50 Years Of WBBM Newsradio Sports Reporters: Brad Palmer

Jeff Joniak
May 07, 2018 - 10:43 am

Brad Palmer

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- In honor of WBBM Newsradio's 50th anniversary, some of WBBM Newradio's sportscasters, past and present, have shared their Newsradio memories.

WBBM Newsradio's Jeff Joniak spoke with Brad Palmer to look back at his career with the station. 

Brad Palmer started on 'Opening Day' of WBBM Newsradio on May 6, 1968. 

Joniak: Tell us about that opening day and how you got here?

"I was at WGN and I had been promised a reporting job, but Dennis Swanson was there at the time and he told me, he said you have to get out of here, he said you are not going to go anywhere here. He said 'BBM is going all news, so why don't you check that out and I did and I called John Callaway, who was News Director and he went and hired me. And I started there May 6, 1968, the day they went all news. Bob Crawford was the main producer. I was a writer at the time and it was unbelievable because we had very few commercials, we were just kind of open-ended and we were jumping on any story, any story that came along we would beat it to death.

"I remember a helicopter went down in Los Angeles and we got ahold of an eyewitness and we are going big on that. Anything that happened we would go big on because we had all the time in the world to fill. So it was really pioneering. I may also add, when I left 'GN, the News Director there said, 'you're making a big mistake, all-news won't last more than a year.' Well here we are," Palmer said.

WBBM Newsradio/Ron Gleason

In 1968, sports broadcaster Rick Weaver left to do the Miami Dolphins after WBBM Newsradio dropping all sports play-by-play. Palmer was the only one in the newsroom at the time that knew anything about sports and ended up writing the copy for anchors to read. Later on that year, Brent Musburger was hired. At that time Van Gordon Sauter became News Director of the station and asked Palmer if he wanted to be moved to sports. 

"Van asked me if I want to go back and work sports, and I eventually did. I said yeah and it became the Musburger-Palmer Sports...I learned a lot from Brent. And I would be out in the field and our budget was endless. I would be out covering playoff games that didn't even involve the Bears. I'd do a lot of traveling and it was great. We were cutting edge journalism," Palmer said. 

"Some of my fondest memories are really in radio because you had so much latitude and you could do whatever you want, you didn't have to wait for a camera crew or whatever, and we broke a lot of stories, and it was tremendous. I tell people, yeah I was in television the last 21 years, but my fondest memories were at WBBM, in radio." 

Phil Mascione/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Joniak: When you open as a news writer, did you have a knowledge base and a capacity and an interest in news? Or did you see it as a way to get into sports?

"I saw it as a way to get into sports. In fact, after coming out of the Navy, I couldn't find a job for about two or three months and I was offered three jobs in 24 hours, one was doing sports in Carbondale and the other two involved news, one in Champaign and one in Mason City, Iowa. And that paid more and that's how I got into news. I didn't see Carbondale as being a good route to take in sports, so I started in news. I went, but didn't last long in Mason City. They let me go after three months, they said 'we don't think you are right for this business,' but that was because I did a 10-minute newscast at 9:45 and then had five minutes to do a half-hour of television - I had to do my own scores on the spaghetti board, had to do my own weather, do the news, I didn't have any tape back in those days. I thought how can anybody do that? So I got let go there, I went to Rockford and they had a sound camera, I said what do you guys use this for? They said commercials and promos and I said, you should cover the news with this. And I was there nine months, I got three raises, we went from last to first, it was just being at the right place, at the right time, and then WGN called out of the blue and said will I come there, and the guy that hired me said 'you'll get the first reporting job opening,' and then he left to go to the sister station in Sacramento and I'm sitting there writing news and some sports...and I was kind of treading water there, that is when Swanson said, 'hey get out of here, you're not going anywhere,' so I went to 'BBM and of course, that opened a whole new set of doors," Palmer said. 

"Everything is timing. I was always at the right place at the right time."

Joniak: Ten straight years. You won an award for Best Radio Sports Reporting in Illinois. And in the past when we have been on the Bears beat together up at Halas Hall, you had the occasion to talk to me about the business and so forth and one of the things that struck me significantly was how it was back in your time, in the sixties, seventies and presumably eighties. You could pick up the phone, call the local hotel and talk to Mickey Mantle - you just dialed up his room and met him in the hotel lobby and interviewed him. That would certainly never happen today, and was that truly the case?

"Yes it was. Many times I went over to the Hyatt by the Water Tower...it was unbelievable. You had the telephone and that was all you needed," Palmer said.

Joniak: Did you feel you were a good reporter?

"Yea I did. That was my niche, well I anchored more, when Musburger left for New York in '74, I became a one man band. I did morning drive and evening drive and afternoon drive, and that was exhausting. Finally, when we got the Bears in '77, I said I need help. Rick King was the News Director and he came over to produce our games and he became my right hand man. He did a lot of the reporting, I kept trying to convince the GM...I said look I have to cut my schedule back here, this is killing me, plus I was covering games at night, so I was working 14 hour days, but eventually I got him to give Rich the afternoon shows, which made my life a lot easier and my marriage as well," Palmer said. 

Joniak: Do you have one significant memory from WBBM Newsradio that still sticks with you today? Any interview, a breaking story, or anything that you may have experienced?

"Well I've got two, but they were both news related. In 1968 during the election, I was the nighttime producer of the newsroom. It was the first year we had computerized returns, but the computers all broke down, so I went into the wire room that we had all the teletypes in and I was able to determine that I could get all the downstate returns off this wire and all the Cook County returns off another wire, and all I had to do was add them together and take them into the anchor people, who were John Madigan, our political editor and John Hultman. After awhile, Madigan comes racing out saying, 'where are you getting this stuff?' And I showed him and he said 'yea, but you got Ogilvie, a Republican winning for Governor and Paul Simon, a Democrat, winning for Lieutenant Governor. Well I said, that's the way I voted, so maybe a lot of people did," Palmer said. "And sure enough, my returns were right on, and we were ahead of everybody."

Another memory Palmer remembers in the night that Robert Kennedy was assassinated. 

Listen to the full interview above.