My two brushes with John McCullough
Here's the verbatim of what I said on the air about veteran Channel 4 anchor John McCullough this morning. In case you didn't hear, the legendary anchor died suddenly at his home in South Bend, Indiana at the age of 77 Wednesday night. I worked at Radio City with him from the time I arrived in 1982 until he retired in 1988 although he still came around to lend his expertise to TV election night newscasts and other special coverage until '91.
JOHN MCCULLOUGH DIED LAST NIGHT IN SOUTH BEND, INDIANA BUT HE STILL FILLS THIS PLACE AMONG THOSE OF US WHO GOT TO SHARE RADIO CITY WITH HIM.
I'VE TOLD THE STORY OFTEN ABOUT THE NERVOUS STOMACH I SUFFERED WITH FOR MONTHS AFTER I GOT HIRED AT WKTI IN '82...WONDERING IF I WAS WORTHY TO WALK THE SAME HALLWAYS AS HANK STODDARD, PAUL JOSEPH, GORDON HINKLEY AND YES, MR. MCCULLOUGH.
JOHN AND I SPENT NO TIME TOGETHER--HE WORKED NIGHTS, I WAS ON IN THE MORNING. OUR PATHS SELDOM CROSSED BUT THERE WERE TWO OCCASIONS WHEN THEY DID. THEY BOTH LEFT A MARK.
THE FIRST HAPPENED AFTER THE CABBAGE PATCH STUNT BOB REITMAN AND I PULLED IN THE EARLY 80'S...TELLING PEOPLE THAT THE HIGHLY COVETED DOLLS, IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND ON STORE SHELVES THAT CHRISTMAS, WOULD BE DROPPED FROM A B-29 BOMBER IN THE COUNTY STADIUM LOT THE FRIDAY AFTER THANKSGIVING. SOME PEOPLE ACTUALLY BELIEVED IT, AND A FEW EVEN SHOWED UP. IT MADE GLOBAL HEADLINES ON AN ADMITTEDLY SLOW NEWS DAY, AND EVEN CHANNEL 4 WANTED TO TALK ABOUT IT.
I'M NOT SO SURE JOHN MCCULLOUGH DID, THOUGH.
REITMAN AGREED TO GO ON LIVE AT 5 WITH JOHN---IT WAS MCCULLOUGH'S BIG INTERVIEW SEGMENT, AND IT WAS OBVIOUS FROM HIS LINE OF QUESTIONING HE DIDN'T CARE FOR RADIO STUNTING. HE PRESSED REITMAN ON THE IMPROPRIETY OF LYING ON THE AIR, PERHAPS EVEN PUTTING PEOPLE AT RISK.
FINALLY, REITMAN SAID, "LIGHTEN UP JOHN", POINTING OUT THE ABSURDITY OF WHAT WE'D DONE AND PRESSING THE VETERAN ANCHOR FOR SIGNS OF A SENSE OF HUMOR. THE TENSION BROKE, ALBEIT IT SLIGHTLY.
THEN CAME 1986: REITMAN AND I DID A PEOPLE-TO-PEOPLE BROADCAST EXCHANGE WITH RADIO MOSCOW AS THE COLD WAR REACHED IT'S DEATH THROES. WE DID LIVE SHOWS FROM THE SOVIET UNION--THE FIRST COMMERCIAL U-S RADIO STATION TO DO SO. RADIO MOSCOW WOULD, IN TURN, DO SOME PROGRAMS FROM MILWAUKEE. IT WAS TO BE DEVOID OF POLITICS OR IDEOLOGY--STRICTLY TWO PEOPLE, LEARNING ABOUT EACH OTHER'S DAILY LIVES.
WHEN OUR RADIO MOSCOW HANDLER CAME STATESIDE, CHANNEL 4 AND JOHN MCCULLOUGH PUT HIM ON LIVE AT FIVE AGAIN, AND AGAIN, JOHN DID THINGS HIS WAY. HE DIDN'T BUY INTO THE WARM AND FUZZY ASPECTS OF THE EXCHANGE, AND AT ONE POINT FLAT-OUT ASKED OUR FRIEND, "ARE YOU A MEMBER OF THE K-G-B?" WE COULDN'T BELIEVE IT, AND TRIED TO DISARM THE DISCOMFORT THE NEXT MORNING ON THE AIR--ANYTIME A GUEST JOINED US, WE PLAYED THE AUDIO CLIP OF MCCULLOUGH ASKING THE QUESTION: ARE YOU A MEMBER OF THE K-G-B?
JOHN, TO HIS CREDIT, DIDN'T GO OVER OUR HEADS TO STOP IT OR COMPLAIN TO SUPERIORS AFTERWARD--IF HE DID, I NEVER HEARD ABOUT IT. I CAN'T REMEMBER EVER SPEAKING TO HIM ABOUT EITHER INCIDENT, AS WE CONTINUED TO DO OUR JOBS IN THE SAME BUILDING, ONLY IN DIFFERENT DAY PARTS.
JOHN MAYBE NEVER UNDERSTOOD WHAT F-M RADIO WAS BECOMING, WHAT REITMAN AND I WERE ABOUT, WHAT WAS GOING ON DOWN THE HALL FROM THE T-V NEWSROOM WHERE HE HELD SWAY. HE DIDN'T HAVE TO. HE WAS JOHN MCCULLOUGH, ONE OF MILWAUKEE'S MOST VETERAN TELEVISION ANCHORS. I'M CERTAINLY NOT INSULTED THAT HE DIDN'T SUFFER FOOLS LIKE ME. IN FACT, IT'S WHAT MADE HIM THE LEGENDARY LOCAL JOURNALIST WE ALL REMEMBER...EVEN IF HE NEVER DID REALLY LIGHTEN UP.