End of an Era in Chicago

As I watch the TV news industry — and journalism in general — crumble into dust, this article from Chicago
brought back memories of “the good old days” when THE Ten O’Clock News at WBBM-TV in Chicago was arguably the best local TV newscast in the country. Those were the golden days of Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobsen at the anchor desk, with an all-star cast of reporters that included me from 1981 to 1984. I had signed on from WSB-TV in Atlanta, hoping to become their next female news anchor, once I had spent a couple of years paying my dues as a street reporter.

Now they are tearing down the building where Kennedy debated Nixon, and where Phil Donahue taped the show that paved the way for Oprah. It’s also the building where I met my husband, won an Emmy and a Lisagor and earned the nickname “the Loomer.” One day future CBS News president Eric Ober was walking through master control and one of my live shots was on a monitor. A tech overheard him commenting, “That girl really knows how to LOOM,” and the nickname has followed me around ever since.

Every day, as I walked past the row of portraits in the entrance lobby at 630 McClurg Court, I counted myself lucky to be there. Legend has it that one former reporter learned of being fired by coming into work and seeing that his or her picture had been removed.

The building was a former ice rink, where investigative reporter Pam Zekman had once skated, and whenever they adjusted the lighting, we got a shower of snowflakes that were, in all liklihood, asbestos. However, the building had the advantage of being within a block or two of all our favorite watering holes.

And then there was the set, a plain desk plopped down in the middle of a working newsroom. It remains my favorite news set of all time because it was so real. The background was the assignment desk and if the feature reporter walked by showing the ladies and laddies what was under the kilt he was wearing (nothing!) it made for an interesting background. One day, as I banged out a script on an old typewriter, a giant rat ran across my foot and my scream served as punctuation for whatever story was being read on the air at the time. Underneath one of the desks, someone had taken the time to post a history of the reporters who had once sat there and moved on to the network. On slow nights, the great Bill Kurtis could be pursuaded to join in a game of “wadball,” which involved a homemade sphere of gaffers tape and a large plastic trash bin.

Three news directors and a couple of general managers later, the promise of anchoring never materialized for me. Far from promoting someone who had paid her dues on Chicago streets, the management settled on a newcomer from Canada, telling me I was so valuable looming live that they couldn’t put me on the desk. I often wonder “what if” I had swallowed my pride and continued looming on the streets of in Chicago, instead of moving on. But the experience I gained at ‘BBM has proven invaluable, and I will treasure the lifelong friendships even more. I always hope my students will have the thrill of working for a news organization that shows up to kick butt and take names on every story like we did.

So here’s a toast to 630 North McClurg Court and everything it stood for. Rest in Peace.