For nearly 40 years, Milt Rosenberg was the smartest man on the radio.
As host of “Extension 720,” the University of Chicago psychology professor presided over a two-hour nightly meeting of the minds on Tribune Broadcasting news/talk WGN AM 720. The program attracted a national following by virtue of WGN’s powerful signal at night and later reached a worldwide audience through multiple digital platforms.
Milton J. Rosenberg died Tuesday of pneumonia and its complications after entering the hospital on New Year’s Day, according to Joseph Morris, an attorney and close friend. He was 92.
“He was a polymath, a perceptive analyst, and a keen questioner,” Morris told friends in an email Wednesday. “These traits, combined with a prodigious memory born of wide reading and experience, made him an outstanding interlocutor of political leaders, business executives, academics, journalists, artists, and others in the long parade of guests whom he welcomed to his studios and to the extraordinary conversations that he then held for the benefit of millions of Americans listening to his program each night in their homes and cars across the nation as streamed by clear-channel radio at 50,000 watts. For four decades his show was the mandatory first stop on the book tour of every author of a serious work of fiction or non-fiction.
“His career was also described by the arc of a moral conversion, carried out in public via his nightly broadcasts, from the ‘soft mindless leftism of an East Coast academic’ to an embrace of free market economics, traditional social values, and an appreciation of the United States as the world’s best hope for the defense of freedom and human decency in global affairs,” Morris wrote.
Born in New York and educated at Brooklyn College and the University of Wisconsin, Rosenberg earned a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Michigan. He taught at Yale University, the Ohio State University, Dartmouth College, and the Naval War College before joining the University of Chicago, where he served as director of the doctoral program in social and organizational psychology. He later became professor emeritus.
From 1973 to 2012 he hosted “Extension 720” on WGN before he was forced to retire. "I'm on the older side, obviously, but I'm still full of piss and vinegar," Rosenberg told me at the time. "Publicly, I want to say it's mutual. Obviously, they initiated it."
He continued an independent podcast on miltrosenberg.com and also hosted a weekday show on north suburban WCGO AM 1590. In 2014 Rosenberg was among the inaugural inductees in the WGN Radio Walk of Fame.
He is survived by his wife, Marjorie Anne King, and a son Matthew Rosenberg. Funeral arrangements are pending.