I started working for WGN in March of 1970 when I was 24 years old. I had worked for two other radio stations before coming to WGN. I briefly worked at WLS during the summer of 1965 and then I moved to WEFM, which is now known as US99 on 99.5FM. In those days, WEFM was owned by Zenith Corporation and it was a classical music station.
In my first years with WGN I was a board operator, remote engineer and maintenance engineer at the studio where I repaired and installed electronic equipment. I was often scheduled as the engineer at Wrigley Field working the baseball games with Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau and I also did many of the Bears broadcasts between 1970 and 1975 with Jack Brickhouse and Irv Kupcinet. WGN always had many remote broadcasts and in those years I did a lot of them such as the Noon Show on location at county fair sites and Big 10 football broadcasts with Vince and Lou.
I also operated our studio consoles when I was not assigned to equipment maintenance or remotes. I worked on shows like Roy Leonard, Franklyn MacCormack, Bill Berg, Howard Miller, Bob Collins, Eddie Hubbard and many others. It was interesting work because many of those shows had famous guests like Bert Reynolds, Barry Manilow, Olivia Newton-John, Mel Torme, Rich Little, David Brenner and many others. It was fun.
In 1977 I was promoted to Engineer in Charge of daytime studio operations. During that period I supervised the day to day engineering operations. In 1979 I was promoted to the Chief Engineer position. At that point I became responsible for all of the station’s technical operations, including the transmitter site. Since 1979 we have installed five new transmitters, built these studios on Michigan Avenue before moving back here to Tribune Tower in 1986, built two mobile studios and a satellite uplink and built a showcase studio in 1987 and then renovated it in 2000. Along the way, this engineering department participated in post season Cubs broadcasts in 1984, 1989, 1998 and 2003. The 1986 Bears World Championship coverage included a live broadcast from our mobile studio in New Orleans with Mayor Harold Washington hosting a Chicago party in the Big Easy, and 3 days of extensive broadcasting that ended with Bob Collins riding in a bus from O’Hare with the team while broadcasting live on a cell phone during the Bears victory ride to downtown. It was an amazing time.
Working for WGN has always been interesting, challenging and never dull. When I decided to accept this job in 1970 I had no idea that I would be here 35 years but I can honestly say that I think it was one of the best decisions of my life because I have thoroughly enjoyed working with all of the talented people that work at this radio station.
One my many assignments in those early days was to engineer the Bears broadcasts. Jack Brickhouse was the play-by-play announcer, Irv Kupcinet was the color commentator and Jack Rosenberg was the on site producer. In those days the Bears played their home games at Wrigley Field. Those were the days of Bobby Douglas and Jack Concannon at quarterback. The games were awfully dull because the Bears were losing pretty regularly. The only thing interesting about the games was watching Dick Butkus go after the running backs and quarterbacks with fire in his eyes.
As regular as clockwork, half hour before the game started, a package would arrive from Eli’s with corned beef sandwiches. Irv Kupcinet really loved those sandwiches. In fact, Jack and Irv had a regular routine going during those boring games. Irv would grab a sandwich and start eating it and Brickhouse would wait until Irv had a mouth full of corned beef before asking him a question. He would make a point of asking “and what do you think Irv?” Most of the time the best Kupcinet could manage was a very choked up “that’s right Jack.” It was a routine that they would use often. Jack never got tired of trying to catch Irv while he was trying to enjoy his sandwich. I guess he figured that if he couldn’t eat during the broadcast, he wasn’t going to let Irv get away with it either.
There was one other memorable Bears moment from the early 70’s. That was the day Bob Hope stopped in to say hello. It was brutally cold that day and the booth at Wrigley Field did not have a heater or any windows. The wind felt like it could slice through you and it was somewhere around 10 degrees that day. I had brought one small electric heater from the studio that I positioned on the floor to try to keep the frostbite away from our toes. It didn’t help much but I think it gave us a psychological boost. We would take turns positioning it to get the bone chilling cold out of our shoes.
When Bob Hope came in he was very cheerful but he looked so cold he was literally shaking. He was joking with Brickhouse and Kupcinet on the air about how cold it was and then he turned to me and he said “hey buddy, do you mind if I put my foot in your stove for a while?” We thought it was hilarious and certainly better than the game on field where the Bears were losing as usual. He stayed just a few more minutes before he headed to warmer places but he was probably the highlight of that game, at least for me.
Those are my memories from the early Bears days at Wrigley Field. I also did baseball games there with Vince Lloyd and Lou Boudreau and I can assure you, those were much warmer.