Former longtime WGN anchor interviewed three presidents
Jack Taylor, a TV news anchor in Chicago for more than 20 years who helped put WGN-TV near the top of the 10 p.m. news ratings in the 1970s, died of heart failure over the weekend, the station announced Sunday. He was 94.
Mr. Taylor — a former resident of Kildeer and Mundelein as well as Wisconsin — worked alongside Len O’Connor, Harry Volkman and Jack Brickhouse during that decade before he was replaced by John Drury in 1979. Mr. Taylor went on to do news talk shows or business programs such as “The Wall Street Journal Report” and “The Stock Market Observer” on Channel 26, and he worked for WKRS 1220-AM in Waukegan. In retirement, he did a weekly segment on the College of DuPage’s radio station.
But his radio career began accidentally while he was in the Army at age 17, according to WGN. A military superior noticed his baritone voice, said his daughter Sherry Taylor Aleksich.
“‘We need an announcer in Fort Knox,’ ” she said the officer said. “And that’s how he got started.”
Mr. Taylor caught the broadcasting bug during his stint on Armed Forces Radio. After the service, he started working in small radio markets like South Dakota and Iowa. Mr. Taylor and his wife, Virginia, then came to Chicago in 1950 and co-hosted a talk show on WGN 720-AM radio. Mr. Taylor also worked at WBBM and WCFL.
In 1958, during tough economic times, Mr. Taylor was out of work while Virginia stayed at home caring for their three children. Deeply depressed and fearing he had no future in broadcast, he took a job selling Fuller Brushes on commission. When he heard about auditions for a TV news anchor in Chicago, he jumped at the chance.
Mr. Taylor tearfully recounted to the Daily Herald in 2012 how the conversation went with WGN-TV Vice President Bob Irving, who liked Mr. Taylor’s delivery.
“How’d you like to come work for us?” Irving said. “I love you!” Mr. Taylor said he replied. “You can’t talk to me like that; I’m a married man,” Irving said back.
“And that was the beginning of 26 beautiful years,” Mr. Taylor said. “When someone’s willing to give you a chance, it means the world to you.”
Mr. Taylor remained proud of WGN as an independent station rivaling network affiliates CBS and NBC. In a note to Chicago media reporter Robert Feder in 2020, Mr. Taylor remembered getting a call of congratulations that the network’s 10 p.m. broadcast had beaten Channel 2’s and Channel 5’s in the ratings. But it didn’t beat Channel 7’s broadcast anchored by Fahey Flynn.
Mr. Taylor estimated he’d done more than 50,000 interviews throughout his radio and television career, including with three presidents (Nixon, Ford and Reagan), many celebrities (Marlon Brando, George Carlin and others) and, while hosting business shows, “nearly everyone on the S&P 500.”
When Jack Taylor retired from television news, he and Virginia resumed radio broadcasts together in a daily show on WJOY in Crown Point, Indiana. Libby Collins, program director for Waukegan’s WKRS, told the Daily Herald in 2009 he was thrilled to draw the couple back to Chicago-area radio in 2003.
She compared their rapport to George Burns and Gracie Allen, where Jack played the straight man and Virginia came up with some outrageous stories. They did the show together until her death in 2009.
In 2012, Jack got a new audience thanks to College of DuPage radio station host John “Radio” Russell Ghrist. Every Saturday, a taped two-minute segment called “A Few Minutes with Jack Taylor” aired on Ghrist’s “Midwest Ballroom” show on the station, WDCB 90.9-FM. Mr. Taylor shared stories of his experiences in the news business — like his battle with the news director over the station’s coverage of Chappaquiddick, or his memory of a young, new meteorologist joining the station, “a skinny guy with a big head of hair” named Tom Skilling.
“I like to talk, and if they pay me, I can talk even more,” Mr. Taylor said at the time.
A wake for Mr. Taylor will be held Friday at the Kristan Funeral Home in Mundelein. His funeral is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Community Protestant Church in Mundelein, according to WGN.