Chicago Sun-Times and WFMT critic and commentator Andrew Patner sent me a very thoughtful and thorough response to my post on the passing of Norm Pelligrini, which I want to post here, with his permission, in its entirety. Some of the more obvious mistakes it references have been corrected.
Andrew's comments are quite eloquent. I would make just a few responses (not numbered in the same order as his):
1. Although I can see that my sentence construction could be read in various ways, my reference to the station's full boil being brought down to room temperature was in no way a direct critique of Andrew's commentaries, which are in the great tradition of Claudia Cassidy and Herman Kogan, but to the overall direction of the station.
2. To me, 43, as 86% percent of the total, qualifies as "close to fifty" in a article that is not meant to be a legal brief.
3. I made no reference to Rita Jacob's complaints about the number of ads because I understood fully that they were legally mandated, today just as then. I referred, instead, to her complaints against what she stated was an over-reliance on syndicated programming.
4. Steve Robinson may, in fact, be WFMT's general manager, but that is not his official title, and it is the way the present titles reek of corporate bureaucracy that, to me, symbolizes, WFMT's current status.
5. To say that the cutting of Sunday newscasts had nothing to do with staffing or costs seems bizarre when the result was completely automated Sunday programming where live announcers were no longer anywhere in evidence.
6. I see little comparison between Rita Jacobs seeking contributions from listeners when the station had a basically non-existent budget and zero dollars in the till with an institution with millions in annual revenues and a surplus of upper level Vice Presidents, whom I seriously suspect all pull down very substantial salaries, doing the same. Ray Nordstrand was brilliant in leveraging current possibilities to create a self-supporting organization. In today's admittedly very different times, current management has not. Is it really impossible, or do we just not have the same level of thinking?
7. Two primary things we agree on: firstly, as I wrote in my original post, WFMT remains "a Chicago treasure"; and secondly, the magic - and innovation - created by the Jacobs, Nordstrand and Pelligrini were something that happens once in a lifetime, if that often. As Andrew himself writes, we shall not see its like - or their's - again.
Now, on to Andrew's response:
I think you know of my admiration for you, your writing, your websites, and your tireless advocacy for the city's architectural and cultural legacies as one force or another takes a whack at them. And I absolutely share -- and have expressed at my own site and elsewhere -- the very same general sentiments as you have here about Norm's death and the history and continued importance of WFMT.
But I have to point out a few things in this post that are either incorrect or might benefit from some additional context:
1 -- Norm was program director of WFMT for 43 years, from 1953 to 1996.
2 -- Richard Dyer-Bennet is spelled thus, with one "t." The song of his that closed "The Midnight Special" for many years is "Lonesome Valley," which has no "lonesome river," although "Jordan River" is the subject of one verse.
3 -- I do not think that anyone could find any "unraveling" from the station's earliest days through the attacks some 33 years later by the CETA, now WWCI, board beginning in the mid-1980s and the sale of the magazine in 1986. The earlier sale of the station to WGN Continental Broadcasting in the late 1960s and the subsequent gift/transfer to CETA in 1970 resulted in no management or format changes. (Rita [Jacobs] Willens complains in Bob McClory's 1987 Chicago Reader article that you link to that there were to many "political ads" -- Bob should have pointed out that these were and are mandated by the FCC.) WFMT and WFMT, Inc., parent of the station and Chicago magazine then, functioned separately and without interference from CETA/WTTW. The bureaucrats took over in the mid-1980s, NOT in 1970 or at any earlier date. (My late father, Marshall Patner, worked with Len Despres on the WGN/TribCo purchase issue and I worked full-time at WFMT, Inc./Chicago magazine from 1981 to 1983 and observed the management of the station first-hand. I rejoined WFMT in 1998, at the invitation, as a matter of fact, of then WFMT chief Dan Schmidt, now the head of the whole WWCI/WTTW.)
4 -- Steve Robinson's title has changed several times since he joined the station in 2000, but he is in essence the station's General Manager, functions as such, and frequently refers to himself by that title.
5 -- The cut of Sunday newscasts was not a staff- or cost-cutting move. But I agree that it was and is not a good move either and I hope that the Sunday newscasts will be reinstated.
6 -- Is the current "state" of the station "compromised" or simply a reflection of the reality that if we refuse to take recorded commercials and jingles -- and we should refuse these absolutely, we present only announcer-read advertising copy -- and if we do not have the income that we once had from the magazine, then we have to come to the listeners for assistance, just as Rita Jacobs did in 1952. "Endless" pledge drives? We come to the listeners just three times a year and have eliminated evenings, nights, and Sundays from those three membership drives.
7 -- Thanks for the shout-out and link (which brings up my own initial tribute to Norm, with a great photo of Norm and Ray Nordstrand at the station in the early 1960s). If you found the commentary that you heard this afternoon on my "Critic's Choice" feature "veering towards the tepid" there's no one to blame but me. I was under some bad congestion and allergies on Tuesday when I tape it. No one dials my "creative boil" up or down but me. In fact, for the 11-and-a-half years that I have been doing these commentaries no one at the station has ever told me what I could or could not say or talk about or how I might talk about my topics. Nor has anyone ever heard, let alone edited, my commentaries before they are broadcast. The only change in the last few years perhaps did effect the level of "boil" for the better: Program Director Peter Whorf and Steve Robinson asked me to deliver these little talks without a script and ad lib as Peter and Steve thought that that would make them livelier and have more edge and that's how I do them now.
8 -- No, Steve is not Norm. And certainly I am not Studs Terkel or Claudia Cassidy or Harry Bouras. And no one is Jim Unrath. We won't see the likes of those folks again. But we are people who are trying to do our best and to live up to the history and principles of Norm Pellegrini. I hope that listeners such as you will continue to hold us to those standards and I hope that you might also recognize what we get right and when we do so.
Andrew Patner, Critic-at-Large, 98.7WFMT Radio and wfmt.com