30 years later, ABC 7’s morning show gambit now the standard

ABC 7 Eyewitness News This Morning (1990) clockwise from top left: Alan Krashesky, Roz Varon, Jerry Taft, Kathy Brock

Thirty years ago local news on morning television in Chicago was pretty much a no man’s land.

If you wanted to know what happened overnight, whether to wear a coat or carry an umbrella, or how long your daily commute might take, you were better off turning on the radio.

On April 3, 1989, the game changed with the debut of “Eyewitness News This Morning” from 6:30 to 7 a.m. weekdays on WLS-Channel 7.

Just four months earlier, the ABC-owned station experimented with two 15-minute newscasts — one at 6 and one at 6:30 — but combining them was considered a risky proposition at the time.

“The consolidation of our former two, 15-minute news broadcasts into a half-hour will allow us a more comprehensive news presentation,” news director Tom Dolan said in announcing the expansion. Whether it would succeed was another matter.

The initial team consisted of news anchor Alan Krashesky, an amiable 28-year-old reporter who’d joined ABC 7 in 1982, meteorologist Jerry Taft, and traffic reporter Roz Varon, who leveraged her experience from radio to create a new role for local TV.

“A morning half-hour newscast in 1989 was innovative in terms of what stations were doing at the time,” recalled Krashesky, who’s now the station’s principal anchor at 5, 6 and 10 p.m. “When the morning news first started, it was radio-driven, and the powers that be wondered if anyone would take the time to watch news in the morning.”


With the addition of Kathy Brock as Krashesky’s co-anchor in 1990 and the show’s expansion to a full hour two years later, everything clicked.

“When you get up at 2:30 in the morning you really have to like the people you work with,” Krashesky said. “We quickly learned that team chemistry would be a key part of our success. We genuinely liked each other — Roz and Jerry — and a bit later, Kathy joined us. It truly was a blast.

“And all of this as we created an identity for a morning newscast that viewers could depend upon to provide the serious news of the day, along with specific timing for traffic and weather — and also have some fun, whenever appropriate,” he said.

Today morning news on local TV is big business — starting as early as 4 a.m. and running as late at 10 a.m. — accounting for a larger share of revenue than ever before. ABC 7’s “Eyewitness News This Morning,” airing from 4:30 to 7 a.m. and leading into “Good Morning America,” is tied for first place in overall households with Tribune Broadcasting WGN-Channel 9 in the Nielsen ratings. “WGN Morning News” leads among viewers between 25 and 54.

“Advertiser demand for the morning daypart has never been greater — not only on ABC 7 but in the entire Chicago market,” said John Idler, president and general manager of ABC 7. “People’s lifestyles have changed, and viewers have clearly demonstrated an appetite for getting information earlier in the day.”

Over three decades ABC 7’s front line on the dawn patrol has evolved with a variety of anchors, including Krashesky, Brock, Hosea Sanders, Lauren Cohn, Leah Hope, Judy Hsu and now Terrell Brown and Tanja Babich. The weather front shifted from Taft to Mike Caplan to Tracy Butler (who’s marking her 25th year on the show). But through it all the one consistent cast member has been Varon.

Roz Varon (1989)

The Chicago native and Columbia College graduate was working as a radio traffic reporter and air personality on the former WFYR when she made the rounds of local TV stations in 1988 with a proposal to deliver traffic updates tied to the reconstruction of the Dan Ryan Expressway. There were no takers.

“Nobody was real interested,” Varon once told me. “It didn’t make sense to me. I thought it was a natural.”

When she heard that ABC 7 and NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 were planning to start morning newscasts the following year, Varon pitched them again.

“Nobody in Chicago had done traffic on TV,” she said. “So all the people who applied for these jobs were all radio people. None of us had any experience in television news broadcasting. None of us. I didn’t even know how to put together a tape for that kind of an audition. I didn’t have clue.”

Looking back on her first day in 1989, she recalled being “unbelievably nervous” but relieved when it was over. Now she thinks of her co-workers as family.

“We’ve gone through a lot together. I’ll always be grateful for the support from my ABC 7 family when I was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. Nearly 13 years later, they’ve still got my back.”

For the current team of Brown, Babich, Butler and Varon (or Terrell, Tanja, Tracy and Roz, as they’d prefer to be known), the morning news landscape in Chicago is more competitive than ever. But their mission remains the same.

“I think the morning really sets the tone for the rest of the day,” Brown said. “Tanja and I not only want to keep our viewers fully informed, but we also try to give them something special as they begin their day.”

Monday’s comment of the day: Mark Mardell: I know that old fogeys like me love to complain about how things are now vis-a-vis the old days. Jumping on that train, it kills me to see WLS 890-AM, which provided the soundtrack of my youth, be so completely irrelevant. And every move they make sets them further back.

ABC 7 Eyewitness News This Morning (2019) from left: Tracy Butler, Terrell Brown, Tanja Babich, Roz Varon