|The story of NBC
Chicago today is, as much as anything, the story of its outstanding news and public
affairs programming. And the news and feature programs produced by NBC News, Chicago
have in large measure been responsible for Channel 5's leadership among Chicago's
The nerve center of NBC news, Chicago, is the news desk, manned by an assignment
editor and others who direct the coverage of news stories by camera crews and
At the 20-year
mark in its history, news and public affairs dominate WMAQ-TV's local programming.
Its network contributions have shifted from entertainment to hard news. Under
NBC Vice President and General Manager Robert
Lemon, Station Manager W. C. Prather and News Director Bill Corley, Channel
5 has doubled its news staff and has moved into television news leadership in
Chicago and the nation. It wasn't always that way.
Bill Birch was the first network newsreel cameraman to be assigned to duty west
of the Hudson River by NBC News. He recalls that during the first year of the
station's operation, his ''cameraroom'' was the lower drawer of news writer Len
O'Connor's desk. It was the only desk in the newsroom with a drawer big enough
to store Birch's camera equipment. Today, Channel 5's camera room covers the entire
first floor of a large building at LaSalle and Ohio Streets, and contains facilities
for dozens of cameramen, soundmen, lightmen, couriers and film coordinators.
Channel 5 began expanding its news and public affairs programming in the early
1960's. It has now become a nationally recognized leader in broadcast journalism.
''City Desk", introduced in the early '50's, has become one of the most widely
recognized news discussion programs in Chicago. It features a halfhour confrontation
of top radio, TV and newspaper reporters with persons currently in the news.
By 1961, WMAQ-TV had become a leader in the documentary field, with a half-hour
news special each Sunday evening. "Dateline: Chicago'' was the first Chicago
TV program to be honored with a regional Emmy award from the National Academy
of Television Arts and Sciences. In I965, the format and ''Dateline: Chicago"
title were changed in order to give the program more flexibility of content.
WMAQ-TV was also the first commercial television station in Chicago to offer a
college-level course for credit. "Live and Learn", begun in January
of 1955, was conducted in conjunction with the University of Chicago.
By 1962, more than 50 percent of WMAQ-TV's local live programming involved news,
discussion and talk programs. Today, there are 38 regularly-scheduled newscasts,
ranging in length from five minutes to one hour.
Because Chicago has color film processing equipment readily available to the NBC-TV
network, NBC Chicago enjoys a unique position. News film shot overseas, and all
over the central United States, is flown to Chicago for processing and feeding
to both the network and the local station.
is the only Chicago station equipped with its own color film processor. News film
of important stories can be developed and ready for on-air use in minutes.
news feeds to the network from Chicago total nearly 200 per month. The "Today
Show" alone has averaged two feeds a day. Huntley-Brinkley and News Program
Service units, located in Chicago, produce film stories each day for network use.
Other film is flown directly from Chicago to London to serve the VISNEWS European
and more, Chicago has become a center for providing camera crews, talent and other
personnel for production of programs or stories at the point where major stories
are breaking in the midwest. The film is gathered, edited and distributed electronically
from such cities as St. Louis, Minneapolis, Detroit, Kansas City or Memphis.
Channel 5's news programs, 10 minutes long in 1960, were first lengthened to half
an hour. Then, in I965, came a dramatic innovation in news programming. In order
to provide real in-depth coverage of local news events, ''NBC News: Chicago Report"
was expanded to a full 60 minutes, from 5:00 to 6:00 PM each weekday. It took
a great deal of courage on the part of Channel 5's management. Everybody---the
socalled television experts---said the public would never accept so much news
in one package, especiallv since the Huntley-Brinkley show, following immediately
afterward on the network, would make it a full 90 minutes of news coverage. But
WMAQ-TV was betting on the maturity of Chicago's viewing public, their desire
for complete news coverage as only NBC Chicago could bring it to them. And the
public was ready. ''NBC News: Chicago Report'' was an immediate success, and has
continued to dominate early evening news programming in Chicago.
Half-hour newscasts are aired at noon, 10:00 PM and midnight. The program department
has a half-hour information and public-affairs program, "Today in Chicago",
at 6:30 each weekday morning. And each Sunday evening at 10:30, WMAQ-TV produces
a thirty-minute special, usually on a major local personality or issue.
Each year, WMAQ-TV
produces a number of 60to-90 minute prime time specials. One film documentary,
"The Giants and the Common Men", produced to commemorate the 1968 Illinois
Sesquicentennial has become the most honored documentary of its type ever produced
All the elements---news, weather, sports and commentary---are pulled together
and anchorman faces the cameras for the opening of the highly rated 10 PM news
As Channel 5's management foresaw, the expansion of news and informational programming
has resulted in larger audiences. In July, 1967, Variety reported that "the
year's biggest TV hit in Chicago" was the "NBC
News: Night Report", with Floyd Kalber and news analyst Len
O'Connor. Variety noted that in Nielsen ratings, the 10:00 PM news on Thursday
was number one in all programs, network and local. The second highest rated program
was NBC's "Dean Martin Show". The following five programs, in order
of their ratings, were the Tuesday, Wednesday, Monday, Friday and Sunday editions
of "NBC News: Night Report".
Variety reported that WMAQ-TV was "the station that news built", and
gave much of the credit to the planning and foresight of Vice President Lemon
and News Director Corley. The article said that "WMAQ-TV now approaches being
a model of local TV excellence. And having moved up to third largest in the nation
in total annual revenues, it is now the best argument for a strong local news
To achieve this position of prestige, the NBC Chicago news staff has been increased
from 40 a few years ago to over 100. The network assignment editors have at least
two general coverage film crews on call. Frequently as many as six crews are flying
across the country, filming network documentaries or news stories.
5 is one of Chicago's most honored television stations, with numerous awards which
covere the wall of the 20th floor corridor.
In September of I965,
Channel 5 pioneered the first full-time regional news bureau for a Chicago station.
It installed chief correspondent Bill Warrick, with a five-man crew, in downtown
Gary, Indiana, to provide coverage for the heavily populated Calumet industrial
area of northwest Indiana.
In 1966 and 1967, the news department began adding specialized reporters to the
staff. There are now specialists in religion, school board activities, the Mayor's
office, City Hall, the state legislature and the Sanitary District. A Polish-speaking
reporter searches for stories of interest to Chicago's Polish community, the largest
outside Warsaw. A Spanish-speaking reporter is concerned with stories of interest
to Chicagoans of Mexican, Cuban or Puerto Rican origin. WMAQ-TV also has three
specialists in Negro affairs, to serve Chicago's burgeoning black community.
Chicago's nickname "The Windy City" correctly implies that the weather
plays an important role in the life of the people. Weathermen have always been
popular on WMAQ-TV. During 1967, Channel 5 built and equipped its own weather
station on the 19th floor of the Merchandise Mart. It is manned by two on-the-air
professional meteorologists Bob Thomas and John Hambleton and an assistant.
During recent years,
NBC News cameramen from Chicago have roamed as far afield as the Holy Land, Viet
Nam and Western Europe on network or local assignments. With the coming of space
satellites and supersonic international air travel, such long-range coverage may
soon become commonplace. It is quite possible that by the time WMAQ-TV celebrates
its 30th anniversary, newsmen on local news programs will be giving live on-thescene
reports on world-wide events of particular interest to Chicago.
|| Left: The
WMAQ-TV Weather Bureau, manned by professional meterologists Bob Thomas (left)
and John Hambleton, provides information for this important service to viewers