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Bill Kurtis, Tom Skilling Reflect as Chicago Newsers Gather at Broadcast Museum

WMAQ's Paula Faris and Dick Johnson attend the gala opening of the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

Chicago’s TV news anchors and reporters were out in force for a sneak preview open house at the city’s new Museum of Broadcast Communications Thursday night. Joined by Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and Museum President Bruce DuMont, the event officially marks the end of major construction of the 62,000 square foot, stand-alone facility.

Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey, Kukla, Fran and Ollie, Dave Garroway, Paul Harvey - the broadcast history of this city is just amazing,”  legendary WGN meteorologist Tom Skilling tells TVSpy. “We really have a story to tell here.  I think [the museum] is going to be of great interest. Bringing together the stories of these amazing broadcasters who have influenced broadcasting on a national scale is well worth telling.”

Local journos on hand included WBBM’s Bill Kurtis and Rob Johnson, former WBBMer Donna LaPietra, WMAQ’s Dick Johnson and Paula Faris, WLS’s Valerie Warner, former WLSer Andy Shaw, and former WMAQer Chet Coppock.

Mayor Emanuel noted that the museum is fitting for a city that hosted the nation’s first televised presidential debate, between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960.

Party attendees got a glimpse at historic TV artifacts, including one of the cameras used during the JFK-Nixon matchup, an original Charlie McCarthy puppet, and the doorway that Oprah

Winfrey used to walk through onto her show’s set.

The Museum first opened in 1987, and previously was housed at the Chicago Cultural Center.  The move to the new building was slated to happen years ago, but ended up delayed due to funding issues. Eventually, the State of Illinois came through with a capital grant, with additional support from Skilling, Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Springer, and Chicagoland native Betty White, as well as from The Walt Disney Company, TV Land, Cox Communications, and others.

The financial struggle ironically mirrors the turbulent nature of the local news business exacerbated by the tough economic times.  Forty-year veteran and icon Bill Kurtis tells TVSpy the industry’s future “is a big question mark”.

“We are all saying, ‘What’s the future? Will we have jobs?’” he reflects.  “And yet at the same time, the information age is bigger than ever. So we need someone to guide us through, and sort the truth out. Well, that’s what a journalist will be for the future. But it’ll be delivered on a different kind of tool, and that will be a hand-held device of some kind. So I’m optimistic.”

(photos: Alissa Krinsky)

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