Dispatch from a War Zone

A great document of Chicago radio history turned up recently: a three-part TV report from 1983 on Chicago’s then-burgeoning morning radio war, filed by a refugee from the radio wars, former WLS jock-turned-TV-guy Bob Sirott. The tape had apparently been at large in Sirott’s basement for years, and he only recently located it. Sirott interviewed the market leaders, Wally Phillips of WGN and Larry Lujack of WLS, and focused on the others who were taking aim on them, including Jonathon Brandmeier, Robert Murphy, Bob Wall, and Tomm Rivers.

The passage of enough time makes almost everything seem poignant, and this report is no exception. Phillips tells Sirott he figures another two years of getting up in the morning will be enough, and by 1986, he would leave mornings for afternoons. Not long after, Lujack would leave WLS, burned out, and bought out of a rich contract long before it was up. Brandmeier at WLUP and Murphy at Q101 would rise and fall over the next couple of decades. In a weird echo of 1983, Brandmeier recently left WGN’s morning show after a highly publicized but ultimately brief stint. He’s currently doing an online show as WGN makes plans for an FM station; Murphy has recently joined WLS-FM. (Sirott has his own echoes with the report. From 1973 to 1980, he’d been on WLS himself, but left for a career in TV. From 2007 to 2010 and starting again last year, he’s on WGN.)

Bob Wall was an unusual figure in 1983, as Sirott noted—as the morning guy on WGCI, he was the most popular jock on a station with a largely black audience, despite being a white guy. By 1986, he, too, would be gone from Chicago, but under circumstances far different than Phillips and Lujack. Wall and his wife were accused of, and later pleaded guilty to, sexually abusing their 15-year-old babysitter. His contract was terminated by WGCI during the uncertainty over his legal situation. He eventually returned to radio, but never again in Chicago. Wall died in 2002. (He’s one of three deceased figures in the report: Wally Phillips died in 2008 and Larry Lujack passed last month.)

Tomm Rivers was a native of Racine, Wisconsin, and worked in Milwaukee in the 70s before making it to Chicago, where he spent most of the 80s. In the report, he’s seen on WBBM-FM doing old-fashioned schticky things with sound effects, and he seems to have worn surgical scrubs to work (quite a contrast with Brandmeier, who wore a jacket and tie the day the TV people were in his studio). Rivers eventually got out of the business, citing advice he heard from Tommy Smothers: “First you do it, then you do it for fun, then you seriously do it, then you’re done.”

Not a bad epitaph for a radio career, really.

Note to patrons: Since last summer, this blog has been available on Tumblr, but the Tumblr edition has always been a straight-up clone of the WordPress edition. From now on, however, the Tumblr edition will have additional content you won’t see here, reblogged from other Tumblr sites I follow, on 60s and 70s culture (especially music), radio history, and so on, mostly pictures. That means the Tumblr edition of this blog will be like this blog, only with more stuff like the stuff on this blog, including visuals that don’t appear on this blog. I hope you’ll stop over and see how it’s different

One response

  1. […] —We met a legend, and heard from several others in their prime. […]

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