Throughout his long and distinguished career as one of Chicago's most respected radio personalities, television hosts and pop culture critics, Roy Leonard never pulled any punches. So why would he start now?
True to form, the 79-year-old broadcast legend has kicked off his new website at royleonard.com with a candid assessment of Tribune Co.-owned news/talk WGN-AM (720), where he held forth for 31 years -- most notably as midday personality and resident entertainment critic -- before his retirement in 1998.
"The question I am asked most often these days is: 'What‚ has happened to WGN?' "‚ he wrote in the first installment of his weekly blog. "Radio stations are in the business to make money, and the most desired audience is the group from somewhere around 25 to 49.‚ And the changes that have been made at 720 on the dial are supposed to attract that group of listeners, and only time will tell to‚ know if it works."‚ Here is Leonard's show-by-show critique of today's WGN:
"I still listen in the mornings. Greg‚ Jarrett is one of the best morning hosts we've had in the city in some time.‚ He's intelligent, well read, with a wealth of‚ experience, and he doesn't feel he has to be funny. Wednesday mornings at 7:15 with Professor Paul Green on politics is not to be missed. John Williams, who follows, has an appealing way of disagreeing with a caller's opinion while giving them a chance to express theirs.‚ Steve Cochran tries too hard to be funny, and Garry Meier, after a rocky start going solo, has developed a pleasant pattern but still‚ doesn't always know when to change the subject. I really miss Dave Kaplan on sports in the early‚ evening,‚ while the very mention of‚ Jim Laski, Jerry Agar or Shawn‚ Wasson causes a race to the radio to turn it off.‚ We can still listen to Milt Rosenberg, but we have to stay up a little later. It's still a pleasure to‚ hear Rick Kogan,‚ Dean‚ Richards and Nick Digilio on weekends, and I hope Steve & Johnnie go on forever."
In announcing the launch of the website Sunday, Leonard told WGN's Richards: "It may upset a few people . . . but I'm honest. That's the one thing about my blog: I'm going to try to be honest and truthful about how I feel about things that are going on in Chicago -- politics, the media. It won't be any fun if you can't level with people."
Along with his blog posts, the website also features Leonard's reviews of theatre, dining and media (he gives a rave to "Billy Elliot The Musical") and newsy notes about stage productions. He also plans to add an archive section, including hundreds of interviews he aired over his three decades at WGN. "I recently found a tape of an interview I did with Evelyn Lincoln, President Kennedy's White House secretary, after his assassination," he said. "I may include stuff like that. I really want to see what the response is to my initial offerings and then I'll think of what else we might do."
At a time when he and his wife, Sheila, should have no other cares than doting over their eight grandchildren, what motivated Leonard to take on a new media outlet? Says Roy:
"There is so much misinformation being spread around on TV, radio and the Web, somebody's got to have a levelheaded reply to the crackpots that inundate us with their ranting and raving. Those of us of 'a certain age' are not really well-represented in the media anymore, and I would like to correct that. The lack of language skills by on-air hosts is appalling, and I hope to call attention to it with names and examples. . . . This new website may fill up my day with little time left to worry about what I'm going to do next."