Jack and Me

Yesterday, I began telling the incredible-but-true story of the time I interviewed for a job at WGN in Chicago. The year was 1994; I was out of work at the time and wanting to abandon radio altogether, but when you get a shot, even a ridiculously long shot, at one of the greatest radio stations in the observable universe, you take it. As it turned out, my conversation with the station’s assistant program director was mostly a courtesy—they knew I couldn’t afford to move to Chicago for a job that paid $200 a week, but I appreciated their kindness in taking the time to talk to me.

So anyway, my interview with the APD is over and I’m on my way back to obscurity in Iowa. But as I am walking out of the Tribune Tower, Jack Rosenberg is walking in. Rosenberg spent many years alongside sportscaster Jack Brickhouse producing Bears and Cubs broadcasts on radio and television; in all, he spent 40 years at WGN. At the time, he was the radio sports director. I’d met Rosenberg a year or two before at a Tribune Company affiliates blowout, and I see a glimmer of recognition as our eyes meet. He stops; I stop; I introduce myself. “What brings you to Chicago?” he asks, his voice full of that distinctive Chicago gravel.

“I interviewed for a production assistant’s job.”

“Looking for a job, are you? If you’re not in a hurry, why don’t you come back to my office?”

Holy crap.

A moment later, we’re in Rosenberg’s office. He asks about my job search. “You’re in the Quad Cities, right?” He picks up the telephone, calls WOC, the full-service AM station and Tribune affiliate in Davenport, and asks for the program director. “Bob, Jack Rosenberg, WGN. I’ve got a fine young man in my office name of Jim Bartlett, lives in the Quad Cities, up here for a job interview. We haven’t got anything for him here, but I’d consider it a personal favor if you could do something for him there.”

Across the desk from Jack, about 75 percent of me is remaining cool. The other 25 percent is freaking the fuck out. As I try to maintain my purchase on the chair and not float up to the ceiling, I look down at Rosenberg’s desk and notice the stapler. A label-maker label on it says “Vince Lloyd.” I had grown from a boy to a man with Vince Lloyd in my ear every summer, because he spent 23 years as radio play-by-play man for the Cubs. He had retired after the 1987 season—but his stapler played on. That this is a thing I would notice captures the surreality of the whole morning.

I don’t know how long I was in Jack’s office—maybe 15 minutes, maybe an hour, maybe a day-and-a-half. Finally he escorts me back to the lobby, bids me good luck, and says, “If you’re ever going to be back in town and I can fix you up with some Cubs tickets, you just let me know.”

I have no idea how I managed to find my car, let alone navigate it back out to the tollway or drive it back to Iowa.

Bob, the program director at WOC (who, interestingly enough, ended up as the program director at WGN for a time years later) didn’t do Jack the personal favor he asked for, but it occurs to me now that he didn’t have to. WGN had already done me a much bigger favor: The day was a validation. I never would have been at WGN at all if they hadn’t considered me at least theoretically worthy of a job there. To quote Bill Murray in Caddyshack: I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

Recommended Reading: At Popdose, Jeff Giles reviews The Age of Miracles, the new album by Mary Chapin Carpenter, officially out today. She’s a favorite of ours around here, and I’ll probably own the album by the time you read this.

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