Meet Len O'Connor...
Chicago's Pioneer Broadcast Street Reporter

Curator's note: Click here to view a complete WMAQ-TV 10pm news broadcast from February 23rd, 1967 that includes a classic Len O'Connor commentary.

Len O'Connor's name will appear on all lists of great Chicago Broadcast journalists.

Most recall Len when he was the deliverer of biting commentaries on Channel 5's 10 p.m. newscasts during the 60's and early 70's. Others remember him as the first newsman tapped to do the 7:25 and 8:25 local cut-ins to the Today show.But these assignments came relatively late in Len's career. He'd been around NBC-Chicago forever, or so it seemed.

Len began as a news and public affairs writer for the old NBC Blue network. He remained with NBC after the Blue was sold in 1942 to what became ABC. He worked primarily on "sustaining" (non-sponsored) shows that NBC broadcast, not because it had expectations of revenue or promotional mileage, but because it felt such programs performed an essential service to the community and the nation.

Len's voice was high-pitched. Its timbre was quite unlike that of the typical radio announcer of the day. Len's body was fat. It missed, by a mile, the ectomorphic ideal of exhibited by most present-day television journalists. But these qualities contributed in great measure to Len's compelling on-air persona.

Curiously, anybody who knew Len, or who had heard him on radio or seen him on television, could imitate him effectively. If you remember Len, stop right now and say, out loud, "And I---am Len O'Connor." (That, of course, was his signature.) See what I mean?

Still, Len was unique. And he remains unequalled. Those of his students who are still in the business will confirm this assertion.

The pictures and text that follow appeared in the December, 1948 issue of The Chain Break, NBC-Chicago's in-house newsletter. State-of-the art technology (a wire recorder) had recently turned Len into Chicago's first broadcast street reporter.

As those of us still in this business go about our diurnal round of seeking out the patently trivial and the potentially newsworthy, we are following in Len's footsteps. And perhaps we'd all do a better job if we occasionally wore our hats indoors.

Let me preface what follows with the copy NBC staff announcer Greg Donovan used to read (in studio C) leading in to Len's evening broadcast:

ANNOUNCER: It's 5:05 in Chicago and time for "News on the Spot"--- news and interviews recorded on the street and rushed to our studios for broadcast at this time. And now, here's Len O'Connor...

Camera Records a Typical Day for WMAQ Reporter...

Right: Len O'Connor starts day conferring with Bill Ray on story leads; which he can also get via radio-telephone in station wagon. First interview might be with a boy who's found his lost dog. First Len O'Connor strip

Second Len O'Connor strip Left: Later in the morning he talks with Sen. Wayne Morse (R-Ore.), while engineer Art Hjorth records the interview on wire. Still later, O'Connor returns to NBC to edit the wire copy for dubbing on transcriptions.

Right: Nearing his deadline, O'Connor writes live copy for the show, while record-turner Sammy Baum checks timing on the transcriptions. At 5:05 p.m., O'Connor gets the director's cue and News on the Spot is on the air! Third Len O'Connor strip

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