In 1960 at NBC Channel 5 the station created a new kind of program – news commentary – in the 10:00-10:30 news slot. They created the show for my father, who was a longtime radio and television reporter with deep knowledge of the city and its politics. My father always thought they created “Len O’Connor Comments” to get him fired. The show was originally a five-minute segment of the nightly news slot, which had a 10-minute show for sports, 5-minute show for weather and 10 minutes for news. It soon enough became a single half-hour show that dominated ratings and revenues for many years.
My dad went after the Mayor Dick Daley and his segregated school system, promoted open public housing to include white neighborhoods and suburbs, and often went after the Outfit. He was also for many issues, but his well-documents comments were controversial.
Without a loyal sponsor, the show would have died an early death. That loyal sponsor was Sol Polk of the pioneering TV and appliance retailer Polk Brothers, the first sponsor to air commercials in color. Polk Brothers was also the first retailer to sell color televisions. Sol and Polk Brothers stood by my father through years of public controversy about what my dad spoke about on the news at 6:00 and 10:00. Sol was an amazing salesman with an always charming smile. He and my dad were friends.
So it was Sol Polk who allowed me to have the privileged life I enjoyed growing up. He also supported my dad’s advocating on live TV what today we call social justice issues. They were both one-of-a-kind Chicago characters who made this tough city better for what used to be called “the little people,” so remembering them together is the right thing to do.
Paul O’Connor is a past member of the Public Narrative board, and recently sponsored the 26th Annual Community Media Awards in remembrance of Sol Polk and Len O’Connor.
Thanks also to the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation for supporting the 26th Annual Community Media Awards, and to sponsors WBEZ, Elevate, Michael Burke and Robert Charles, and to our media partner Chicago Public Square.