|There's Only One Rook
'Can you imagine being a jock today?'
(This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the August 10, 2001 issue of Radio & Records, written by Bob Shannon. This portion features the opening segment and again picks up after John left KQV to program WLS in Chicago)
This reads like the beginning of a bad novel.
It was a dark and stormy night in Chicago. John Rook walked to the hotel window, sighed and glanced out at the lights of the city. "God," he thought. "Here I am again."
Five years earlier Rook had left KQV/Pittsburgh, taken the programming reigns at ABC-owned WLS/Chicago and quickly snatched the ratings crown back from Top 40 rival WCFL. For the next five years WLS stayed on top of Chicago's rock and the mountain of ratings that Rook piled up for ABC led to him consulting. Now it was 1972, and he was back in the Windy City, working for WCFL.
"OK, you better do it," Rook said to himself. He booked a limo for 3 am. Just before dawn WLS morning man Larry Lujack found Rook waiting for him on the curb. "We met for lunch that afternoon," says Rook. "I said, 'You're too great a man to have to get up so early. I can pay you more to do afternoons.'"
Lujack listened and crossed the street, and another WLS-WCFL battle began.
portion now picks up after John left KQV to program WLS in Chicago)
Rook arrived in Chicago in 1967, WCFL under PD Ken Draper, had cleaned WLS's clock.
"You go in and look it over," says Rook. "You see if you've got any good parts, scrub up the ones that are good and put the other ones away." He moved Clark Weber to mornings and made Art Roberts MD, moving him to middays. Lujack did afternoons.
"We beat WGN, and they had the Cubs!" says Rook.
Rook was very demanding. "He listened 24 hours a day," says WIP/Philadelphia OM Tom Bigby. "I'll never forget my first night on WLS. I was a kid, scared to death of 50,000 watts going to 38 states. I mispronounced the word resume. Rook called me at 12:40 in the morning."
During the five years Rook was at WLS the station was a solid No. 1. "Not just teens," says Bigby, "but adults too. When WGN had a 12 share, WLS had an 18."
"Rook understood the importance of doing everything right," says former ABC exec Bob Henabery. "He was a masterful Top 40 programmer."
There's more to this story of course - consulting, Bill Drake, KFI &
KABC/Los Angeles, station ownership, ambition, risk-taking, unbreakable
bonds of friendship and the changing role of radio programming - but let's
leave it this way: "John Rook was the greatest programmer of our time or
any time." Lujack says.
Information in this article and the
John Rook interview are copywrite
2001 by Radio & Records.
The complete interview is in the
August 10, 2001 issue of R & R.