Many people know Mr. Callaway as that "interview man" from WTTW/Channel 11. He was so much more than that and for much longer than many people realize. He was a very important component to Chicago's media landscape. Chicago's radio & TV stations might be of a much lesser quality if not for this person.
John Callaway truly had news in his blood. His Father was a newspaper editor and he grew up in West Virginia with a strong interest in both media & current events. He started in Chicago as a radio reporter for WBBM, as well being a TV reporter. From here in Chicago in the mid-60's, he hosted the nationally broadcasted Nightline radio show, a precursor to the show now seen on ABC-TV at night. He became News Director at WBBM in 1968 and transformed the station to the all-news format it still is today. That success pleased CBS so much that he was then put in charge of making other CBS stations across the country into all-news formats. His talent & success had him moving up the company ladder at CBS and was sent to New York in the early 70's. He had come to love Chicago, though, and returned just a few years later to be a reporter for CBS2. In 1974, John Callaway was wooed over to WTTW to be the station's News Director. Because of his work, Channel 11 began airing award-winning local news programs he started like The Public Newscenter, Chicago Feedback, John Callaway Interviews and most famously, Chicago Tonight.
So many media people are honored to win one award in their career. John Callaway has won more than 100 awards, including a Peabody Award and a whopping 16 Emmy Awards. His 46 years of excellence in radio & TV journalism makes him one of the most important media figures in Chicago history.
Besides his impressive work in front of and behind the scenes in radio & television, he was also the founder of a broadcast journalism program at the University of Chicago. He has authored a book of essays, he has written and performed in two one-man live plays, and even sung with both the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He was a frequent lecturer and event emcee, a moderator, a teacher and a consultant. He has led an impressive, full professional life.
As impressive as his resume is, it is the sheer quality of his work that really stood out. He was widely regarded as one of the finest newsmen and interviewers around, not just in Chicago, but in America. He didn't often lob softball questions to his subjects, unless it was done so to set the stage for the more important questions to come. He didn't let his subjects get away from skirting away from a question. He verbally probed their minds liked a finely skilled surgeon. He didn't attack his subjects, he methodically conversed with them and he did so with a style & class that very few could match. When columnist Robert Feder retired from the Chicago Sun-Times, he shunned every request to talk about his exit from his long-time employer -- except one. Even Robert Feder trusted & respected the skills of John Callaway and agreed to be on Chicago Tonight's Friday Night with him for a half hour interview. Some of the biggest names in news & media, including other famous interviewers, who rarely would agree to do be interviewed, agreed to be on with John Callaway. That level of respect can not be measured.
You can ask, probe, Google, and look around for years, but you will not be able to find anybody who has a bad word to say about the man on a personal or professional level. It is not surprise that he was respectful to his interview subjects, since he was equally respectful to everybody he met.
I had the opportunity to have a private dinner with John Callaway at a relative's house, many years ago. In addition to being a kind, soft-spoken gentleman, there was a special air about him. He brought an energy to room that lit it up.
Of course his many talents will be missed with his sad passing. For those who had the opportunity to meet with him, work with him, be interviewed by him or simply spend some time with him, it is the man himself that will be missed much more. His body of work will live on for years to come. His way of touching so many others with his brain and with his heart will last with them for the rest of their lives. John Callaway may have left us physically, but he has also left behind an incredible legacy of professional & personal greatness. We are all the better for it.