Long time broadcaster Stew Cohen writes a new chapter in his life

By Stew Cohen

At the age of 65, friends and listeners congratulated me on my longevity in a business where it’s rare to last more than 20 years. Many of my Facebook friends told me I should enjoy my retirement. Temptation was very strong, but I had promised myself to keep working. I no longer had to get up for work at 4am or rush in during storms and major breaking stories. But I wasn’t ready to retire. I’ve enjoyed communicating the news and I have not wanted to stop until I know my skills no longer match my desire.

I landed a position as News Director of 101.5 FM Huntley Community Radio, anchoring morning news and hosting a weekend public affairs show called Stew’s News and Views. As if that was not enough, I accepted a position as a reporter for this very paper, Sun Day. The radio position is something in which I am very familiar, however I haven’t written stories for a newspaper in a very long time. Of the thousands of interviews I’ve conducted over my career, all were audio interviews for radio.

What you are reading is my sojourn for a time into journalism late into a nearly half a century of writing for broadcasting, and I’m admitting to a nervousness I’ve not felt in a long time. Yet I am excited over a new adventure in my life as a reporter for Sun Day under the direction of Chris La Pelusa. I am taking on the assignment of writing about current local news events. I have many stories to tell you and I have a feeling a bit of my radio style of writing may float into some of the stories.

Fortunately for me, others I have respected had blazed a similar trail in their feelings for those they served and reported on. Some of the names that come to mind are Mal Bellairs, Wally Phillips, and Clark Weber. Mal was my mentor. His White Fence Farm spots were legendary and his Christmas Show entertained millions of listeners for many years. From Bellairs, I learned that one can be a gentleman and a professional at all times. He hosted a show one day at the grandstand stage of the McHenry County Fairgrounds. I had just finished reading a newscast in front of his large audience and I started walking out of the grandstand area. “You can see how stressful it is to read news,” Mal said. “Stew was once over six feet tall…and now, he’s 5 feet 6 inches and shrinking fast.” Mal got the laugh and I turned around and saw his wide smile. Wally Phillips had “retired” in 1998 from WGN 720 and said to a newspaper media columnist that he wished to return to broadcasting. Soon after, Phillips was working in Crystal Lake at WAIT-AM as a weekend host. The first time I got to work with Wally, I was supposed to talk on-air, but I forgot about the six second delay in the news studio where I turned on the microphone and so I didn’t realize in that moment of putting on my headphones that my voice and what I heard in the monitor were not in sync. I really blew my first shot at a conversation. We were talking about the September 11 terrorist attacks. Clark Weber had such a calming effect, listening to him. He was a mix of Mal and Wally. Clark could talk about anything and was such a gentleman in his conversation with listeners. These are the attributes I took with me in my broadcast career. Now if I can use those skills to talk to people and write stories for the newspaper, I will have succeeded.