Daily Herald opinion: Elgin's Floyd Brown broke barriers in broadcasting and lived a life of service

Legend. Icon. Trailblazer.

At times, we are too quick to sum up the greats — whether in politics, sports or show business — with labels that should be reserved for a select few.

But in the case of Chicago broadcaster and Elgin civic leader Floyd Brown, the accolades fit.

And in some way, they just begin to express the spirit of a man who broke down color barriers and gave back to a host of causes including civil rights, education and the arts.

Brown died Friday at the age of 92.

He was remembered by his family as a man of faith and conscience.

“Browns never quit,” he would tell his children, a phrase recalled this weekend by his son, retired Kane County judge F. Keith Brown.

Floyd Brown's life story shows that he didn't just utter those words: He lived them.

Brown was born in 1930 to a teenage mother in Dallas, Texas. Though he grew up poor, he graduated high school at 16 and attended Northwestern University while supporting himself as a porter at Chicago's Drake Hotel.

In 1951, he was hired as an engineer for the radio station WRMN in Elgin but wasn't given an on-air slot because management “was afraid people wouldn't listen because he was Black,” Keith Brown said. Floyd Brown left that station to start the rock station WYNR, moving on in 1965 to WMAQ-AM, where he was the first African American hired by a major network.

Brown would go on to a long and varied career in radio and TV at WGN-TV, WGN radio and WTTW. On TV, he served as newscaster, sports anchor and host of “Nightbeat.” On radio, he hosted the jazz-centered “Floyd Brown Show.”

There was more — much more — in a career that spanned more than half a century.

Yet his accomplishments and contributions outside of the broadcasting booth were no less impressive.

Brown and his wife Betty were longtime civic leaders. He was a founding member of the Elgin Human Relations Commission and president of the Elgin Housing Commission. He served on the boards of the Salvation Army, Adler Planetarium and the U.S. Golf Association, according to his son.

Betty, Floyd's wife of 67 years, described her husband as a “happy warrior who had to keep busy.” Over the years, he received a host of awards for that public service.

On the eve of his final show for WGN in the late '90s, Brown looked back on his career and the obstacles thrown his way.

“I used to talk to the Lord a lot in my car,” he said in a WGN interview. “I said, 'Lord, if you'll just get me through this, I will live a life that stresses that being a Christian and being a good man is a positive way of life.' With that approach in mind, I think I've influenced millions of people.”

He did indeed.

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