R.I.P. Ward Quaal (1919-2010)

Ward L. Quaal, a Chicago television and radio pioneer instrumental in laying the groundwork for WGN-AM and WGN-TV, died Friday at the age of 91.

Quaal began his career in 1936 at a radio station in Marquette, Mich., and went to WGN Radio in 1941. As a staff announcer, he broke the news that Pearl Harbor was bombed, which brought America into World War II.

Quaal joined the Navy during the War, and returned to Chicago afterward to develop WGN-TV, which signed on in 1948, After a three-year stint in Cincinnati radio, Quaal would return to become vice-president and general manager of WGN Continental Broadcasting (now Tribune Co.) in 1956, which oversaw WGN-TV, WPIX-TV in New York City, and beginning in 1960, CBS affiliate KDAL-TV in Duluth, Minn. (now KDLH, which was sold by WGN in 1979.)

Thanks to his Cincinnati connections, Quaal also brought two people to WGN who would later become household names throughout Chicagoland: Wally Phillips and Bob Bell (who played Bozo, among other gigs.) He also hired Orion Samuelson in 1960, who is still with WGN Radio to this very day.

IN 1961, Quaal helped open WGN-TV’s Bradley Place studios, which was equipped to shoot television programs in color- including a new children’s show, Bozo’s Circus. In 1965, he was named president of WGN Continental Broadcasting and held that position until he retired in 1975. During his tenure, he picked up another station to oversee when WGN Continental bought Denver’s KCTO-TV in 1966, which became KWGN upon purchase.

Quaal also served on the Broadcast Pioneers board (now Broadcasters Foundation) from 1963-75 and was also its chairman from 1994-97.

Among the numerous awards and honors Quaal has achieved include an introduction to the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame in 1991 and a NATAS Silver Circle Award in 1993. The Broadcasters Foundation Pioneer Award was renamed in his honor in 2008.

Quaal also wasn’t shy about weighing in on recent media issues: in 1996, he opposed the Telecommunications Act, rightfully pointing out a company can’t possibility manage one hundred radio stations to keep track of local radio stations.

Reading about this legendary pioneer, the industry today needs more visionaries like Ward Quaal and less of the likes of Jeff Zucker, Ben Silverman, Sam Zell, and Randy Michaels. Believe me, the industry would be a lot better off.