Former WMAQ meteorologist Jim Tilmon dies

Also was a licensed pilot; did aviation stories for local television

Jim Tilmon, who was one of the first African-American television personalities on Chicago television, died Saturday at the age of 86 in his Scottsdale, Arizona home.

Tilmon was more than a meteorologist; he was also a licensed pilot, becoming the third African-American to fly for a commercial carrier. He was also a television host and a musician.

Born in Guthrie, Okla. Tilmon gradated from Lincoln University in 1957 and served in the college’s ROTC programs, then served in the U.S. Army Core of Engineers, where he learned to fly.  Tilmon was discharged from the Army in 1965 and became a pilot for American Airlines.

Tilmon’s television career began in 1968 at public broadcaster WTTW hosting Our People, a forum to discuss Black issues. Premiering a week after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, he featured guests such as Muhammad Ali, James Baldwin, Oscar Brown Jr., and Harold Washington, who would become Chicago’s first Black mayor.

Tilmon moved over to NBC-owned WMAQ-TV in the early 1970s and became the station’s meteorologist, but his experience as a pilot led him to report on stories involving science and aviation, including his analysis on the fatal plane crash just outside of O’Hare in May 1979. In the first few years at WMAQ, he also hosted a public affairs program called Tilmon’s Tempo, similar to Our People. Tilmon’s career at WMAQ lasted over two decades.

In later years, Tilmon appeared at CBS-owned WBBM-TV and Fox-owned WFLD and sister station KSAZ in the Phoenix market, where he would eventually retire.

In addition to being a pilot and meteorologist, Tilmon was also an accomplished musician, often playing clarinet for the Evanston and Lake Forest symphonies (one of his degrees he held at Lincoln was in music.) Tilmon won numerous local Emmy Awards and was inducted in the Chicago Silver Circle in 2000. He was also one of the founding members of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Just last year, Chicago television lost another meteorologist who also served in the armed forces – Jerry Taft, who was Tilmon’s colleague for at a time at WMAQ. Tilmon’s son (named Jim Tilmon, Jr.) followed in his footsteps and also became a pilot. He died last year at 60 due to kidney failure.

Tilmon is survived by his wife Joan, two children, and five grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.

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