A Chicago TV and radio institution, Bob Sirott shares his thoughts on the Cubs, local sports journalism and why he still hasn’t got around to writing an article for The Heckler.
The Heckler: You were an NBC page during high school. What led to that job, and how did it shape your career?
Bob Sirott: I was a frequent visitor to the NBC-TV and Radio studios, then in the Merchandise Mart. I got to know many of the old staff announcers, and one of them, Officer Vic Petrolis—who did traffic reports on radio and whom I had gotten to know from hanging around the WLS Radio Visiting Room—heard about an opening on the guide staff, and told them about me. I learned all the different departments of a TV and Radio station from the ground up through that job. To this day I have a pretty good understanding of who does what—and why—at the station. Also, being an NBC Page made you keenly aware of how the “big shots” treated the “grunts.” Because of that I never forget how important it is to treat the young people working their way up with kindness and respect.
TH: Was there a “big break,” or was it more a series of stepping-stones?
BS: The big break was getting hired by WBBM-FM as a summer vacation fill-in DJ in ’71. That led to WLS hiring me in ’73, which made everything that came later in my career possible.
TH: Do you prefer radio or television?
BS: I had to leave radio for television because radio was too hard! Seriously though, think about radio personalities doing four- or five-hour shows five days a week. Yes, on TV you need to shower, shave, and wear nice clothes, but who on TV is on the air for that much time?
TH: What was your most memorable interview (besides this one, of course)?
BS: Tough to single out one interview. Over the years the ones I’ve enjoyed the most, the truly memorable ones, are either with people who are a bit feisty and give you truly honest answers that are often surprising, like John Mellencamp, or important figures in modern history, like Jimmy Carter. Or my personal favorite Hollywood personalities like Peter Falk, who turned out to be exactly like his Lt. Columbo character. I also really enjoyed occasionally having [Fred] Mitchell, [Greg] Couch, [Mike] Mulligan, and [Carol] Slezak on Chicago Tonight from time to time. I should also mention here that when I was first on WLS in the ’70s, I would often bring a tape recorder to Wrigley Field to do interviews with some of the more personable Cubs of that time. It was always fun to talk about music, or things other than baseball statistics. One time I had Rick Monday doing advice to the lovelorn on my “B.S. Love Counselor” bit. I ran into Rick a few years ago and he still laughs about it. I got to know quite a few players of that era: Bobby Murcer; Mick Kelleher; Bill Bonham; George Mitterwald; and of course Jack Brickhouse, Vince Lloyd, and later Harry Caray and those who followed. I also got to know the great stars of the ’69 Cubs over the years. To me there was no greater thrill than when I was recognized by one of my boyhood heroes. When I’m at Wrigley Field, I’m still 12 years old. The last time I was there I had a chance to shoot the breeze with Paul Sullivan and Toni Ginnetti. Fifteen minutes with them was more insightful and entertaining than 24 hours of ESPN.
TH: You’ve probably had multiple opportunities to leave Chicago and work in the national media. Why are you so loyal to the city?
BS: Easy to be loyal to Chicago. It’s always been home, and it’s the greatest city in the world. Best architecture, best food, friendliest people, all without the hassles of N.Y.
TH: Okay, why so loyal to the Cubs?
BS: Loyal to the Cubs because of geography, I guess. Growing up in Albany Park on the North Side and loving baseball, it just becomes a part of your DNA as a kid. I get a kick out of people who ask, “Are you still a Cub fan?” If you switch—and this goes for any team—then I guess you weren’t really a fan to begin with. Not a real one anyway.
TH: What’s your opinion of Dusty Baker? Should he be given a new contract?
BS: Dusty was the most popular man in Chicago when he came within five outs from taking us to the Promised Land in 2003. Although I still fault him for not going to the mound to settle Prior down and break the Marlins momentum a little during that fateful “Bartman inning” in game six of the playoffs. I agree with Steve Stone about managers having to work with what they’ve got, instead of whining about injuries and bad luck. So I’m ready for a different kind of personality to manage the Cubs. It may not make any difference, but after this year I’m ready for more fun at Wrigley Field. And one way for that to happen is to hire a nut as manager—somebody like Ozzie Guillen. Or at least someone who might beat up a player now and then—like Joe Girardi.
TH: Have you ever sung the 7th inning stretch? If yes, how would you compare your performance to Mike Ditka’s renditions?
BS: I have sung during the 7th inning stretch. Once with my wife, Marianne Murciano, and once solo. The duet was on key … my other performance was only marginally more musical than Ditka’s.
TH: So are you excited about the 2006-2007 Blackhawks or what?
BS: I’ll get interested in the Blackhawks again when they put some of their games back on good old Channel 9, and when they hire my nephew, Judd Sirott, the voice of The Wolves, as their play-by-play announcer.
TH: What do you think of the quality of the sports media in Chicago? Any favorite reporters or columnists?
BS: I’ve always been a huge fan of Chicago’s sportswriters. What a great history of tremendous talent here: Gleason, Jauss, Holtzman, Munzel, and Condon. I remember all the bylines from when I was a kid. Today, for my money, all the beat writers, and columnists, uphold that tradition. Telander is a favorite. I love talking to those guys—and women. They know their stuff, and they’re articulate and entertaining. But unfairly, the TV and radio people get most of the glory, and the gold. Pat Hughes and Ron Santo on WGN remind me of the way Jack Quinlan and Lou Boudreau entertained me as a kid, when Cubs games were coming out of my transistor radio. Don’t tell some of my fellow die-hard Cub fans, but I’ve grown to really enjoy Ken Harrelson and Ed Farmer too. I go to a few Sox games every year. I liked it more when the crowds weren’t as big as they are now. But it’s fun to have a “modern” stadium to go to here, too.
TH: Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti has repeatedly been accused of making himself the story. What’s your take on the situation?
BS: As for Jay, I sat next to him once in the press box and found him to be thoughtful, insightful, and quite pleasant. But I do get the feeling that in print, above all else, he tries to come up with whatever will rile up the most people on any given day.
TH: You have a unique working relationship with your wife, Marianne Murciano. Did you meet on Fox Thing In The Morning? As a relative newlywed, I’m compelled to ask: ever have any problems working with your spouse? Any noteworthy on-air spats?
BS: I did meet Marianne working on Fox Thing in The Morning. Yes, we did have spats—mostly on the air. It made for interesting TV. My advice to all newlyweds: Get yourself a TV or Radio show with your spouse, and work out all your problems on the air. It’ll insure an environment for a much more civilized argument, and then you can get on to other more pleasant things when you get home.
TH: How did you hear about The Heckler, and why have you still not followed up on your promise to write an article?
BS: I found a Heckler in my mailbox at WTTW one day, and immediately became a fan. The next night I did a “One More Thing” essay on your publication. In fact, Marianne and I gave you guys one of your first big “shots” of publicity when we did an interview with you on our WCKG Saturday afternoon “Radio Special” a few years ago. And I did write an article for you once: “14 Things Ernie Banks Would Change If He Owned The Cubs.” But it turned out better than I thought, so I peddled it to The Tribune instead! Sorry, I owe you one. (Oh … wait … that’s why I’m doing this interview.)
TH: Let’s try some name association. I’ll give you a name and you say the first thing that pops into your head. Okay: Ozzie Guillen.
BS: My wife understands everything he says. (She’s Cuban and is fluent in Spanish.)
TH: Jim Hendry
BS: Needs a vacation.
TH: Neifi Perez
BS: Looked more like one of the guys I play softball with on Sunday mornings.
TH: Anything else you’d like to add about the price of Cubs tickets versus the product on the field?
BS: I just miss the days before computers, when you could still go up to “Joey” in Window “A” at 1:15 and slip him an extra five for a good seat. Not that I ever did that, of course … but I heard stories.