Photo by Drew Reynolds (BA ’97)
“I was fairly focused on radio, but then I branched out into television and news.”
By William Meiners (MFA ’96)
Bob Sirott caught the radio bug as a teenager in the 1960s, listening to rock and roll on Chicago’s WLS and WCFL. An Albany Park boy and Roosevelt High School grad, Sirott seemed particularly suited for a Columbia College education, an edification that’s never far from the Fox Chicago News at 9 anchor’s mind.
As a senior in high school, Sirott landed a job as a page at NBC, then in the Merchandise Mart. After he enrolled at Columbia, a combination of day and evening classes allowed him to keep working, rising in the ranks from a “glorified gopher” to the public affairs and production director for WMAQ radio by the time he was 19 years old.
In the turbulent late 1960s, Sirott says Columbia College may have been the one campus in America where the faculty was more radical than the students. “I think about Harry Golden Jr. all the time,” Sirott says of the Sun-Times reporter who taught a class on big-city politics. “He told very colorful stories about how he got stories at City Hall or uncovered facts that no one would give him—sometimes by going through garbage cans.”
Sirott also recalls learning from other working professionals at Columbia, including broadcaster Al Parker, poet Paul Carroll, and Robin Lester, who taught a course in international relations. “I was fairly focused on radio, but then I branched out into television and news,” says Sirott, a communications major who began his on-air career at WBBM-FM in 1971. “I ended up getting a great liberal arts base education from Columbia and those people. At the time I didn’t realize how handy it would come in, but it did. And I’m still the beneficiary of all that.”
Throughout his career, Sirott brought his radio background into television studios. “Radio is great training,” he says. “You’re speaking very naturally, talking to thousands of people one at a time, and being very personal, honest, and real.”
Starting in the mid-1980s, Sirott was part of West 57th, the CBS newsmagazine series he likens to a younger version of 60 Minutes. He won a national Emmy for feature reporting on the big-budget show that brought him face to face with some of his favorite interview subjects, such as Paul Harvey and Peter Falk. Hunter S. Thompson, the famed gonzo journalist, made Sirott shoot guns with him before he would consent to a sit-down in Colorado. Sirott still has one of the shell casings.
Between 2002 and 2005, Sirott hosted two PBS shows, Chicago Tonight and the Friday Night Show, the latter a one-guest show that afforded him long conversations with newsmakers such as Barack Obama, Bob Costas, and Jimmy Carter. These days, the anchor’s “One More Thing” segment on Fox Chicago News gives him two minutes at the end of the program to share an essay with Chicago.
Sirott maintains close ties to his alma mater. He organized, produced, and emceed a conversation between radio Hall of Famers Dick Biondi and Herb Kent at a Columbia packed-house event in 2010 and spoke to alumni about the broadcasting industry in November 2011. His wife, broadcast journalist Marianne Murciano (who co-hosts WGN’s Sunday Night Radio Special with Sirott), has taken fiction writing classes at Columbia. And her son, Michael Zarowny, is majoring in film and video at the college.