|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