This month longtime Chicago broadcasting talent Bob Sirott ups his news anchor profile at NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 by starting to co-front the weekday 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts. He's believed to be the co-anchor heir apparent to Warner Saunders on Channel 5's 10 p.m. news. As Sirott moves ever closer to grabbing the holy grail in local news, we sound him out on his career and his role at WMAQ.
Q. You're raising your news anchor profile at WMAQ. What, in your opinion, separates a good news anchor from a bad one?
A. The anchors I've admired have been good writers. They don't just announce the news; they also understand it and deliver it in a way that's clear, concise and credible. However, if you're on TV every day, you can't hide your true personality. You have to be yourself and hope people like you.
Q. You're believed to be the co-anchor heir apparent to Warner Saunders on WMAQ's flagship 10 p.m. newscast. Why are you the right person for that job?
A. No one can replace Warner. The best thing would be to just say he's on vacation and hope nobody catches on. As for me, I've always felt at home at NBC. And I keep coming home again. My first job in broadcasting was as an NBC page for WMAQ TV and radio when I was 17. Twenty years later I returned to anchor a noon newscast and do features for the 10 p.m. news. Along with two very talented producers, I helped create "First Thing In The Morning," a newscast that was basically a radio show on TV. After another break, I came back a third time, this time to co-anchor the weekend news, then the 4:30 pm news and now the five and the six news shows. Channel 5 must think I'm some sort of locust!
Q. Do you think you can help move WMAQ to the top position in the local news ratings, and what would it take for that to happen on a consistent basis?
A. WMAQ newscasts are first in many key demographics already. You can never be sure why ratings go up or down. All you can do is produce the best product possible. In the 1980s, I was a reporter at WBBM-Channel 2 when Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson became No. 1 in the ratings. There was a communal sense that if you didn't watch their newscasts, you might miss something people would be talking about the next day -- solid journalism mixed with a bit of personality. That's one good model to shoot for. But my ratings philosophy has always been: if the program you're on is No. 1, the ratings are accurate. If the ratings are low, the measurement system is flawed.
Q. You had a successful career as a radio on-air talent long before you got your start in television. What's different about the two, and do you have a preference for one over the other?
A. Radio is more intimate. There's a feeling you're talking to thousands in the audience--one at a time. Radio personalities are usually more casual and honest than people on TV -- perhaps because TV requires artificial barriers between the performers and the audience, things such as bright lights, big desks and make-up. But radio is also much harder because you're on for hours at a time, not minutes. Why do you think I got into TV?
Q. If you hadn't gone into broadcasting, what would have been your second choice for a career and why?
A. Growing up near Eugene Field Park in Chicago, I was always out on the baseball or football fields or in the gym. I'd watch the park physical education instructor spending his work days throwing a ball around and always wearing a white tee shirt and warm-up pants even when he was in his office. I always thought -- and still do -- it would be hard to beat that one if I wanted a stress-free job.