Retired WLS-TV anchor Joel Daly dies at 86

Helped usher in station’s ratings dominance

Months after meteorologist Jerry Taft died, another former well-liked personality from WLS-TV has passed. 

Anchor Joel Daly, who spent 38 years at the ABC-owned station died peacefully Thursday morning at the home of his daughter Kelly. In recent years, Daly had been suffering from vascular parkinsonism – a condition that leads to mini-strokes. 

Born in Montana, Daly arrived in Chicago from Cleveland’s WJW to the then-WBKB-TV in 1967 (the station’s call letters were renamed to the present-day WLS-TV in October 1968.) On February 12, 1968, Daly was paired with another local news anchor named Fahey Flynn and was re-christened The Flynn-Daly News. By 1970, their newscasts were renamed “Eyewitness News”. 

Along with weatherman John Coleman and sportscaster Bill Frink, the news team pioneered the “happy talk” era of news, often criticized by many observers. But it worked: in the early 1970s, WLS-TV knocked off Floyd Kalber and NBC-owned WMAQ from the top spot and remained there for the entire decade, even becoming more dominant when ABC shot to the top of the prime-time network race in 1976. 

But WLS’ fortunes started to decline by 1979 and sometime later, Joel Daly lost his 10 p.m. slot. With WLS spending much of its time in last place in the early 1980s, WLS opted to pair Daly with Linda Yu for a new 4 p.m. newscast in 1984, replacing the tail end of a low-rated afternoon movie. By the end of the year (and thanks to the success of a new show called Jeopardy!), he would once again co-anchor a top-rated newscast and two years later, WLS would start a long run of dominance that continues today. 

In the early years at WLS, Daly also gave commentaries on the air with the one after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination as the standout: “A man of peace is dead, and violence was not his legacy. . . .Flags at half-staff; rifles at high-port. What a sad and sobering commentary. The United States of America, deeply divided. The so-called Land of the Free, a veritable land of fear. Someone must listen.”

Daly was much more than a news anchor. He was also a lawyer – earning his Illinois law degree by going to night school and often gave his views on legal issues. Daly also sung with a country cover band and was a licensed pilot.  

In 2005, Daly announced he was stepping down from his long run at WLS after nearly 40 years, save for occasionally appearing to discuss legal issues. He would also host the station’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and he wrote an autobiography titled The Daly News: A Life In Television News.

Among his accolades, Daly won five local Emmy Awards, and was inducted into the Chicago Silver Circle and the Chicago Journalism Hall Of Fame. 

Daly is survived by his daughter Kelly, granddaughters Kate and Madison, and sister Viola. Due to the pandemic, funeral services will be held at a later date. 

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