Saturday, December 21, 2019

Flashback 2000: A tough thing not to watch.

Doing radio with Bob Sirott and Marianne Murcianoo in 2014.
   
     There was good news and bad news on the Chicago radio front this week. The bad news was that veteran news reporter Mary Dixon was out after nearly 30 years at WXRT, a station that has so far largely avoided the glozing hand of corporate nincompoops, but now risks being homogenized into the same generic, placeless pap that takes up so much of the dial.
    The good news is that Bob Sirott is back on the air, according to my pal Robert Feder, mornings on WGN—AM720. That has to be welcome by anybody who likes knowledgeable Chicago broadcasting by somebody who has been around. It made me think of this column, from 2000, when I first began to get to know Bob, as far as he can be known, at the party for another Chicago icon. Then, he had just been pushed out by Fox—there are many ups and downs in broadcasting—and I'm glad to see Bob ascendant again. 

     I don't watch much television. This earns me endless grief from my colleagues, who live for TV, and often on TV, too.
     The popularity of television baffles me. More people read an issue of the Sun-Times than watch any given local newscast. Yet a television reporter walks in the room, and people just swoon. They climb over themselves to say hello.
     Maybe I'm jealous. Me, I walk in a room and people, well, they continue to do whatever it is they're doing.
     That's why I don't go to parties much. I don't know anybody and nobody knows me, and there's nothing like a party to highlight that. For instance, about six weeks ago, I found myself at Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz's 95th birthday party. The judge is a Chicago icon, whose career stretches from the Roaring '20s to the present day, a close friend of the Daley family. Somebody whose parties you attend whether you like parties or not, just to touch the hem of Chicago history and Chicago greatness.
     After exchanging greetings with the Birthday Boy, I had to find a way to politely pass the time before the festivities began—the mayor was on his way to make an impromptu speech, and one mustn't miss the chance to witness one of those.
     I tried hanging with Sen. Paul Simon. He's a colleague now, with his own column, so I figured we could, like all journalists, hole up in a corner and gripe about how underappreciated we are. But Simon skillfully ditched me. I wandered, scanning faces, trying to build up courage and momentum to break into the phalanx of admirers around Christie Hefner. But my will failed me.
     Finally, Bob Sirott waltzed in with a camera crew. Now, I'm not friends with Sirott, but I did recognize him from TV—even I know who he is—so I introduced myself and inquired about his new baby. I also asked him why he was there. There was no warehouse fire or crying mom, none of the things that normally attract TV interest.
     Sirott said something I thought of this week, when Fox 32 gave him the heave-ho in favor of some guy from New York. He said, and I won't quote him directly since I didn't write it down, but something along the lines that Judge Marovitz is a civic treasure and he wanted to be sure to tape something at his party.
     As I said, I'm not a big television watcher, so I might be going out on a limb here. But I bet you that the average TV personality has no idea who Judge Marovitz is and wouldn't go to his birthday party if they did. Sure, there are a few Chicago stalwarts—Carol Marin and Mike Flannery over at Channel 2, for instance—who know of the judge, just as they know it is Soldier Field.
     But the rest blow into town from Phoenix, take an apartment at Presidential Towers, and churn out stories about O'Hare delays and cosmetic surgery until their time here is up and they move on to Portland.
     Help me here. Does it make sense, when the ratings slide, to toss out the Chicago institution, the guy who knows the place, who has lived here all his life and been on the air since I was in grade school? And in his chair place some newly birthed nobody, wet from the womb, in the charmed notion that he will somehow suck in the viewers?
     I'm not buddies with Sirott; I'm not going to bat for a pal. But I felt saddened to see him tossed over the rail, and I don't even watch TV. How must the viewers feel?
     —Originally published in the Sun-Times, Oct. 3, 2000

9 comments:

  1. Bob's career in Chicago radio and television is long and distinguished. He has been very successful. Not my cup of tea though. I was a Steve Dahl listener. Currently tune in to the Roe Conn show for that knowledgeable radio host type. He has a nice edge without needlessly denigrating people.

    I read that Bob turned 70 recently. Good for him he can still work in a field he clearly loves.

    I appreciate new blood in the industry but it's hard to find outside of the sports talk stations.

    They could use some across the dial especially at xrt I can't even listen to what passes for contemporary rock music.

    Mary Dixon and Lyn brammer numb my brain. Certainly better than cgv, but barely.

    Thank God for podcasts and blogs or it's basically a geriatric festival in mainstream media.

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  2. I don't watch TV much myself, but Bob Sirott seems to emanate an aura of Mr. Good Guy. Really dumb of Fox to fire their only Nice Guy: something like divorcing Debbie Reynolds. Who would do that!

    john

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  3. Sirott is a Chicago treasure, as is WXRT. Steve Dahl, not so much. Not just because he ruined a Sox game, wasting several hours of my time, but because I found him childish and uninteresting. WXRT is possibly the best Rock station ever. Since I haven't heard every station, that's more a belief that I can't imagine a better one. Back from the Navy in '72 I found XRT after my late night excursions celebrating my homecoming. They were just starting up, filling a Midnight to 4 or 5 AM slot on a foreign language station. San Diego had an exceptional station, KPRI, that played a wide selection of album cuts and B-sides, Blues and Brubeck, with knowledgeable and daring DJ's. I was pleasantly surprised to find an equivalent in Chicago. WXRT slowly grew and expanded to 24 hours, excelling for decades. I don't listen as often but the music has changed more than my tastes have and I still find no better rock programming in Chicago. WXRT is a prime example of the solid Midwestern excellence that makes Chicago the great city we love. Bob Sirott is as classy in the niche he fills and I wish him well.

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    1. Back a few years ago, when I was in boot camp in San Diego, we used to get up at 5 a.m. to the strains of Rosa's Cantina and the like. Still love that song, although I still hate to get up in the morning.

      johjn

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  4. Ha! Marovitz was certainly a civic treasure. He was also, in the words of one of the appellate judges who had to review his decisions, someone "who could screw up a one car funeral."

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  5. I was greatly saddened by the WXRT decision. Their music selection is not perfect but there is always a chance I'll hear something good I've never heard before. Lin and Mary were a pleasure to listen to. The thing I like least is hearing the same commercials over and over. The Classic Cinema spots are fine but I've heard them several million times. Lately it's been the Old Town School of Folk Music, a sad and corrupt dump peddling false hopes. I switch to another station whenever those commercials come on.

    That's a self-defeating marketing strategy, to find a place for ads that might attract customers, and then air ads that make everyone change the station as quickly as they can.

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    1. Basically, Ads suck, but they pay the freight. XRT has always been so superior to all alternatives that channel hopping to avoid commercials made no sense.

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  6. Bob & Marianne were about to have a baby when I was pregnant with my first. It was an especially fun time to watch Fox Thing, as my virtual friends and I shared a journey together.

    Always glad to see him catch on again.

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  7. I rarely listen to WGN especially since sports radio came on the scene. If I am some where at night and the Hawks are playing I will listen. I don't listen to sports radio anymore either. Not because I don't like sports radio, but now I listen to podcasts. I listen to a mix of things, baseball, interviews, politics. Way too much stuff to listen to and not enough time. So even though I don't listen to WGN as much I find it kind of mean spirited to just let Cochrane go with out letting him say good bye. I have to wonder what is going on there that would cause WGN to make this decision. Cochrane's ratings were good. I think Feder said his ratings had gone up. If you read the comments on Feder's article there is quite a divison between great news and WGN sucks. There was pretty much the same feelings when Bill and Wendy were let go. The comments on that story were had to be at least 90 per cent being mad that GN let them go. I guess the best thing to be said about the changes is that Sinclair Broadcasting didn't buy the station.

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