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Radio, TV Allowed Bob Sirott to Tap Into His Creative Side

Radio prepared Bob Sirott to roll with it if things went wrong in television during his media career.

Jim Cryns

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There are three things any Chicagoan would be familiar with; The Magnificent Mile, The Gold Coast, and Bob Sirott. Generations have grown up with the life-long Midwesterner. First as a top Chicago rock and roll DJ with WLS in the 70s and later as a news anchor on CBS2, NBC5 and Chicago Tonight on WTTW and on Fox32. After several previous stints on WGN Radio, Sirott is back home on “Chicago’s Very Own” AM 720 weekday mornings from 6-10 am.

The Chicago radio legend went to Columbia College located in the South Loop. It leans a bit artsy with alumni such as Pat Sajak, Bob Odenkirk, Andy Richter, and Janusz Kaminski (1982–87) – Academy Award-winning cinematographer for Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan

“I went there for four years in the late 60s,” Sirott said. “The faculty was more radical than the students. A tremendous place to learn. I knew a lot of cinematographers, film people, those like me who went into broadcasting or advertising.”

Columbia’s philosophy is to turn out working professionals, not professors working on getting published or future game show hosts. (Sorry Mr. Sajak.)

“As a student, I was able to do a lot of networking in the city. Al Parker is one person who was instrumental in my success at Columbia.”

I think our mission at Columbia is a very simple one and always has been. And that is: To provide the finest education that we can to our students so that they’ll understand what communications is all about and pick an aspect of it that has some appeal to them, that they are obviously suited for. –Al Parker

Parker’s name is synonymous with the radio/audio department at Columbia. He was a huge influence on Sirott until the day he died. 

“We often had coffee together and I’d ask his advice on this and that,” Sirott said. “I realized early that I didn’t want to go to school to learn how to work in radio, flip switches, and work the reel-to-reel. I could learn that later.”

Sirott said the physical aspects of the job weren’t going to take him four years to learn. Instead, he focused on classes like European literature, the art of cinema, advertising and science classes. He felt he needed a general education. 

“Nobody hires you solely because you went to this school or that school,” Sirott explained. “Especially in broadcasting. You’re better off to have a general sense of knowledge so you’ll be able to discuss things intelligently on the air.”

His father was a furrier in downtown Chicago, near State Street and Wabash.

Sirott is a sharp guy. Always into learning something new. A self-described dabbler. Jack of all trades, master of none. He was also a very introverted kid. “I never had a huge ego. I was always a shy type of kid. We lived in apartments and growing up when my mother gave me the rent check to take to the landlord of the building, I was terrified.”

Growing up, Sirott always liked to learn a little about a lot. 

“I grew up in a household that was interested in news, documentaries. I remember my father always watching programs about U.S. History, watching different kinds of interviews. That served me well. Gave me the desire for a broader curriculum in college.”

Growing up on the north side, Sirott was a Cubs fan. “I grew up watching WGN when all the games were on Channel 9. Then things got weird when not every game was on WGN. You could find them here and there. With Marquee Sports Network, at least the games are in one place. Baseball is all I wanted to do. I wanted to do what Jack Quinlan did.”

Quinlan was best known for doing radio play-by-play for the Chicago Cubs, first on WIND and then on WGN. His broadcast partners were Lou Boudreau and Charlie Grimm. He currently hosts “Icons of the Ivy,” a series of interviews with Chicago Cubs legends, on the Cubs Marquee Sports Network.

“I know a little about baseball. I’m not like an X’s and O’s guy that follows it every day,” Sirott said. “I always made fun of the TV news live shots when they were interviewing fans at a bar. If I want insight or commentary I want to hear it from a player or manager. I can go and interview my friends and ask what they think. It’s the same thing.” 

Sirott said he’s always tried to focus on the personality angle whether on the radio or television. He strived to get to know the players, the musicians. That curiosity served him well in both mediums. 

His radio career began when he was 21. While working as a producer and writer at NBC Radio in Chicago, he landed a summer on-air job at WBBM-FM.  

Way to go, Columbia College.

Sirott achieved great success for the next seven years before moving to television in 1980. 

“Radio is a lot more creative than television,” he said. “It’s harder. My early radio career allowed me to adapt to television. It goes the other way too. I think the television work has made me better at the radio the second time around.”

Radio prepared Sirott to roll with it if things went wrong in television. Doing something live with a news cam definitely helped me on the radio with the kind of shows I do. 

He says he’s a kind of ‘dabbler.’ Likes sports but isn’t interested enough to do it full-time. Likes hard news, but not only hard news. 

“I can’t fake it. I’m a terrible actor,” Sirott said. “I can only be me and it’s sort of worked out okay. I was always this way. Influenced by everybody I grew up listening to. I’ve anchored news at quite a few different stations and I always did it the same way.” 

Sirott recalled it was Johnny Carson who said if you’re always yourself, there is no guarantee of success. But if you’re not yourself on-air, there’s a guarantee you won’t make it. Hopefully, whoever you are, you’ll find an audience who likes you.

“John Chancellor was an NBC news reporter and anchor I always listened to,” Sirott said. “He was natural. “I can go back to tapes and watch him. I was always struck by how he talked to you as a viewer. It wasn’t announcing.”

Sirott said he used to do a newscast for WBBM-FM in the morning in 1971. The FCC required 15 minutes of news. He couldn’t fake the news-guy voice. 

“I just tried to be as conversational as I could. I didn’t want to be a high-energy guy who couldn’t maintain that persona. I wanted to be natural and comfortable.”

He recalled how Conan O’Brien was a real guy when he interviewed him a while back. “I’d interviewed him before,” Sirott said. “He was the real deal as a person. I think that comes through in whatever you’re doing. Whatever that quality is. He was really cool and would go into a lot of funny schtick with me, but I always felt he was the real Conan. He was just talking about things. That’s who I am. I had done quite a bit of research on Conan. I asked him what he was like in high school and he told me he wasn’t the most popular kid. Not a leader. O’Brien jumped in and said, ‘I don’t’ like the way this questioning is going.’ He was joking, that is just his sardonic way.”

After being hugely successful in radio at WLS, Sirott dipped his toe into the hugely competitive Chicago television pool. 

“I did some guest shots on television in 1980 at CBS 2,” he said. “This was during the reign of Walter Jacobson and Bill Kurtis,” Sirott said. Kurtis and Jacobson were a big deal in Chicago–‘newsmen, not announcers,’ as proclaimed in a 1975 promo for WBBM TV.

“The first week I was there I had to do a live shot from Chicagofest, a short-lived music festival on Navy Pier,” Sirott said. “When I got back to the station everybody was very complimentary. I’d just come from a job where I was doing four hours live, six days a week. I do a three-minute segment on WBBM, and I’m a hero.”

Sirott was and still is a bit uncomfortable with the notoriety. 

“When somebody in my family came across someone asking, ‘Are you related to Bob Sirott?’ I’d feel so uncomfortable. I can talk to tens of thousands of people using the microphone or camera, but feel uncomfortable in front of three people.”

Other things kept Sirott from getting a big head. When he joined WLS in 1973, he worked with a great DJ staff that wasn’t afraid to pop the proverbial balloon if it became over-inflated. 

“We were cohesive, worked hard and respected each other,” he said. “If anybody showed a sign of a swollen ego, they’d get shot down by the other six people. We were all very close and hung out off the air. We helped keep each other in line. If you got too big for your britches, you were heckled to death and would never hear the end of it. I was grateful for that, always have been.”

In college, Sirott wasn’t one of those guys that hung out at clubs, despite Chicago having an immense music scene. 

“For one thing I didn’t drink, hated the taste of alcohol,” Sirott said. “To me, it always tasted like the first time you took a sip of your father’s drink. I didn’t like it. If I went to concerts it would be at the Arie Crown Theater. We’d also go up to Belmont to see performers.” Sirott said folk clubs like The Quiet Knight were also a destination to listen to music.

In addition to his morning gig at WGN, Sirott hosts Legends of the Ivy for Marquee Sports Network. It’s all about players, not about salaries or statistics.

“I’m able to get to know players,” he said. “This kind of stuff brings me back to the love of the game. The fun and inside stories. Inside baseball, that’s where the stories are.” 

As a kid going to Wrigley Field, Sirott would sit in the grandstands and then at the end of the game, he would get to work. 

“The grounds crew would give each kid a row and say if you step on the cups in this entire row, we’ll give you a ticket to tomorrow’s game because stepping on the cups would make it easier for the crew to clean it up.”

He still loves going to Wrigley Field. As a fan, he said it’s harder to get access to players than it used to be. But he also recognizes the love of the game is still there. Among players as well. 

“One time I was at Wrigley and saw Mark Grace sitting at the top of the dugout stairs during batting practice before a game,” Sirott said. “I could just tell he was taking it all in. Loved the game. How wonderful it was when you talked to some of these guys who were baseball purists. It’s so generational. My dad took me to my first game. No other sport has the same quality. Poets don’t write about football or basketball. Baseball is romantic.”

BNM Writers

Dagen McDowell Is Ready For A New Adventure With Fox Business

“Every decision in America is born of policy, On the show, we bring that to our show. Talk about the news of the day.”

Jim Cryns

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To know Dagen McDowell, you must understand what she comes from, where she comes from. You won’t know her until you know the lessons, kindness, and determination set forth by her parents.

Her parents operated a small grocery store, LW Roark and Company. Charles and Joyce McDowell were high school sweethearts and both went to college but decided to go back home and open a business. “This is in the middle of nowhere,” McDowell said. “It was a wholesale grocery store. They sold it in the late 90s.”

She said her parents were smart, encouraging, and took every opportunity to teach McDowell and her brother.

“They’d constantly talk up people who came into the store. Both of them have and had an insatiable curiosity about everything. They felt they learned things through their customers. It was more fun to learn about things from other people.”

McDowell’s parents never took a week off work. Never. The family took no vacations as most families would. Once while McDowell was in college at Wake Forest University, the family visited the Air and Space Museum on the Mall in D.C.

“Both of my parents were very interested in architecture and landscapes. We’d go to Williamsburg and just look at the buildings.”

McDowell joined FOX News Channel in 2003 and helped launch FOX Business Network as a founding anchor in 2007.

Her mother passed away three years ago and her father is still very much a part of her life. Her father was a constant teacher.

“One time my father, who we called Dowell McDowell, was putting up an outbuilding and asked me how long one line should be if the other line was such and such. He taught me the Pythagorean theorem when I was about 4 years old.”

McDowell was nurtured by parents with endless curiosity.

“I was raised by parents who would always debate and converse around the dinner table. We shared breakfast and dinner together every day. They loved learning, were always inquisitive, never afraid to ask a question. My parents shared a fearlessness and passed that on to me. I’ve never been embarrassed to ask people questions. I love talking to people and finding out about things.”

For a long time, McDowell had no idea what she wanted to do for a living. She knew if she worked at different jobs she’d eventually figure out what she was good at.

“I knew I was a decent writer, but I always tried to get information out of people, what they were doing. Ask if they were fulfilled and happy.”

At Wake, Forest McDowell majored in art history and had every intention of working in a museum, possibly as a curator.

“I interned at the Center for Contemporary Arts. I lived in Venice, Italy for a while. Wake Forest owns a house in Venice.”

After that it was Colorado. She moved back to New York during the recession of 1991 with a duffel bag. She took the Amtrak to New York City and sublet an apartment for six months.

“I had no TV, just a radio. I knew I could find something good to do in New York, there were so many jobs. I always wanted to live in the city. Either the city or way out in the country. Nowhere in between.”

She said being in New York made her feel anything was possible. This was January in 1994 when job ads were still in the physical newspaper, like the New York Times. McDowell interviewed at Institutional Investor through a referral from a friend.

“It was a brilliant magazine with terrific writing,” McDowell explained. “Very prominent in the industry. They were looking for someone to work with the newsletter written for the financial community.”

She’d cover topics like the bond business, Wall Street, and money management. The magazine made her take a reporting test where you’d make up a story and write it. She was offered a job and worked there for three years.

“I learned to be a journalist there,” McDowell said. “I could write but I became a better journalist. We’d break news, create our sources, and learn more and more about finance. People love to talk about what they do if you show interest.”

The next big job was SmartMoney.com, a resource and web newspaper for private investors. There McDowell wrote a personal finance column. She started doing commentary on television shows, the way a lot of people in different professions tend to do. “Then I started making more appearances on weekend financial or business shows,” McDowell said.

She got a call from Neil Cavuto about 20 years ago and he told McDowell, ‘Kid, you want a job? I know you don’t have much professional TV experience. We’ll give you some training and you’ll figure it out. If you do, you stay. If not, you go.’

McDowell said she was glad she was a writer first before she arrived at Fox. She writes her own scripts and has a background in finance and business writing.

“Before the business network was launched, they had only one business reporter and two senior business correspondents,” she said. “I’ve gotten to do so many different jobs, use different muscles, so to speak. As the years have passed I’ve discovered other talents I may have and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”

There’s a new show in town. McDowell and Sean Duffy will co-host The Bottom Line which will air on weeknights from 6-7:00 PM ET.

McDowell said she and Duffy come from extremely similar backgrounds. Duffy is from rural Wisconsin and McDowell is from Virginia.

“We know what small-town living is like, “McDowell said. “I might live in New York City but where I grew up affects the way I view the world. I’m still grounded in my hometown. On the show, we look south and west with everything we cover. You have to think of your audience. Rather than talking about them, we talk with them. That’s our shared background and vision. Sean is extremely down to earth and generous.”

McDowell said the show is not financially based, but steeped in business.

She said Duffy’s experience as a former U.S. Congressman, he understands policy as well as financial matters.

“Every decision in America is born of policy,” she said. “On the show, we bring that to our show. Talk about the news of the day.”

This is different from anything McDowell has done in the past.

“It’s a two-anchor show in the evening,” she explained. “This is not taking place during market hours. We tie all the business happenings together from the day. Again, it’s not about Washington or New York. It’s about the people we grew up with. We talk to them. Build a relationship with them on the air. For me, this is not just sitting in front of a camera. I can run off at the mouth as well as anyone, hang in there with the filibuster.”

McDowell says she is blunt, but hopes she isn’t rude. During a recent interview for the new show she used the terms ‘pig potatoes’ and ‘chapped backsides.’

“Those are terms I just made up,” she said. “I make up a lot of phrases and don’t always know what they mean. I have an entire repertoire of those kinds of phrases.”

Duffy assumed they were southern phrases he had to learn from McDowell, but she assured him she’d never heard them anywhere else.

“I’m just making stuff up,” McDowell said. “You can’t curse. Can’t say BS. At least you shouldn’t say BS on television. You don’t want to say manure. You never want to say something that makes people wince or evokes a smell.”

Dealing with people directly and bluntly seems to come from her mother.

“My mother had grit,” McDowell said. “She was also very kind, never syrupy. I used to say she had no magnolia-mouth.

That’s got to be a southern phrase.

McDowell said her mother was not a servile flatterer, but she was kind. Always there when somebody was in need.

“She had real grit. She’d stand and fight for her friends and family members.”

Her mother passed away after being diagnosed with stage-four cancer.

“She went through unimaginable pain,” McDowell said of her mother. “For nearly six years. You want to talk about somebody who was tough. There was nobody more pugnacious than my mother.”

She explained even with her illness, her mother was always on the go. Continuing to live her life. When questioned about being so active while she was ill, her mother continued to show grit.

“My mother would say she didn’t want to walk around looking like she had cancer. She asked, ‘What choice do I have? I could lay in bed and wait to die, or I can get up and do what I can .’”

McDowell said her mother’s illness taught her to be a caregiver in ways she never could have imagined. Her mother taught her to find moments of joy every single day, in the smallest of things.

“It can be as simple as telling a stranger to have a great day. Treat a perfect stranger with kindness. I do it all day long. I know it sounds corny, but I want to be known as a person who brings a casserole to a friend when they’re ill.”

A one-sheet from Fox tells you McDowell and the culmination of her background is perfect for The Bottom Line. The fact is, it’s true.

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BNM Writers

Airing The Tyre Nichols Video Was A Necessity

There were hard moments to watch in those videos, hard sounds to hear. But they aired.

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Far be it for me not to address this outrageous and embarrassing instance in humanity. After the videos of Memphis police brutally beating Tyre Nichols were shown on television there really seemed to be more outrage emerging from society this time than from the media, for a change. One would think that’s how we wish things to be.

In instances like this, where the video and audio images are far from brief but are instead chaptered as they unfold, there are few options other than to let them run their course. Clocks — breaks hard and soft — are out the window, just as in live coverage.

Because that’s what this was, only the live this time was us, and as we all absorbed and reacted to actions disapprovingly familiar yet somehow foreign at the same time, the impact was still becoming apparent even though we already knew the outcome.

It’s happened before.

Not always like this but we’ve seen it before, police encounters shown on the news overtakes and become the news.

It takes effect as the sights and sounds are digested, dissected, and discussed, often before their potential impact could really be imagined.

In 1991, when the Handycam footage crossed screens for the first time and we learned Rodney King’s name, we didn’t know then but we had a feeling.

We were on the right track, though as newsrooms evolved and street reporting incorporated a different type of storytelling.

I was a cop in 1991. Changes came. Some.

It’s 2023, I’m no longer a cop. Changes will come again. Some.

Turning points — or the overused watershed moments — mean just as much to the news media as they do to law enforcement.

The “why’s” that make this a turning point are more society and community based this time around than they were in 1991.

At least I think so. And I don’t think it makes a bit of difference who’s involved this time.

There were hard moments to watch in those videos, and hard sounds to hear. But they aired. Where they couldn’t air, they were described in great detail; descriptions sometimes can be worse than the real thing. Sometimes, not this time.

And they should air, they shouldn’t stop airing. This is what happened and this is what people need to see and hear and this is exactly why we are here.

Warn them, provide them with a heads up that they’re not going to like what happens next. It’s life and we show life, and we show what some of us do with it when it’s someone else’s.

Overall, I would say the news platforms held their composure, even after the videos were released. I saw, read, and heard some refreshingly neutral coverage, even from outlets where I expected hard turns into the lanes on either side of the road.

Legitimate questions were asked by anchors and reporters and much of the time, the off-balance issues were raised more by those on the sidewalks and those on the other side of the cameras and microphones.

As much as I find myself in disagreement with what I often see on the cable networks — all the cable networks — I did find a sense of symmetry watching CNN’s Don Lemon speak with Memphis City Council Chair Martavius Jones in the hours after the videos were released.

Regular protocols be damned, Lemon and producers lingered patiently as Jones, visibly overcome by emotion, struggled to regain breath and composure enough to be able to speak. Rather than cut away or move to other elements, they stood fast and it became an example of what often requires no words.

There were fewer punches pulled on other platforms as well.

The sounds of the screams, the impacts, and the hate-filled commands were broadcast through car radios.

As were Tyre Nichol’s calls for his mom. They aired. They had to.

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BNM Writers

Does the Republican Establishment Get It?

For many it seemed that the Republican establishment stood idly by as Democrats changed the rules and worked behind the scenes to alter elections.

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In a move that seemed to go against the wishes of the patriotic American grassroots, the Republican party on Friday re-elected RNC Chairperson Ronna McDaniel. 

The media immediately took notice, as many on television and radio are now wondering why the party would re-elect a chairperson who has been so unpopular with the base of its party. 

Grant Stinchfield discussed this issue Friday night on his program, Stinchfield Tonight, which airs on Real America’s Voice network.

“Ronna McDaniel holds on to her chairmanship of the Republican Party. By a whopping total of — what were the numbers– 111 to 54. Harmeet Dhillon only received 54 votes. Mike Lindell 4 votes. This is proof to me that the Republican establishment is dug in,” Stinchfield — formerly of Newsmax — said. “Don’t tell me they’re out of touch. See, you tell me they’re out of touch, that implies ignorance. They’re not ignorant about anything.”

As sentiment for Dhillon grew in the days leading up to Friday’s vote, many influential politicians and party donors publicly offered her their support and endorsement. These included Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), as well as donors Mike Rydin, Dick Uihlein, and Bernie Marcus.

Also on board were musician and outspoken conservative John Rich, along with the state GOP of Nebraska and Washington State. Countless journalists and media personalities, such as Charlie Kirk, Miranda Divine, and Lou Dobbs, also came out publicly in support of Dhillon. Former President Donald Trump remained neutral, not making a public choice of either of the three candidates.

For many of Dhillon’s supporters, the deciding factor was public sentiment across the party’s base.

“They’re reading the same chat boards. They’re getting the same emails I’m reading. I will literally post something about this race when I was supporting Harmeet Dhillon. There was not one comment – not one – that supported Ronna McDaniel. Everyone wanted change,” Stinchfield said, noting that the party elite saw the same groundswell of support for change.

“Now, nobody has an issue as Ronna McDaniel is some evil kind of person. I don’t believe she is. I believe, though, that she is part of the establishment. She’s been around too long as far as the establishment goes. And she’s been ingrained in doing business as usual. It’s not working.”

In making their choices known, many Dhillon supporters simply pointed to the scoreboard during McDaniel’s reign.

“Think about where we are. 2018, we lost the House. 2020, we lost everything. 2022, we won the House, but we should have really steamrolled the House and we should have taken back the Senate, which we didn’t do,” Stinchfield said. “That means we’re on a real losing track since she took over. I don’t like being on a losing track. I like being on a winning track.

“Something has got to change when you talk about all of this. So how does Ronna McDaniel get 111 votes and Harmeet Dhillon only get 54 votes, when everyone, every Republican voter I talk to said it was time for change?” pondered Stinchfield.

And even more than the losses, for many it seemed that the Republican establishment stood idly by as Democrats changed the rules and worked behind the scenes to alter elections. The most recent example of which came in Arizona, where presumptive gubernatorial favorite, Kari Lake, was “defeated” when countless voting irregularities occurred in some of the state’s most deep-red areas.

“Under her watch, Democrats instituted a mail-in ballot scheme. That may be even worse than losing, when you talk about the House and the Senate and all these things. The fact that we now have a junk mail-in ballot scheme across the country under Ronna McDaniel’s watch is serious trouble. Very serious trouble,” Stinchfield said on Friday. “And so the reason it is is because the Democrats are rigging the system.”

For years – until Donald Trump descended the golden escalator and took the world by storm – the Republican party had the reputation of being the party of the rich. Rush Limbaugh used to refer to this wing of Republicans as “the country club crowd.” President Donald Trump flipped the narrative completely, offering a clear vision of hope and patriotism to working-class America.

Reputable polling — such as Richard Baris’ Big Data Poll — consistently showed Trump running well ahead of almost every Republican candidate during the 2022 mid-term election cycle. In other words, Trump still maintains considerably more support across the country than most of the individual Senate or House candidates experienced.

Many experts believe this is because voters still view Trump as an outsider, while they view the Republican party much less favorably.

“Let’s tell you how out of touch they are, how elitist they are,” Stinchfield said, calling out the GOP establishment. “This meeting that went on, do you know where it is? It’s at the Waldorf Astoria Monarch in California. One of the most expensive resorts in America. You’re lucky if you get a room for a thousand dollars a night down there on Dana Point. Now, it’s a beautiful hotel, but why is the Republican Party holding an event there? Then I went back and I looked at what RedState did. RedState went back and looked at some of the expenses that the Republican Party under Ronna McDaniel’s leadership was spending money on.

“Take a look at this. $3.1 million on private jets. $1.3 million on limousine and chauffeur services. $17.1 million on donor mementos. $750,000 on floral arrangements. Now you compare this to the Democrats. The Democrats spent $35,000 on private airfare. A thousand dollars on floral arrangements. A thousand. Not $750,000. A thousand. And the $17.1 million they spent on donor mementos, the Democrats spent $1.5 million.

“Democrats know where to put the money. It’s not giving donors gifts. Donors shouldn’t want gifts. If you give money, give money. You don’t need the fancy pin to put on your lapel.”

Following her loss, Dhillon warned her party that it must listen to the base, saying, “if we ignore this message, I think it’s at our peril. It’s at our peril personally, as party leaders and it’s at our peril for our party in general.”

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