One of the most amazing “perks” of our time spent at WGN radio is that we’ve had the luxury (and pressure!) of working with an incredible cast of genuine broadcast legends. Wednesday morning we got the sad news that one of those legends, our friend, Milt Rosenberg, passed away.
Milt Rosenberg was “Old School” in the best of ways. Many of them ways you probably never knew about because they didn’t happen behind a microphone. We were reminded of that Wednesday while entering Northwestern Memorial hospital for a regularly scheduled visit with Steve’s hepatologist.
For those of you who may not know, in 2002, Steve was diagnosed with Autoimmune Hepatitis. Being an autoimmune disease, this kind of Hepatitis is not contagious and has nothing to do with drugs or alcohol.
So, what does this have to do with Milt Rosenberg and why were we thinking of him as we entered the hospital? Well, when Steve was originally diagnosed, because of the severity of his condition at the time, we were off the air for 5 months. During that time, it was not at all unusual to get a call at home from Milt, just to check on Steve and see how we were doing. Even though we thanked him, we’re not sure Milt ever really knew just how much those calls meant. It was that wonderful off-air, “Old School” side of Milt that gave us an even deeper respect for the man.
We’re also not sure Milt ever knew how complimented we were when we found out that, after he got off the air, he would sometimes stay in his office with the radio on because he wanted to hear how we interviewed a particular guest. Other nights, during the newscast between his show and ours, he would compliment us on something he’d heard us do at 2AM or later because he was up and listening. Compliments from Milt were compliments we will always treasure.
Speaking of the newscast between Milt’s show and ours, one of the reasons our theme song would sometimes run long was because, occasionally, Milt and his guests would be so enthusiastic about whatever they’d been talking about or about meeting each other that their conversations just continued in the studio. At some point one or both of us would have to gently remind them that the newscast was now over and another show was starting.
One personality trait of Milt’s that we appreciated was that, while over the years his political leanings shifted from left to right, he understood that we didn’t necessarily lean the same way. He respected our opinion and would readily engage in a discussion NOT a rant. We’ll never forget the night we followed Milt expressing how he was going to vote in a particular election. Steve mentioned that he was going to cancel Milt’s vote. A woman called and berated Steve for “outing” Milt. We had to stifle some laughs as we patiently tried to explain to the woman that Milt had already “outed” Milt.
Don’t get us wrong, life with Milt was not always warm and fuzzy. Just ask any of WGN’s Program Directors or General Managers. In fact some of them were too intimidated by Milt to suggest small, but significant, corrections. Apparently they didn’t realize that, yes, they were dealing with a, shall we say, strong personality, BUT a strong personality who, if he found out that he was doing something incorrectly, would correct it.
Case in point: For several YEARS we’d hear Milt miss the time tone for the station ID and newscast. After a while, we realized that he was missing it by exactly 7 seconds – exactly the time of our on-air delay in case someone drops an “F” bomb – or worse. So, one night during the newscast between our shows, we asked him why he always hit the station ID and the news late. He was genuinely shocked. He said “But, I hit the ID at exactly the top of the hour!” We asked if anyone had ever explained that, with a 7 second delay, in order for it to time out right, you had to time it to :53 and not :00. We’d never seen Milt flabbergasted before, but we did that night. He said “No one ever told me that.” We have every reason to believe him because, starting the very next night and every night thereafter, Milt hit the ID right on time.
During our last week doing a 5 night a week show at WGN Milt wanted to make time for a private conversation in his office. We were cleaning out our office and shared some books and prospective author guests with him and he enthusiastically shared some of his favorite reads with us. He had a few questions about why we were leaving and about who the good guys and villains that brought us to this point might have been. We answered his questions and shared some “radio war stories” with Milt that he hadn’t heard. He told us a few of his own and, as all three of us reluctantly brought the conversation to a close, went out of his way to wish us well. We knew his wishes were genuine. Sadly, it was only one year later that Milt broadcast his final show on WGN and, not surprisingly, walked through the exit the same way he first entered the station – with class.
While on WGN, Milt’s podcasts were the most popular on the station and he continued embracing podcast technology on his own website. For a while he also returned to radio and hosted a show on Evanston’s WCGO.
Although we still had occasional phone conversations with Milt, the last time we saw him, in person, was at his 2014 induction into the WGN Walk of Fame.
We’ll never forget that day, not only for the celebration of Milt and other legendary WGN talent, but for THE HEAT! Because of how hot it was, we were concerned about Milt. Those of us in the audience were able to move around and find some shade. Those on stage had to sit there enduring the simmering temperatures, smile and, when it was their turn to be inducted, forget the heat and put their best professional foot/voice forward. Not at all surprising to us and anyone else who knew him personally or through their radio speakers, Milt did just that.
Wonderfully “Old School,” indeed.
We haven’t just lost a friend or a colleague or even a legend. We’ve lost one of a kind!
We wish him a most cordial goodnight.