“It’s with great sadness that I write this: My father, Jerry, has passed away. He was a great man who made me what I am today,” wrote Chris Kuc, former Chicago Blackhawks beat writer for the Chicago Tribune.
Reaction was pretty swift.
Fred Mitchell, former columnist for the Tribune: I have many fond memories of being interviewed on radio by your father, playing in charity softball games and hanging out together in press boxes.
Steve Kashul, Chicago Bulls pre/post game host: A wonderful man. Always friendly and always hustling in his craft and working hard.
Chuck Swirsky, Chicago Bulls broadcaster: I truly enjoyed the many nights with him covering sporting events. What a wonderful, caring human being.
Jason Belenke, ESPN Radio: Jerry was a great man who welcomed me into the press box when I was just a kid and was always there to answer a question or two and provide tons of laughs.
Mark Carman, WGN-Radio: A true gentleman. So kind and fun right when I was starting out. Did not have to be nice to the new guy.
What all of these people shared in common was Jerry’s friendly style, and willingness to teach the craft of broadcasting to up and coming reporters.
Kuc was born in 1939. He started his career as a copy boy at the Chicago Sun-Times, then worked at television stations in Chicago and Milwaukee. Kuc gained notoriety as one of the best reporters and update anchors at WMAQ radio. He also hosted sports talk shows at the then NBC-owned, powerhouse AM radio station.
I first met Jerry in 1993, when we made a deal to produce a live sports talk show, originating from a sports bar near Wrigley Field in Chicago. He was recommended by our then Sports Director, Bob Greenberg. Live radio is always a challenge, and when you are a new player on the scene, things can and do happen, such as no-show guests or technical difficulties. Jerry handled every little misstep with utter professionalism and a calm demeanor. Still, we had some top notch guests like the late Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, and Gary Barnett, who would shepherd Northwestern to the Rose Bowl. Jerry himself scoured his little black book, and provided us with reporters, coaches, and former players who joined us for the show.
A few years later, when we needed a host for our home improvement show, Kuc offered to take the reigns, despite having no experience in the subject matter. It made no difference. After a few weeks of giving him prep material, he helmed the show as if he’d been talking shop for years.
Jerry was so dedicated to his craft that he suffered a mild heart attack, and despite our protestations, showed up the next day for his hosting duties.
Most notably, as my sports colleagues alluded to, was Jerry’s willingness and eagerness to teach the craft of sports reporting and broadcasting to a whole crop of young professionals who began their broadcast careers in Chicago in the 1990’s.
I benefited from his experience firsthand. He taught me about broadcast ethics, how to ask good questions in a press conference, and how to produce a clear and concise sports report.
Like many of Jerry’s contemporaries, the corporate suits who run broadcast companies today had no appreciation or use for Kuc, and he was forced to leave the business in 2009.
His son Chris, took over the “family business” and became a beat reporter. Chris remembers vividly when Jerry brought him for the first time to Chicago Stadium. It was Feb. 20, 1980, as Tony Esposito and the Hawks downed the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2. He recalls looking on horrified as Esposito took a slap shot to the head and collapsed. The crowd was stunned silent. However, after a few moments, the Hall of Fame goaltender stood up, received a standing ovation and finished the game.
Kuc had a front row seat for a lot of memorable sporting events, such as the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, which he covered for NBC. In the 1988 NBA All-Star game, he was courtside, and was immortalized in the now famous poster of Michael Jordan’s slam dunk contest winner.
Les Grobstein sent me a picture of Jerry with the electronic media baseball team after defeating the writers at a charity game at Wrigley Field in the 1970’s.
I’ll always have the memory of Jerry walking into the studio wearing his 1988 NBC Olympics jacket, with his tobacco pipe and trailing faint whiffs of tobacco smoke.
May your memory be for a blessing. Special thanks to NBCSports.com, and Chris Kuc for the featured photograph and bio bits.
Updated: Info – Thanks to Cheryl Raye-Stout for correcting me about WMAQ and NBC. She wrote, “We worked together there. And we remained friends and still remained in contact.”