Floyd Brown was an announcer at WGN Radio. He was the host of Sunday night jazz music program that also included a segment featuring investment advice from Darlene Todd. On July 4th, 1999, Floyd Brown delivered his last show for WGN Radio. Floyd announced his retirement with his family joining him for one last entertaining show to culminate a long and remarkable career.When you think of high visibility in the Chicago media, you must be thinking of Floyd Brown. On both WGN Radio and WGN-TV, Floyd has served in numerous on-air capacities.On WGN Radio, “The Floyd Brown Show” featured an entertaining variety of music, special events and interviews with interesting, provocative guests. The program focused on investments and entrepreneurship from 11:00pm to midnight each Sunday, followed by two hours of America’s “great jazz music.”
Beginning his career as an engineer at WRMN in Elgin, Floyd has occupied almost every position in broadcasting. He has served as a chief engineer, program manager, newscaster and associate news editor, as well as program host for a variety of radio and television formats. Aside from his work with the WGN organizations, Floyd has seen plenty of broadcast action at WMAQ-Channel 5, WYNR, WNUS and NBC.
Floyd’s activities off the air are just as impressive. Throughout Illinois, he is in high demand as a public speaker and a Master of Ceremonies. Along with being an active member of the first Congregational Church of Elgin, Floyd is a television host with the Chicago Sunday Evening Club, and is active in Rotary International, the American Heart Association, is a board member of the Salvation Army and is involved with countless other civic organizations and charities.
In fact, the entire Brown family is a visible part of the Chicagoland area. Betty, Floyd’s wife, is well-known as a civic leader, successful business woman and patron of the arts. His son, Keith, is a judge in the 16th Judicial Circuit, while their daughter, Dianne, is also successful in the business world, as an officer with one of the nation’s largest corporations.
from the Courier-News 7/4/1999By Kathaleen Roberts STAFF WRITER
When Floyd Brown launched his broadcasting career at WRMN, the owners tried to muzzle him because he was black.
By 1965, the Elgin resident had signed with NBC and landed on the cover of a national magazine next to Bill Cosby.
Brown shattered the color barrier with his trademark dose of gentlemanly grace, fueled by a veiled undercurrent of rage. The WGN radio announcer and former sports anchor retires today after 28 years at the station.
Armed with a baritone as smooth and rich as molasses, Brown invented a career spanning the Big Band era, the Beatles and the Bears. Relentlessly self-critical, he barely can stand to listen to his own show. But he possesses a disarming honesty that never tilts into boastfulness.
“It’s hard to dislike me,” he said quietly.
Brown was born in Texas, the son of a divorced mother who worked in a dress shop. His grandmother picked cotton and served as a domestic.
“The earliest memory I have of Metro Street in Dallas is seeing people sitting on a porch,” he said. “There had just been a hanging in the neighborhood. They said he had raped a white woman.
“You couldn’t eat in a restaurant,” he continued. “You had to go to ‘colored only’ washrooms. The first time I was in an integrated school was at Northwestern (University). I was an oddity there. I’d walk through a room and people would stop talking.”
The family moved to Washington, D.C., where he says his mother “cried me through high school.” Street toughs frequently lured him away from the school grounds. But he graduated at 16, then headed to college in 1947, where he became interested in radio. He wanted to study engineering, but his advisers told him to open a radio shop instead. He decided to take accounting because of the number of black-owned businesses springing up in Chicago.
To support himself, Brown worked as a porter at the Drake Hotel, scribbling his homework in linen closets. He often passed the Radio Institute of Chicago during his commute, and he decided to follow his first love. In 1951, he signed up for engineering and announcing classes and came to Elgin and WRMN, then owned by Joe McNoughton.
Hired as an engineer, Brown worked at the station’s transmitter site, then located on Illinois 58, far from WRMN’s downtown newsroom. But he edged onto the airwaves when the usual announcer was late for work.
“He found out the world didn’t explode when I came on the air,” he said. “I started getting more mail than anybody else.”
Elgin’s worst moments
Longtime friend Fern Risley, who started her career at WRMN with Brown, remembers going into the city to listen to jazz. Risley now works in the tourist information center of the Grand Victoria Casino.
“We couldn’t take him anywhere in Elgin,” she said. “He had to go to Chicago to get his hair cut. My husband tried to make a (golf) date for him at a local golf course and they wouldn’t let him.”
If life is marked by turning points or personal epiphanies, Brown’s came in Elgin. He still calls it “the worst day of my life.” He was earning $70 a week, and his wife Betty was pregnant.
The station’s general manager appointed him chief engineer.
“I said, ‘That means a raise, doesn’t it?’ He said, ‘No, we don’t have the money.’ I was furious enough to strike out in anger,” Brown said, his warm eyes still narrowing into slits. “He did that because he knew I couldn’t go anywhere because I was black. I got a lump in my throat so big I could hardly swallow. I went out because the tears were coming out. I sat there and I labored with it and I thought, ‘I’ll show those sons of bitches.'”
Years later, at the height of Brown’s success, that same manager would claim to have been the best man at his wedding.
On his own
Brown left WRMN to help start up WYNR, a Chicago rock station owned by the Dallas-based McLendon Corp. He doubled his salary and stepped into the volatile world of rock ‘n’ roll “culture shock.”
“I used to get a headache listening to it,” he acknowledged. “Motown had just come into its own. We were one of the first to play Beatles’ music in the U.S.
“We brought in Cassius Clay who later became Muhammad Ali,” he added. “We put him on with our morning man and we called it the battle of the lip.”
Three years later, he left the station for NBC’s WMAQ, becoming the first black to be hired by a national network. Parent company Chairman David Sarnoff put Brown on the cover of RCA’s company magazine next to Cosby, then starring in the TV series I Spy.
Brown worked as a DJ and as an announcer for WMAQ’s radio show during the height of the ’60s anti-war violence.
“There was so much turbulence,” he said. “Our newsmen would come in bleeding and wearing helmets.”
The more experienced NBC announcers wouldn’t talk to him until he had worked for every program and proved he was more than just a token.
Then WGN called, made Brown an announcer, and gave him his own Sunday jazz show at the request of listeners who bombarded the station with calls and letters. There he interviewed jazz royalty: Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton and Ella Fitzgerald. The station also named him the WGN-TV sports anchor, a slot he filled for “10 or 12 years.”
Ward Quaal, retired WGN president and chief executive officer, hired Brown on the recommendation of his staff.
“You can find some people who can do sports, but nothing else,” he said. “You can find people to do news but nothing else. He could adjust himself to any need.”
At one point, Brown was working 15 hours a day, six days a week.
“Whenever they needed a body, I was the guy,” he said. “I used to start my day at noon up at the Bears’ camp and I’d wind up doing the midnight news.”
He had also started his own marketing firm after being approached by friends for advice. Always a familiar face at community fund-raisers, he was the director of a mutual fund group and served on the board of a local savings and loan. He set “ridiculous” fees to discourage speaker requests, but still they came.
The pressures mounted, then exploded in 1978 when Brown landed in the hospital with open heart surgery for angina. It proved to be a wake-up call. He stopped pushing so hard, and gave up his anchor position.
“Nobody in the hospital ever says ‘I didn’t spend enough time at the office,'” he said. “I never had the ego problem of ‘I have to be on the air; I have to be on stage.’ I just enjoyed it.”
He’s spent the last few years anchoring a Sunday night radio program centering on his two greatest interests: finance and jazz.
He’ll close tonight’s final show accompanied by his family, including his daughter Diane, the owner of an interior design firm, and his son Keith, a 16th judicial circuit judge. After some rest, he’ll take computer classes, work on his golf game, travel and focus more closely on his investments.
If America’s racial chasm plunged Brown into his deepest point of despair, it also raised him. During the height of the nation’s civil rights unrest, Brown was struggling mightily with the urge to head south and join Martin Luther King when the vice president of Montgomery Ward approached him in a restaurant.
“When we get into a group and people are making derogatory remarks (about blacks), we don’t know how to answer,” Brown quoted the man as saying. “Now I can say that’s not true, I know Floyd Brown and his family and they’re not like that.”
“A light bulb went on in my head,” Brown said. “I used to talk to the Lord a lot in my car. I said, ‘Lord, if you’ll just get me through this, I will live a life that stresses that being a Christian and being a good man is a positive way of life.’ With that approach in mind, I think I’ve influenced millions of people.”