WGN corrals six awards for Achievement in Radio

Editor's note: This story originally ran on Oct. 13, 1999.

WGN 720-AM doubled its closest rivals with six Achievement in Radio Awards - not counting a Lifetime Achievement Award for Roy Leonard - at a lunch ceremony Tuesday at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers downtown.

Some in the Chicago radio market might point to WGN's dominance and suggest the AIR Awards are just another conservative-minded industry promotion. Yet, now in their fourth year, the AIR Awards have established themselves as Chicago's radio honor of choice.

Administered as a fund raiser by the March of Dimes and judged by industry peers in other markets - this year New York City and Washington, D.C. - the AIR Awards have established both credibility and independence. This year's awards amassed a record 299 entrees, with 480 people attending Tuesday's ceremony. And who can take issue with Bob Collins being named best morning host and Pat Hughes and Ron Santo best play-by-play team?

Most of all, the AIR Awards have set the proper balance between authority and irreverence. Among the awards, Tuesday's ceremony included several tongue-in-cheek moments. When Eddie Volkman and Joe Bohannon were named best morning show on a music station - how's that for an unconventional choice? - WBBM 96.3-FM Vice President and General Manager Don Marion accepted the honor for them. Presenter Bob Sirott of WFLD-TV Channel 32 greeted him by asking, "And you would be, their lawyer?"

'FLD's Bruce Wolf, filling in as sports presenter for WLS-TV Channel 7's Mark Giangreco, explained, "Mark has a conflict. He had an appointment at the tanning salon."

This delighted the audience and leant just the right amount of levity to the proceedings, although newspaper gossip columnist Terry Armour, presenting the news awards, probably overstepped his bounds when he said, "Mike North, would you please shut up?" This was greeted with stunned silence and a few boos.

WGN's six AIR Awards comprised four for sports, including the in-your-face selection of its Bears post-game coverage as best sports talk show, even though WMAQ 670-AM owns the rights to the Bears' games. WGN's Spike O'Dell won best afternoon show.

'MAQ won three awards, including Josh Bornstein's victory as best sports reporter, as well as best spot news coverage for the station's work on the wreck of the City of New Orleans Amtrak train and Alexis Johnson's win for best news series for "Teen Drinking." Johnson also received cheers for thanking her father.

B96 also won three awards. In addition to Eddie & JoBo, Brian Middleton was honored for best midday show on a music station, and Karen Hand got an award for best newscast.

WGCI 107.5-FM morning host "Crazy" Howard McGee was named best talent at a music station and dedicated the award to a downtown media critic he had recently taken issue with. Yet perhaps the best moment was when Jim Nayder of WBEZ 91.5-FM won best special or short-form program for "The Annoying Music Show," then treated the audience to a tape of Mike Ditka singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."

At that point, Sirott wanted to know if Nayder had been confident of victory or whether he always carried his Ditka tape with him wherever he goes.

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