCormick
Col. Robert R. McCormick Editor and Publisher

March 24 – Under the leadership of Col. Robert R. McCormick, The Chicago Tribune leases enough time on the Zenith Edgewater Beach Hotel station, WJAZ, to assure program dominance. The Tribune obtains the call letters WGN (World’s Greatest Newspaper) from Great Lakes skipper Carl D. Bradley.

March 29 – The Chicago Tribune assumes control of WJAZ and begins using the call letters WGN. The frequency changes from 670AM (shared with WMAQ) to 810AM. A broadcast that night, a Saturday, features Mayor William E. Dever, opera star Edith Mason, and “Zippy jazz tunes by the Oriole Orchestra, coached by Ted Fio Rito.” (Click to see the opening night schedule.) The schedule includes a five hour experimental broadcast prearranged to be heard 8,640 miles across the Pacific in Australia and New Zealand.

May – The Whitestone Company, the management company of the Drake Hotel, briefly takes ownership of WDAP.

May 9 – Tribune ends its ties with the Zenith Edgewater Beach Hotel station (which changes its call letters to WEBH) and begins an association with WDAP.

May 31 – Coverage of the Memorial Day 500 mile auto race from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the first broadcast of what has come to be known as the Indy 500. Surprised listeners hear a new station identification during the race: “This is WDAP, soon to be WGN, located on the Drake Hotel, Chicago.” As announcer A.W. (Sen) Kaney calls the race over seven hours, guests such as Barney Oldfield and Henry Ford speak into the WDAP/WGN microphone.

June 1 – With the words “This is WGN, formerly WDAP…” spoken by Elliott Jenkins, the Chicago Tribune’s radio endeavor takes form as we know it now when WDAP’s studios and programs are taken over. WGN moves into WDAP’s studio, described as a “soundproof sanctum of heavy carpets, canopies, and drapes.” Sen Kaney is on staff along with Jack Nelson and various hotel entertainers, Chapman’s Orchestra, the Drake Concert Ensemble, the Blackstone Quintet, and the Barton Organ Program. Col. McCormick delegates principal tasks to the Tribune’s business manager Samuel Emory Thomason who in turn selects James M. Cleary to lend a hand. WGN in its full form, takes to the air.

June-July – WGN carries the full proceedings of the Republican National Convention from Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention from New York.

Quin Ryan
Quin Ryan – Announcer / Sportscaster / Reporter

August 11 – Quin Ryan, the editor of the Tribune in-house publication, is assigned to WGN. His background includes work as a student actor at Northwestern University, column contributor, cub reporter, theatrical ghost writer and freelance announcer.

September – As the WGN audience listens in, Judge John R. Caverly delivers the life imprisonment sentence in the infamous Leopold and Loeb case.

October 1 – Sen Kaney is at the microphone as WGN broadcasts its first baseball game, a City Series matchup between the Cubs and the White Sox.

October 18 – WGN is on hand as a crowd of 67,000 watches Illinois beat Michigan following the dedication of Memorial Stadium in Champaign. Quin Ryan, broadcasting from the roof of the stadium, brings listeners an account of “Red” Grange scoring four touchdowns in the first 12 minutes.

1925

January 1 – While in a studio at the Drake hotel in Chicago, Quin Ryan broadcasts the Tournament of Roses game using ticker-tape reports from Pasadena, California. A brass band, alumni and cheerleaders in the studio add atmosphere to the broadcast. Notre Dame beats Stanford 27-10 in the final appearance of the famed Four Horsemen.

Spring – WGN hosts a Prohibition debate featuring Clarence Darrow and Wayne B. Wheeler. Some 47,000 listeners vote 3 to 1 against Prohibition.

April 14 – Quin Ryan calls the action for the first broadcast of a regular season baseball game. In Charlie Grimm’s Cubs debut, the Cubs beat Pittsburgh 8-2.

May 16 – A team of eight, including Quin Ryan, Frank Dahm, and the singing team of Charles Correll and Freeman Gosden, broadcasts the 51st running of the Kentucky Derby from the cupola above the stands at Churchill Downs.

Summer – A new production unit is formed, headed by Chicago Symphony concert master Henry Selinger, to produce regularly scheduled music-drama presentations. Early productions include “The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg” and scenes from “Les Miserables” and “Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch”.

July 13-August 21 – At a cost of more than $1,000 a day just for telephone lines, WGN provides coverage of the “Scopes Monkey Trial” from Dayton, Tennessee. Quin Ryan reports, along with engineer Paul Neal, at the trial of high school teacher John Thomas Scopes who was indicted for teaching evolutionary theory. William Jennings Bryan argues for the prosecution, with Clarence Darrow for the defense. The seating arrangement in the courtroom is rearranged around the WGN microphone. Listeners across the midwest tune in, including, at one point, the jury itself after being sent to the lawn outside the courthouse while a point was argued. After intense questioning of Bryan by Darrow exposing weaknesses in Bryan’s arguments, Darrow requests an immediate verdict to prevent Bryan from delivering a prepared closing statement. The jury finds Scopes guilty, and the judge assesses the minimum fine possible. Five days later, Bryan dies while taking a nap. Eventually the Tennessee Supreme Court reverses the decision based on a technicality but dismisses the case rather than sending it back for further action.

Fall – The Chicago Tribune purchases two Elgin radio stations from Charles Erbstein to expand the coverage area. Erbstein was known for having a microphone attached to his office desk so he could comment on topics whenever he wanted. For a time, WGN and WLIB (named for Tribune’s national magazine, Liberty) share the 980 kHz frequency and alternate programs, with WLIB carrying programs from the NBC network.

October – Quin Ryan and Graham MacNamee share the microphone to broadcast the World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Senators.

December – Bill Hay performs “A Christmas Carol” with an organ background.

December 25 – As part of the new WGN-WLIB partnership, Carl J. Meyers, the engineer who built the Elgin stations, joins the WGN family. He would remain with WGN until the 1960s, eventually serving as Director of Engineering.

1926

January 12 – Freeman Gosden and Charlie Correll debut their new program “Sam ‘n’ Henry”, the forerunner of “Amos ‘n’ Andy.”

October – The combined WGN-WLIB operation moves to a new high-power transmitter in Elgin.

1927

July 28 – Quin Ryan broadcasts an eyewitness account from the WGN studios in the Drake Hotel as the Favorite, an excursion steamer that took people from Lincoln Park to Municipal Pier (later called Navy Pier), sinks off Oak Street Beach.

September – WGN broadcasts the controversial bout between Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney at Soldier Field. Although it appears Dempsey scored a knockout blow, referee Dave Barry allows Tunney 14 seconds, instead of the usual ten, to return to his feet and retain his title.

December 1 – As part of a nationwide reassignment of frequencies by the Federal Radio Commission (the forerunner of today’s FCC) designed to reduce radio interference, WGN moves to the frequency of 720 kHz, where it remains to this day.

1928

January – “The Radio Floor Walker”, WGN’s first commercial program, debuts. The mostly-music variety program has commercials interspersed through the show. Although the show raises some revenue, listeners complain about “the constant barrage of advertising.” The trend will lead to the single-sponsor programs that were common in radio’s Golden Age. (In the early years, Chicago Tribune management do not consider radio a true commercial enterprise, so losses totaling nearly $1 million over the first fifteen years of the station are accepted as a part of the endeavor.)

June – WGN is the only independent station to broadcast full coverage from the Republican (Kansas City) and Democratic (Houston) National Conventions. Listeners throughout the midwest tune in to the coverage, although Quin Ryan in the Houston announce booth is occasionally drowned out by a “cowboy band.”

November 11 – The Federal Radio Commission, in an attempt to impose order over the ever-more-crowded radio spectrum, orders that the combined WGN-WLIB operation merge into one station, WGN.

1929

Carl Meyers - Police Car
Carl Meyers – Police Car

March – WGN begins interrupting programs to carry police bulletins to officers in their squad cars, and the general public as well. The experiment, implemented by chief engineer Carl Meyers, would lead to the police radio systems in use today.

1930

Chicago in the 1930s was the point of origination for much of the nation’s radio and WGN was the pacesetter in Chicago.

“Little Orphan Annie” premiered on WGN in 1930 and became one of the most popular radio serials. The program, written by Frank Dahm, dramatized Harold Gray’s cartoon series. Chicagoan Shirley Bell starred as the titular character.

September 25 – WGN announces plans to begin its broadcast day an hour earlier, at 7:30am instead of 8:30am, because “the listeners have become educated to expect service via radio at an earlier hour.” The broadcast day would continue to end at 12:30am “to enable D.X. fans to tune in on distant stations.” The station had earlier had a sign-off time of 1:30am, and would change the sign off to 1:00am the next month.

October 11 – In a filing by Tribune Company to the Federal Radio Commission, it is requested that WGN be permitted to increase its signal strength from 25,000 watts to 50,000 watts. The filing notes that the station has 108 full time and 25 part time employees. Annual cost of operating WGN is listed as $558,565.19, with revenues of $295,704.36.

1931

February 16 – The FRC authorizes WGN to increase its signal strength to 50,000 watts.

April – Millions of listeners tune to WGN for coverage of the funeral of Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne, who had been killed in an plane crash.

1932

December – WGN sets a record for long distance remote broadcasts as it sends a crew 2,300 miles to Los Angeles for the Notre Dame – USC football game.

1933

Beginning in 1933, WGN broadcast concerts by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in an association that lasts until the 1960s.

Fall – After brief, but limited, associations with the National Broadcasting Company (1926-1930) and the Columbia Broadcasting System (1930-1933), WGN returns to full independent status.

1934

The WGN Concert Orchestra was reorganized and directed by internationally renowned conductor and pianist Henry G. Weber beginning in 1934. It was among radio’s most distinguished. Weber served as musical director until 1958.

May – Quin Ryan and sports announcer John Harrington provide updates on the stockyards fire. Although many people hearing the reports fear a repeat of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the reports accurately describe the extent of the blaze and the progress being made to control it.

Pierre Andre

July – To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the WGN call letters, Pierre Andre hosts one of radio’s first programs before a live audience. The entertainers included Clara, Lu ‘n’ Em, Ireene Wicker, the Singing Lady, and the Jack Chapman Orchestra.

September – WGN joins with WOR-Newark and two other stations to form the Mutual Broadcasting System, a cooperative network that would last until 1956.

1935

October – WGN dedicates its new home, a four-story building built as an addition to Tribune Tower. The $600,000 structure (built in the midst of the Great Depression) features six studios, four client’s rooms, one master and seven studio control rooms, workshops, dressing rooms, offices, and a 450 seat studio theater, described as Chicago’s largest and most lavish. Although it is just across the street, the new facility represents a quantum leap when compared to the original 1922 home of WDAP in the Wrigley Building.

1938

The WGN Concert Orchestra -and stars of opera, operetta, and concert – began a series of hour long “streamlined” operas in English: “Samson and Delilah,” “Carmen,” and “Lohengrin.”

1940

May – WGN presents the first broadcast of “The Chicago Theater of the Air”, an elaborate broadcast produced before a studio audience and heard across the country via the Mutual Broadcasting System. In 1943 the program moves to the Medinah Temple where 3,000 to 4,000 spectators would gather each week to see Marion Claire and other stars perform backed by a full orchestra and chorus. Col. McCormick would often speak during these broadcasts on topics including Revolutionary War battles. “Chicago Theater of the Air” would remain on the air until 1956.

July – In Chicago Tonight, the most elaborate variety show in Chicago’s history, debuts for a 10-month run. The weekly series of specially written productions features guests including the Mills Brothers, the Andrews Sisters, Bob Hope, Teddy Wilson, Gary Cooper and Gypsy Rose Lee.

1941

March 1 – WGN’s FM sister station, W59C (later WGNB) signs on. A junior announcer named Ward Quaal voices the first FM broadcast. The station would eventually become what is now WFMT.

Fall – WGN takes listeners to the playing field for the first time as, during a broadcast of football game between Northwestern and Michigan, a microphone is brought out on the gridiron to capture the referee’s pregame instructions to the teams.

December 7 – Chicagoans are enjoying a broadcast from Soldier Field of the season-ending matchup between the Bears and Cardinals when a young studio announcer named Ward Quaal breaks in with a news bulletin. For the next 10 days (257 hours and 35 minutes to be exact), WGN presents continuous coverage of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into World War II.

1943

July 25 – As news breaks of the overthrow of Benito Mussolini’s fascist government in Italy, WGN’s reports are played over the speakers at Wrigley Field to a crowd of 35,000 fans attending a Cubs game.

1944

July – WGN celebrates the 20th anniversary of its call letters. Among those celebrating the milestone are educational director Myrtle Stahl (the station’s second employee), assistant music librarian Fred Meinken, and WGN Symphony Orchestra pianist Leon Benditzky, each of whom has spent at least two decades at the station.

1946

May – In an experiment many years ahead of its time, a four page “facsimile edition” of the Chicago Tribune is transmitted over WGNB from Tribune Tower to Col. McCormick’s Cantigny Farm in Wheaton, Illinois.

1948

April 4 – WGN-TV begins daily operation with a gala two hour program from the main studio of the WGN Building on Michigan Avenue. Programs transmitted to an estimated 16,000 sets (a quarter of them in taverns) would originate from studio facilities atop the Daily News Building at 400 West Madison and an auditorium in a Loop department store. Col. McCormick is ill and unable to participate in person.

1953

Fall – Jack Brickhouse and Irv Kupcinet begin a long term partnership as the Chicago Bears radio broadcast team.

1955

April 1 – Col. Robert R. McCormick dies at the age of 75.

1956

Ward Quaal

June 8 – WGN hires Ward L. Quaal as Vice President and General Manager. He had originally joined WGN upon graduation from Northwestern and worked in positions including announcer and Special Assistant to the General Manager. His return to WGN follows four years as Vice President and Assistant General Manager at Crosley Broadcasting in Cincinnati.

1958

February – In response to a growing national problem of highway safety, WGN premieres Signal 10, a dramatic radio series featuring Sgt. Tim McCarthy of the Indiana State Police in on-the-spot interrogations of traffic violators. The show is syndicated to points as far away as California and Europe and wins the first Alfred P. Sloan Award ever given to a Chicago station.

Spring – After being broadcast on WIND for a number of years, the Cubs begin their long-term exclusive radio broadcast partnership with WGN that would continue until 2014.

November 24 – A new era of traffic coverage begins as Chicago Police Department Officer Leonard Baldy becomes the first “Flying Officer,” reporting from WGN’s trafficopter from high above rush-hour congestion.

December 1 – Just a week after its debut, the WGN trafficopter proves its worth as a newsgathering tool as it hovers over Our Lady of the Angels school, site of a tragic fire that kills 92 children and three nuns. While providing coverage for WGN listeners, Officer Leonard Baldy also helps emergency vehicles navigate to the school and to local hospitals through the congested streets in the area.

1960

May 2, 1960 – Officer Leonard Baldy is killed when his helicopter suffers a structural failure of the main rotor blade and crashes.

September 26 – Orion Samuelson is named WGN’s Farm Service Director, beginning a career that would continue for six decades until his retirement in December 2020.

1961

January – WGN moves to a combined radio and television facility at 2501 Bradley Place on Chicago’s north side. At the official dedication ceremony in June, the complex is called “the country’s largest and finest broadcasting facility housing a single radio and television company.”

1962

May 18 – WGN celebrates its 40th Anniversary with a live three-hour broadcast hosted by Jack Brickhouse, Pierre Andre and Eddie Hubbard, featuring Robert Trendler and the WGN Orchestra and special guests including Quin Ryan, Bob Elson and Shirley Bell.

Summer – Orion Samuelson broadcasts from the Illinois State Fair. The annual broadcasts would continue for over four decades.

1963

November 22 – In the midst of a routine broadcast of the noontime program Country Fair, Orion Samuelson is handed a bulletin. As he reads the words “President Kennedy has been shot and seriously wounded,” he and his WGN listeners get their first indication of the tragedy unfolding in Dallas.

1965

Wally Phillips in the WGN Radio Bradley Place studios (WGN Radio photo)

January – Wally Phillips begins a 21-1/2 year reign as the king of Chicago morning radio. Wally’s style includes innovative “candid telephone” bits and carefully choreographed interactions with a variety of recorded voices and sounds. He combines entertainment, humor, information and public service including the founding of the Neediest Kids Christmas Fund, later known as the WGN Radio Neediest Kids Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation.

1967

January 26-27 – Chicago is buried under 23 inches of snow in 18 hours, with peak snowfall of 4-6 inches per hour. Many WGN Radio staff members stay at the station for several days to help provide coverage, and trafficopter reporters Irv Hayden and Ed Peterson provide traffic reports and inform authorities of accidents and motorists in need of assistance.

July – Roy Leonard makes the permanent move from Boston to host the mid-day broadcast.

1968

May 9 – On the fourth night of a new program called Extension 720, host Norman Ross welcomes a panel to discuss the topic of “Show Business Personalities’ Endorsements of Political Candidates.” Among the guests is University of Chicago professor Dr. Milton Rosenberg.

1971

March 17 – Marilyn Miller is named producer of the Wally Phillips Show and is believed to be the first female morning drive time producer in radio. She would remain Wally’s producer until his retirement and would continue with the station after that working in the Human Resources department.

June 12 – Popular all-night music host Franklyn MacCormack suffers a heart attack during the broadcast of his Meister Brau Showcase. He would die the next day. Decades later, MacCormack would remain the subject of numerous listener requests and questions.

August 10 – WGN suffers a second tragic loss of an airborne traffic reporter as Chicago Police patrolman Irv Hayden is killed in a helicopter crash.

August – Bill Berg becomes new afternoon host.

1972

October 30 – Wally Phillips is on the air when he receives a phone call from the scene of Chicago’s worst rail accident, a high speed collision between an Illinois Central commuter train and another IC train stopped at the 27th Street station killing 45 people and injuring hundreds more. WGN’s coverage would include reports from witnesses on the scene and from trafficopter reporters high overhead.

1973

MiltPublicityPhoto
Milt Rosenberg

July – Milt Rosenberg becomes the permanent host of Extension 720. Previous hosts, mostly on a rotating basis, included Dan Price (the regular host for a time), Norman Ross, Jerry Tolbert, Bob Cromie, Jack Brickhouse and Orion Samuelson.

1974

January 2 – WGN wins the President’s Trophy at the 85th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California, for a float called “Happiness is a Golden Anniversary,” to mark the first 50 years with the WGN call name.

April 1 – Bob Collins joins WGN Radio as a new afternoon host.

1975

October 1 – On the night of the Ali/Frazier “Thrilla in Manila” bout, a group of sports journalists from print media gathers in a WGN studio for the debut of a new program. The Sportswriters, featuring Ben Bentley, Bill Jauss, Bill Gleason and George Langford among others over the years, would be a fixture on WGN until 1993, usually on late Sunday afternoons. Years later, some people would say they could still smell cigar smoke in Studio C.

1979

May 25 – Larry Schriener reports from the scene of the worst aviation disaster in U.S. history, as American Airlines flight 191, a DC-10, loses an engine and crashes shortly after taking off from O’Hare Airport, killing all 271 people on board and two on the ground.

1986

January 26 – Wayne Larrivee, Dick Butkus and Jim Hart are in the WGN booth in the Louisiana Superdome as the Chicago Bears beat the New England Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX.

Bob Collins in the WGN Radio studio (Marlene Wells/WGN Radio)

July 7 – In a heavily promoted schedule change that includes a live television broadcast, Wally Phillips and Bob Collins switch shifts, with Bob taking over the morning show and Wally moving to afternoons.

August 3 – WGN returns to the old neighborhood yet again, as the radio station departs from the shared facility on Bradley Place and moves back to Tribune Tower. The new space includes the Showcase Studio on Michigan Avenue, where spectators can gather to watch WGN’s talent in action through large street-level windows.

1987

May 18 – The Spike O’Dell Radio Experiment premieres on WGN, airing weekdays 3:00-7:00pm.

1989

June 21 – Roy Leonard broadcasts from Moscow, inside what was, at the time, the Soviet Union.

1990

August 28 – Steve Bertrand and Rod Sierra provide eyewitness accounts of the devastation caused by a massive tornado in Will County that destroyed large parts of Plainfield.

September 7 – The WGN family organizes a five-hour benefit concert event at Joliet’s Rialto Square Theater to help the victims of the Plainfield tornado. Over $130,000 is raised from the live Tornado Aid event and home video.

1991

October – WGN hosts its first annual Pumpkinfest food drive, a day-long event featuring a live broadcast. The event would continue for several years, raising money and food for Chicago’s needy.

1995

August 26 – Sam Weinstein broadcasts the final edition of his Tenpin Tattler bowling program. The show, sponsored by Weinstein’s “Universal Bowling and Golf Specialists” shop, had aired on WGN since 1966, after originating on WCFL in 1935.

1996

November – WGN goes online for the first time with the debut of “The Spike O’Dell Web Experiment.” Over the next year, development of the complete wgnradio.com website would continue.

1997

September – John Williams joins WGN as the new afternoon host.

1999

March 26-27 – Hundreds of Girlfriends gather at the Chicago Hilton & Towers for the first annual Kathy & Judy Convention. The event, hosted by Kathy O’Malley and Judy Markey, includes seminars, entertainment and a chance for fans of the show to meet one another.

December 31 – WGN staff members gather at WGN’s downtown studios and the suburban transmitter site in anticipation of possible chaos caused by the Y2K computer bug. Midnight passes without any major glitches anywhere in the world, so the extra staff enjoys a bit of champagne from paper coffee cups and then heads home.

2000

February 8 – Morning show host Bob Collins, piloting his private plane just hours after the conclusion of that day’s program, dies following a midair collision. The grieving station staff holds what amounts to an on-air wake to share their thoughts with his many equally stunned fans. Four days later, WGN carries a live broadcast of his memorial service from Holy Name Cathedral.

Spike – preferred publicity shot
Spike O’Dell

March 6 – After filling in for several weeks, Spike O’Dell officially becomes WGN’s new morning host. It is a position he accepts with deeply mixed emotions. Each year, Spike along with Orion Samuelson and the rest of the morning crew raise a toast to Bob Collins on February 28, Bob’s birthday. On March 6, Steve Cochran also joins WGN’s full-time staff as early afternoon host.

March 29 & 30 – Pat Hughes and Ron Santo broadcast from Tokyo, Japan, as the Cubs play the Mets to open the season. First pitch for both games is at 4:00am Chicago time.

April 17 – Following several months of renovation, a completely rebuilt Showcase Studio opens on Michigan Avenue. The studio is more popular than ever and is in use on most weekdays almost continuously from 9:00am-9:00pm, and for many shows on weekends.

2001

September 11 – Morning host Spike O’Dell and news anchor Tom Petersen provide descriptions of video images of smoke pouring from New York’s World Trade Center. Petersen reads one of the first bulletins, indicating that “a plane crashed into one of the towers.” WGN’s coverage of that tragic day would include a focus on Chicago’s reaction.

2003

September 22 – Inspired by a conversation on the John Williams Show, three dedicated Cub fans travel to Houston to attempt to “Reverse the Curse” by transferring the infamous Billy Goat curse from the Cubs to the Astros. As John’s fans listen thanks to a cell phone, a goat named Virgil Homer is refused access to Houston’s Minute Maid Park and a curse against the Astros is read. Although it appears for a while that the Cubs long World Series drought might finally come to an end, the Cubs would eventually lose 4 games to 3 to the Florida Marlins in the National League Championship Series.

2004

April 21 – One day after a deadly tornado outbreak causes major hardship in areas including Utica, IL, WGN Radio and the McCormick Tribune Foundation set up the Utica Tornado Relief Campaign. Listeners donate via phone, mail, and online, raising over $370,000 after a 50 cent on the dollar match by the Foundation.

June 1 – WGN marks the 80th anniversary of its call letters with a commemorative CD.

October 21 – The corner of Rush and Delaware is designated “Honorary Wally Phillips Way” in a ceremony attended by Ward Quaal, Mike Ditka, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, Alderman Burt Natarus, Wally’s family, and many of his friends, colleagues and fans. Wally joins other WGN Radio figures, including Bob Collins, Jack Brickhouse and Paul Harvey, who have received this type of honor.

2005

September 8- Spike O’Dell broadcasts live from the Chicago Historical Society for the first stop in the WGN Radio Hometown Voices Tour. This monthly series of remote broadcasts would take WGN’s popular daytime shows to the listeners, broadcasting from landmarks and gathering places throughout Chicago’s neighborhoods and the suburbs.

2007

July 20 – WGN Radio hosts the first 720 Day, a daylong fundraiser for the Neediest Kids Fund, a Fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation. During 24 hours, the station raised $131,156.79, including a 50 cent on the dollar match from the Foundation, which would go directly to kids in need in Chicagoland.

2008

April 30 – WGN Radio announces a multi-year deal to become the radio home of the Chicago Blackhawks, a partnership that continues into the present.

December 12 – During a live Hometown Voices broadcast from Arlington Heights, Spike O’Dell says farewell to his loyal listeners and hangs up the morning show microphone, heading off to retirement.

2009

January 1 – WGN Radio broadcasts live from Wrigley Field as the Blackhawks meet the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL Winter Classic.

April 3 – Chicago radio veteran Garry Meier joins WGN Radio.

2010

April 5 – The WGN Radio news department moves into a new home on the 4th floor of Tribune Tower, in the center of the Chicago Tribune newsroom.

June 9 – John Wiedeman and Troy Murray bring Chicago listeners the call on WGN, and worldwide on various digital streams, as the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime 4-3 in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, clinching the series 4-2 and bringing the Cup back to the Chicago for the first time since 1961. Two days later, listeners share the excitement as a massive crowd welcomes the team to the corner of Michigan and Wacker for a parade and rally.

2011

SteveJohnnieByWillCrockett
Steve King and Johnnie Putman (Photo by Will Crockett)

December 9 – Chicago radio legend Jonathon Brandmeier becomes WGN Radio’s new morning show host. Earlier that morning, Steve King and Johnnie Putman end their WGN careers after 26 years and over 6,000 shows.

2012

July 1 – Sunday Papers host Rick Kogan broadcasts the first program from WGN Radio’s new, state-of-the-art studios on the 7th floor of Tribune Tower. Though the street-level Allstate Showcase Studio would remain at its familiar Michigan Avenue location where it had been since 1986, the rest of the station moved upstairs to make room for a restaurant facing Pioneer Court. Two nights earlier, Andrea Darlas delivered the first newscast from the station’s new newsroom.

2013

June 24 – WGN Radio’s John Wiedeman and Troy Murray broadcast live from Boston as the Chicago Blackhawks defeat the Bruins to win their second Stanley Cup in four years.

September 13 – WGN.FM, “The G,” a virtual radio station, launches with Jonathon Brandmeier hosting mornings.

December 3 – Following a series of devastating tornadoes on November 17, WGN Radio hosts Illinois Tornado Relief Day, raising over $800,000, including a McCormick Foundation match, to help victims of the storms.

2014

February 17 – WGN returns to the FM band with the launch of its “snotty little brother,” 87.7 FM, The Game.

2015

April – WGN Radio partners with the McCormick Foundation, WGN-TV, Chicago Tribune and Hoy to launch the Illinois Tornado Relief Effort 2015 (ITRE) to help communities impacted by storms on April 9. Over $1 million was raised, including a McCormick Foundation match, to help the victims.

April 24 –Spike O’Dell returns to the WGN Radio morning airwaves for one day only and joins the Steve Cochran Show from 5am to 9am for a special broadcast out of the CMT Studios in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Stanley Cup (WGN Radio photo)

June 18 – WGN Radio broadcasts live coverage of the 2015 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks parade and rally.

June 28 – WGN Radio hosts representatives from the Chicago Blackhawks and the Stanley Cup on its float in the 46th Annual Chicago Pride Parade.

August 14 – Two new bricks – one from Wrigley Field and one from Comiskey Park – are permanently installed into the Indiana limestone exterior on the north side and south side, respectively, of the main entrance of historic Tribune Tower in a live broadcast and ceremony hosted by Bob Sirott. These bricks join the 148 stones from around the world and all 50 states that are already part of the Tribune Tower’s façade. Previously, the last addition made to the building was a tile from the Sydney Opera House on May 17, 2006.

September 13 – The Hamp & O’B. Show with Glen Kozlowski is introduced to the fall/winter sports lineup. Featuring NFL Hall of Famer Dan Hampton and former Chicago Bears Ed O’Bradovich and Glen Kozlowski, the three-hour football postgame show follows every regular season Chicago Bears game.

2018

February 14 – WGN Radio and the Chicago White Sox jointly announce a multi-year agreement naming 720 AM as the team’s flagship radio station.

June – WGN Radio moves out of the Tribune Tower and into its new space on the 18th floor of 303 E. Wacker.

2019

September 19 – Irving, Texas-based Nexstar assumes ownership of WGN Radio’s parent company Tribune Media. Sean Compton is announced as WGN Radio’s executive vice president.

December 20 – After serving as director of news and operations and acting general manager, Mary Sandberg Boyle is promoted to general manager, making her the first female to hold that position in the station’s history.

2020

January 6 – WGN Radio’s new lineup begins with Bob Sirott as the morning drive host.

March 28 – With live sports on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, WGN Radio replays the broadcast of the Chicago Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup playoff run on weekends.

September 21 – Mary Sandberg Boyle is promoted to vice president and general manager of WGN Radio.

WGN Radio’s Walk of Fame Inductee – Orion Samuelson

September 24 – WGN Radio announces that legendary agribusiness broadcaster Orion Samuelson will retire on December 31. The station celebrates Samuelson’s 60-year career with a retrospective published at wgnradio.com/orion.

2021

May 30 – WGN Radio airs the 105th Indianapolis 500 including extended pre-race coverage. WGN Radio’s roots with racing in Indy can be traced back to the 1924 race, then called the Memorial Day 500.

August 18 – WGN Radio works with the City of Chicago to recognize the late WGN sports producer Jack Rosenberg with an honorary street name. The southeast corner of E. Illinois Street and Cityfront Plaza Drive is named “Jack Rosenberg Way” following an unveiling ceremony hosted by Bob Sirott and 42nd Ward alderman Brendan Reilly reading the official resolution.

2022

January 1 – WGN Radio releases new 100th anniversary logos as it begins the celebration of its centennial.

January 3 – As part of a new weekday schedule, Lisa Dent joins the lineup as host of Chicago’s Afternoon News.