Bright and early Monday morning Bob Sirott will step into the studio of WGN 720-AM and instantly become the biggest star on the Nexstar Media Group news/talk station.
As Steve Cochran's successor from 5 to 9 a.m. weekdays, Sirott will take on one of the greatest jobs in radio — inheriting a legacy and a microphone once commanded by Wally Phillips, Bob Collins and Spike O'Dell. Now it will be Sirott's turn to wake up Chicago and get the day started for hundreds of thousands in the city and suburbs.
Not bad for a kid who grew up in Albany Park and landed his first job as a page for NBC in the Merchandise Mart while a senior at Roosevelt High School in the 1960s. With a degree from Columbia College, Sirott went on to a stellar career in broadcasting, including impressive runs as a groundbreaking radio personality, television news anchor and network correspondent.
As WGN's seventh morning host since Phillips stepped down 34 years ago, Sirott brings a lifetime of goodwill and unmatched equity to "Chicago's Very Own."
On the eve of his debut, Sirott reflected on what the new job means to him and previewed his plans for the morning show:
Q. Congratulations on the new gig, Bob! Are you sure you know what you're getting yourself into?
A. Of course not.
Q. How did this come about? Is it true that Perry Sook, the CEO of Nexstar Media, is a fan of yours?
A. I don’t know if he was a fan, but I was flattered he even knew who I was. Sean Compton [Nexstar Media executive vice president] surprised me by asking if I’d be interested in doing something on the station. Nothing specific was mentioned at the time.
Q. What are your earliest memories of WGN Radio?
A. Listening to my boyhood idol, Jack Quinlan, doing Cubs play-by-play. Also I’d listen to Wally Phillips doing a wacky midday show where he did prank phone calls and other comedy bits that were nothing like the “people helping people” early morning shows he would become famous for years later.
Q. The day your hiring was announced, the first person I heard from was Dan Fabian, the former general manager and program director of WGN Radio. "Neither of us could count the number of times I tried to convert him," he said of you. Do you know what he was referring to?
A. When I was at WLS in the '70s, Dan was a fan. He was very kind to me. After I left, and before I decided to try TV in 1980 as the lifestyle and entertainment reporter for CBS 2 News, he had me fill in a few times. I remember once subbing for WGN afternoon personality Bill Berg and I got David Letterman on the phone. He was guest-hosting for Johnny Carson at the time so I asked him for tips on filling in for big stars. The first thing he said was: “What are you doing on WGN? What happened at WLS?”
Later in the '90s, Dan actually offered me my fantasy job — Cubs radio play-by-play. But I was about to sign a nice deal for another three years as anchor and managing editor of "Fox Thing in the Morning," which was doing very well and was great fun. So I turned down that opportunity. I realized at that particular time in my life the Cubs job for me was a better fantasy than reality. And again, I was loving my Fox job which allowed me to do sports and more.
Q. What can you tell me about your plans for the show? Will Marianne [Murciano] have a regular role?
A. Along with the terrific team of WGN journalists and producers, Job One is to give listeners all the news, weather, traffic, entertainment news and sports they need when they wake up. Business news will also be a major area for us, and since I’m a hypochondriac, we’ll be doing a lot of health stories. I like to call it ”news plus.” It’s what WGN Radio has always been famous for and successful with between 5 and 9 a.m. Information delivered friend-to-friend along with conversations about what’s interesting to all of us in Chicago. We’ll have a few surprise guests too. And if we can have some fun along the way and make the commute less of an unhappy grind for the listeners, we will have done our job.
Marianne has become quite the social media and e-commerce maven. So her role will be to make sure I know the difference between Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat so we can always stay in touch with fans off the air. If that ever requires an on-air phone call, that’s when you’ll hear Marianne.
Q. When can we expect you to bring back the BS Love Counselor and BS Horoscope?
A. We’ve scheduled that for the 12th — of NEVER!
Q. What have the last couple of years been like for you? Did you find yourself itching to get back on the air?
A. I loved being able to enjoy all the things I like to do in this great city. Chicago to me is a never-ending display of fascinating history, culture, unique small businesses, architecture, and colorful characters. I was quite content playing softball and tennis, getting out of the car and jogging or walking around, napping on park benches. I’m a great bum. A couple of times a concerned citizen discovered me on the ground in some meditative state and asked if I needed help!
I did and still do have a nice creative outlet with the weeknight Facebook Livecasts Marianne and I do (Facebook.com/SirottandMurciano) and on Instagram (@havanagirl). We also did a couple of TV projects. But good old-fashioned broadcasting is still in my blood. The way the good Lord intended it — with no picture.
Q. How will your new hours affect your busy social life?
A. What busy social life?
Q. Does this mean you won't be joining the new Cubs Marquee Sports Network or is that still a possibility?
A. My agent, Steve Mandell, has been talking to them. It would be a thrill for me to do interviews and features. Quite a few years ago Crane Kenney [Cubs president of business operations] had the foresight to order in-depth video interviews with Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and half a dozen other Cubs legends. I was honored to anchor those conversations where we talked about not only baseball but their personal lives. I’m hoping they’ll finally be seen for the first time ever — on Marquee. I’d love to do more.
Q. What's the best advice Larry Lujack ever gave you?
A. Lujack once told me: “Robert, you haven’t really made it until you’ve been fired, divorced, and sued.” I can check off two out of three and I think I’ll stop there.
Q. What do you think Wally Phillips would say if he heard you were hosting mornings on WGN Radio?
A. There goes the neighborhood.