Meet Len O'Connor...
Pioneer Broadcast Street Reporter
note: Click here
to view a complete WMAQ-TV 10pm news broadcast from February 23rd, 1967 that includes
a classic Len O'Connor commentary.
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
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
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
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...
Records a Typical Day for WMAQ Reporter...
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.
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.
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!
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Rich Samuels (e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org)