If you are a fan of talk radio or if you have ever listened to a weekly broadcast called Beyond The Beltway, which airs on WLS talk radio on Sunday evenings from 6 to 8 p.m., you will undoubtedly recognize the name of Bruce DuMont, the host of that show. DuMont has established a wide-ranging reputation as perhaps one of the Midwest's most quoted political analysts and civic leaders.
The amazing career of this most highly prolific anchor, producer, commentator, radio host, TV personality, political analyst, author and interviewer extraordinaire attests to a lifetime of service in the field of broadcast journalism. DuMont has produced some of the giants of Chicago broadcast history, including: Jack Brickhouse, Jim Conway, Howard Miller, Lee Phillip and Norman Ross. But perhaps his most enduring achievement was his establishment of the Museum of Broadcast Communications ( of which DuMont is both founder and president ) . This living testament to the rich and diverse history of midwest broadcasting contains the only "Radio Hall of Fame" in the United States at this time.
A native of New London, Conn., DuMont also anchors Illinois Lawmakers, a TV series which seeks to explore and analyze the Illinois General Assembly. The series is in its fourteenth season on PBS stations throughout Illinois; here in Chicago it is seen on Channel 11 ( WTTW-TV ) . DuMont's radio show, Beyond The Beltway, is a live, nationally syndicated two-hour talk radio show that essentially takes America's political pulse and attempts to offer a balanced perspective of the national political scene. The popular talkfest also airs on television on WYCC-TV, Channel 20 here in Chicago on Sundays at 10:30 p.m. DuMont also informed me that he recently signed a three-year contract with WYCC-TV to continue Beyond the Beltway. In addition, he will do prime-time specials on politics and a new series that will utilize the archive holdings of the museum in a historical piece on American television. This piece will be appropriately called, From the Archives, and DuMont will act as host. Beyond The Beltway has a huge national radio following, and is simultaneously broadcast in New York, San Diego, Seattle, Charleston, SC, Kansas City, Mo, and Austin, Texas.
The roots of DuMont's journalistic proclivities can be traced to 1966, when the aggressive young man landed an impressive position as an associate producer of The Morning Show with Jim Conway. During this time, DuMont also appeared on-air interviewing celebrities. DuMont's first professional job was his role as the "play-by-play voice" of Chicago's Panthers on WLS FM Radio. DuMont was the original producer of WGN Chicago's Extension 720 in 1968. After an unsuccessful run for state legislature, DuMont returned to WGN in 1970 as producer of The Howard Miller Show, then recognized as one of Chicago's most controversial radio programs.
DuMont's solo on-air radio career began in 1973 when he left WGN for WLTD, a 1000-watt suburban station in Evanston. DuMont's national reputation started to emerge as the intrepid investigative reporter delivered hard-hitting stories dealing with such wide-ranging and timely topics as Watergate and the FBI/CIA constitutional abuses occurring in the 1970s.
DuMont's efforts soon paid off in the form of an appearance on The Tom Synder Show on NBC in September 1974. In September 1978, DuMont made a move to WBBM-TV ( Channel 2 ) in Chicago to produce Noonbreak, which showcased Chicago broadcast pioneer Lee Phillip. DuMont can be credited with transforming the show from an abysmally poor ratings position into a winning "news-interview" program which eventually beat out its formidable competition at the time, The Phil Donahue Show. DuMont also produced Channel 2: The People for WBBM-TV during most of 1982. In December of that year, DuMont made a fortuitous move to WTTW-Channel 11 ( the Chicago PBS station ) , where he is credited with negotiating and producing the legendary 1983 Chicago Mayoral debates which ultimately led to the seating of Harold Washington as Chicago's first African-American mayor.
It was during this time that DuMont's long-standing affiliation with interviewer/commentator John Callaway began. In fact, DuMont was the original producer of the highly acclaimed series, Chicago Tonight With John Callaway, which debuted in April 1984. Around this time, DuMont began his own "on-camera" career anchoring the Democratic and Republican conventions for Callaway's immensely popular public affairs program. As senior political analyst for WTTW-TV from 1984 to 1991, DuMont produced Campaigning On Cue, the critically acclaimed public television series.
In 1989, DuMont was recognized by the Chicago Sun-Times as one of Chicago's "most influential television leaders of the '80s." And that's just a hint of the honors bestowed upon this two-time Emmy Award winner. DuMont also copped an Iris Award from The National Association of Television Program Executives for his concentrated coverage of teenage suicides. The Chicago Chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences inducted DuMont into the coveted Silver Circle in 1999. And in 1994 he was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from Chicago's Columbia College, his alma mater. DuMont also received a Golden Gavel award for his courtroom production of "What Can Johnny Read," a piece that examined the controversial topic of library censorship.
Today DuMont divides his time between overseeing the operation of the Museum of Broadcast Communications, doing eight specials per year and his Beyond The Beltway radio program, which originally began under the name, Inside Politics, on WBEZ-FM radio in 1980. DuMont also serves on the national advisory board for Northwestern University's School of Speech and on the executive committee of the Harris School Council on Public Policy at U of C. Formerly married to 48th Ward Ald. Kathy Osterman, DuMont is a widower residing in Oak Park. He has a 28-year-old daughter.
DAVID GUARINO: I think most people would agree that your establishment of the Museum of Broadcast Communications is probably one of your most significant contributions to the city's journalistic legacy. What were the motivating factors behind your decision to create this testament to Chicago's journalistic past, present and future?
BDM: There is only one other city to have a museum dedicated to broadcast communications. The other entity, which is in New York, has a branch museum in California, but it's one board that manages both museums although they have two locations. We ( Chicago ) are the other one. It goes back to producing The Lee Phillip Show, Noonbreak, at Channel 2. In the course of doing that program, I would go into the tape library and try to put little package pieces together for the show. And I would see the disarray of the two-inch tapes, which were the only tapes that they had at that moment. We're now talking late '70s, 1978 to '80, somewhere in there. And I mean I would look down there and there would be a tape that would say "The Kennedy-Nixon Debates-Sept. 26, 1960," "The Death of Mayor Daley, Dec. 1976," "The Arrival of The Queen, 1959," and they had all these tapes there. Now as a producer I could ask an engineer, we could string up any one of those tapes and I could watch whatever was there because of the course of my job. But it bothered me that so much of Chicago history, including tapes on The Our Lady of Angels Fire, they were there, but nobody knew anything about them. For the general managers of Channel 2 as well as the other owned and operated stations, Chicago was a "stopping-off" point. Their career path wanted to take them east or west, for network fame and fortune. So there were rarely ever Chicago roots in any of those managers. The average age of the people in the newsroom was about 23, they didn't even remember the 1960s let alone what transpired and many of them were transient in nature as well. So all of those things started to gnaw at me a little bit. And then in 1977, '78, I visited the Museum of Television and Radio ( it was called the Museum of Broadcasting then ) in New York. I said, well this is kind of neat, I wish we had something like that in Chicago. So those two things were sort of spinning around in my brain. In November of 1982, the Chicago Television Academy ( on whose board I served as a governor ) , were looking for a way to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the chapter. I said, "I think we should have a Broadcasting Museum in Chicago, and that's what we should do and that's what we will give to the people as part of our little 25th anniversary gift to the industry."
DG: And so the foundation for the Museum of Broadcast Communications was laid?
BDM: ( Bruce nods ) And so, David, Bob Smith said, "DuMont you're a committee one, work on it." And what I then proceeded to do was that I went to a series of people to try to move that along. And after a couple of months of reporting back to the board every month, they appropriated $250 to cover the costs of my cab fares and lunches to go meet with all these people. And I did that. And so, from that point on, it began to grow and grow. The place that I thought it should be was The Chicago Historical Society, and I went there first. And the person there said, "Oh, we're not interested in that. We're interested in photos and books, but we're not interested in videotape." That was instantly dismissed. At the second place where I called, the Library Commissioner, Amanda Rudd, loved the idea. She said, "That belongs on the ground floor of the Goldblatt Building," that was when the library was going to be in the Goldblatt Building, this went on for about 10 years, everybody thought that that was where it was going to be. She said, "I'm going to give you one of my assistants, you can keep in contact with her. But you go out and develop a board that's free of the politics of the city and the library board. Because you're going to have to raise the money. We're going to give you the space rent free, you go out and do the operational budget." And basically we did that. And it was after the second or third meeting, when I met with Amanda Rudd, she said, "No, I've got a better idea. You belong on the first floor of The Cultural Center."
DG: So same deal, you just had to raise the operating dollars?
BDM: Yes, that's right. So that was the focus with everybody that I went to see after that, and in trying to put the board together, and trying to get more money than the $250. Everybody sort of philosophically patted me on the head and said, "You know, this is a good idea but somebody should have done this 20 years ago." I said, "You're right, but let's not meet in 20 years and say we should have done it 40 years ago. Now is the time to do this, we've got to do this." And again they'd pat me on the back, but nobody'd go for a paycheck. By the summer of 1983, when I had really run out of gas; I was getting pretty fed up, everybody kept telling me what a great idea this was, but nobody was putting their money where their mouth was. So I went to Dan Miller, who was the editor of Crain's Chicago Business ( who is a friend of mine, he's now business editor of the Sun-Times ) , and that was the catalyst that finally got us on the road to making the museum a reality.
DG: How did you react when the Chicago Sun-Times hailed you as "one of the most influential television leaders of the '80s?"
BDM: That was the one that caused me to sort of fall off my chair when I read it. To put it in context with the other people who had been selected, and that it covered a whole decade. I was a little bit floored by that. And also I think there's something special about being recognized by your alma mater. I mean, a lifetime achievement award when I still considered myself fairly young, that was a very difficult one. I think that for anybody who was at that event, they'll probably never forget it. I was so moved by the award, and it came at an emotional time in my life; I mean, I could barely speak. And I didn't think it was going to bother me at all until John Callaway began to make the introduction. And while I was in the audience waiting to go up to respond, I could already sense that I was about to lose it. When I got to the podium after John had introduced me, I really was speechless. It took me a long time; I mean maybe three to five minutes, to regain my composure to go forward. This happened when a number of things were going on in my life, and I was still mourning the loss of my wife, Kathy Osterman.
DG: When did Kathy pass away, Bruce?
BDM: Kathy died on Dec. 8 of 1992. And we were married on May 1 of 1992. She was director of the Mayor's Office of Cultural Events. She had been the alderman of the 48th Ward, and in that capacity she was one of the chief sponsors of the Human Rights Ordinance, and worked with many leaders in the gay and lesbian community to make sure that the bill passed.
DG: In doing this series, "Eye On The Media," I have been trying to bridge the gap between the GLBT press and the so-called "mainstream press." Considering the fact that your late wife Kathy Osterman was a visible and vocal friend of the LGBT community, what is your philosophy regarding the inclusion of gays, lesbians and transgendered individuals in pieces you do, shows you host?
BDM: Well, I think that's very important and I know that in producing Beyond The Beltway, and selecting the guests that we have, we probably have as broad a base of guest participation as any show on radio and most shows on television. Because I like to get the diversity of views and we frequently have people who are openly gay or lesbian as participants. But there are many programs that we've done with those people ( GLBT ) on our panel and we'll never talk about a gay issue. Because I don't think that's relevant, I really don't. I mean, we've done shows on AIDS without gays on the panel. That's not the only thing they know about. So I'm interested in a perspective about what's happening in the world right now. What about a city budget? What about property taxes? There are certain issues that, when illuminated, those in the news sort of pigeon hole people ( in such a way ) that if you want an opinion about AIDS, ah-ha! Get a gay. If you want an opinion on property taxes, go out to the Northwest Side and get somebody who owns a bungalow. You never hear an African American asked his/her opinion on property taxes; their property taxes are outrageous too. So what we're trying to do is respect people for their intellects and their opinions and not say, "Hey look what we're doing," but rather just do it.
DG: What would you cite as the biggest faux pas of your career in broadcasting?
BDM: I would say the one that got me in the most trouble was when I was sub-hosting for John Callaway during the time when the Russians shot down the unarmed Korean passenger airliner, and 190-plus people were killed. We had had a previously scheduled interview about world affairs and one of my guests who had been scheduled was a Russian who had allegedly been a former member of the KGB. And the conversation got hot, it got heavy, he made some comment about U.S. morality or humanity or something, but that was one of those incidents where I simply could not be objective. And I went after him big time. And I don't regret going after him but the producer of the program thought it was most unprofessional, and it got very difficult. There were lots of meetings about that guest and for a period of time, whenever I hosted, they ( management ) would record the program. Because they were fearful of what I would say in a live broadcast. That decision was made by a producer at WTTW who I didn't have much respect for and still don't. I felt I was censored for acting like a normal human being and caring about the 190-plus lives that were lost.
DG: Speaking of John Callaway, Bruce, could you give me five words that would best describe what it was like working with John Callaway?
BDM: ( Bruce bows his head ) Five words? Invigorating, stimulating, pleasant, challenging and rewarding.
Beyond the Beltway, hosted by Bruce DuMont, can be heard on WLS Talk radio from 6 to 8 p.m. Sundays. The televised version can be seen on WYCC-TV, Channel 20 10:30 to 11:30 p.m. Sundays.
The Museum of Broadcast Communications is located in The Chicago Cultural Center at Michigan Avenue and Washington Street in downtown Chicago; ( 312 ) 629-6005