DuMont’s triumph: Broadcast museum back on track

DuMont’s triumph: Broadcast museum back on track

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After a four-year hiatus, construction is expected to resume today on Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications, thanks to a $6 million grant from the state of Illinois.

Museum of Broadcast Communications

“The check is in the bank, and construction starts this coming Monday — Flag Day,” Bruce DuMont, founder and president of the museum, announced to thunderous applause Friday night before a gathering of Chicago’s television elite at the Hilton Chicago. If all goes as planned, the 62,000-square-foot facility at State and Kinzie will open in 2011.

Gov. Pat Quinn showed up to deliver the news personally, underscoring the importance of Chicago in the history of television and radio, and saluting DuMont’s singular vision for the museum. Said Quinn:

“I talked to a number of our legislators in Illinois, and they have the same feeling as I do that this is something that we need to build. I know everyone here tonight has made a commitment to help that happen. There’s a lot of opportunity in our state to create jobs by focusing on tourism and building tourism. The Museum of Broadcast Communications can add to our great museums that we have all across Chicago and all across Illinois. That’s why as governor of our state, I’ve made a commitment under our capital bill that passed about a year ago — the legislature passed it, I signed it into law — and we’re going to invest $6 million of capital money for the Museum of Broadcast Communications.”

Quinn was actually fulfilling a promise made years earlier by his predecessor, ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich, to help fund the project. When Blago reneged and the state’s share was not forthcoming, construction ceased on the half-finished building in May 2006. DuMont thanked the leadership and members of the Illinois General Assembly and praised Quinn as “a governor who keeps his promise.”

The timing of the capital grant could not have been more perfect, coinciding with “A Salute to Chicago Television,” a $350-a-plate fundraiser for the museum at the Hilton Friday night. The crowd of 365 included scores of Chicago’s greatest living television personalities and their heirs. As DuMont and co-emcee Dean Richards introduced more than 85 past and present stars, each rose to bask in the spotlight for a moment or two.

Especially moving was the spontaneous and heartfelt standing ovation for Roger Ebert, who was seated with his wife, Chaz. Also at Ebert’s table were Marlene Iglitzen (widow of Ebert’s late partner, Gene Siskel) and Thea Flaum, the producer who created the iconic Siskel & Ebert partnership.

A highlight of the evening was a 10-minute video incorporating thousands of images and sounds from the past 60 years of the medium. It’s now accessible online on the museum’s website. To view it, go to museum.tv and click on the link that says “Chicago Television: The Video.”