We knew it! Tollway transponders a 'talker'

Editor's note: Clarification made Sept. 12 to reflect cost of tollway transponders.

A story about a little electronic gadget had, as we in the news business often say, all the makings of a "talker."

One highly scientific measure of this is how much we in the newsroom discuss said story among ourselves.

A great example came this past week in transportation writer Marni Pyke's story about the Illinois tollway's "No transponder, no discount" decree.

Seems that one editor received the email sent last month to some I-PASS users informing them that they'd need to buy the transponders, the electronic debiting devices mounted on the dash or windshield, for every car in their family's fleet. The penalty for noncompliance, the tollway said, was loss of the I-PASS "discount," which references the fact that tolls cost double for drivers who don't have a transponder.

But the idea of having to buy four transponders, one for each car owner in his family, sent one editor over the edge.

"Now I have to tie up $160, instead of $40, in my account?" he said. "That's just nuts." (Turns out the tollway ended up charging a refundable fee of $10 per transponder. Some of us were assuming a credit/debit card reserve for debiting tolls would be required for each device.)

Others chimed in, and I'll bet we spent 10 minutes on the topic in our daily news meeting.

Sure enough, when the "This week's most-read stories" email came out, the transponder piece was No. 1. (A reminder that this and about 50 other email alerts are yours for the asking. Just go to and click on the appropriate boxes.)

But in case you missed it, here's a rundown of other big stories. I should hasten to add, "most-read" is not always synonymous with "talkers" - the former often appeals to the lowest common demoniator: crime and such. "Talkers," to my mind, are the tomes you enjoy debating or discussing and wouldn't be ashamed if the world knew about it. This week was a pretty good example of non-blood and guts getting readers' attention.

• Kathy Hart fired. After almost five months of suspense about the job status of half "The Eric & Kathy Show" duo, owners of The Mix radio got rid of Hart, who had been away without explanation since April, columnist Robert Feder reported. This is the most popular radio show in Chicago, and Hart and partner Eric Ferguson, who had worked together for 21 years, were inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame less than a year ago. Every story in the saga has been a huge online hit. Still a mystery is exactly what the to-do was all about. Speculation, Feder said, is that Ferguson was better paid than Hart, who reportedly pulled down close to $1 million.

• Fox Lake's 133-year-old Mineola Hotel is listed for $7 million. OK, I'll concede that referencing the place as a "Capone retreat" high in the story and in the headline may have prompted a few clicks. But it's a truly interesting piece by Lee Filas on the hotel that's been closed since the 1960s, a restaurant/bar shuttered since 2012 and the 80-year-old man who's ready to retire from the accompanying marina he's worked at for 64 years.

• "Show young immigrants America's promise is real." This guest essay came to us unexpectedly from Lynn Hybels, who started Willow Creek megachurch with her husband Bill. If there's an essence of a talker, this is it. Little sets off people, in either direction, more than the topic of immigration.

• "Was that loud boom over Arlington Heights a plane?" Nothing like a loud boom - especially with North Korea running amok - sets tongues a-wagging. Reporters Madhu Krishnamurthy and Lauren Rohr worked that one well into the evening when they heard reports that a plane's engine was on fire and it was dumping fuel in midair. The plane made a safe return to O'Hare International Airport, and British Airways said it was a "surge in power" that caused all the commotion.

There are more online winners, but I'm out of time and space. So, if you get the email alert, you know the rest of the top stories, anyway.

If not, well, just talk amongst yourselves.

Historic Fox Lake hotel, former Capone retreat, hits market for $7 million

Show young immigrants our promise is real

British Airways flight from O'Hare forced to return after engine trouble

No transponder? I-PASS users could see tolls double in 2018 if they buck the system

Feder: The Mix fires Kathy Hart from 'Eric & Kathy Show'

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