The Wrong Man at the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time

The good news is that Jay Andres, at the age of 65, was still in a position to make a major career move. The bad news is that a year ago he made a doozy. He shifted from morning man at WNIB to afternoon man at WFMT, dismaying audiences of both classical radio stations.

Turning down WNIB’s offer of more money than WFMT would pay him, and spurning the sound advice of his colleagues, Andres accepted what he viewed as “the perfect challenge.” Which was to bring “a more humanistic approach” to WFMT. Andres believed WFMT had become “too esoteric” in its programming; and since new station manager Alfred Antlitz thought so too, here was a golden chance to rescue a Chicago institution.

Didn’t happen. The institution hasn’t been rescued, and March is Andres’s last month. “I guess it’s because I’m just too friendly,” Andres marveled. “They don’t like it here. The listeners don’t, obviously.”

We chatted with Andres in the WFMT studio while he spun Gershwin, Copland, and a couple of oboe concertos. He juggled news, weather, ad spots, and CD liner notes with an effortless professionalism.

When’s your last day? we asked him.

“I don’t know when,” he said. “I’m at their mercy. That’s what this new fellow [Tom Voegeli] said–‘We owe you a date.’ You sure do! ‘And money assurances.’ Yes!

“I figured I’d be here forever,” he went on. “I was given assurances–tacit assurances, some of them–that this is where I’d be. Turns out I won’t be. Give me a reason for it–not that I don’t fit . . . ”

He doesn’t fit. There are WFMT loyalists who’d sooner say a good word for Saddam Hussein than for Jay Andres. These faithful greeted last year’s coming of both Jay Andres and prerecorded commercials as a declaration of war.

Andres swiftly justified their worst fears by turning his back on WFMT’s program guide and playing what he pleased. “People think what I play is what I am. But that’s not true. I like Brahms. Then Beethoven. I’m a romantic, actually . . . ”

Then why not play Brahms and Beethoven? we wondered.

“They’re too long,” he said. Too long, that is, for afternoon drive time, when he limited himself to music that was over in 10 or 12 minutes.

“One man would call me all the time and say ‘You idiot!'” he said.

Why was he hired? “What we wanted to accomplish was very simple,” Antlitz recalled. “During drive time we wanted to introduce WFMT to a wider range of audience. We wanted on some push buttons. We thought we’d keep the present audience, and we thought we’d get some new. What we weren’t prepared for was the reaction to him.”

Andres didn’t bring WFMT a bigger audience. The audience at WNIB, which held Andres’s spot open for two months and then filled it with Carl Grapentine (from WFMT), did not decline.

“At a time when we wanted to turn the station around and say this station has moved forward, we were getting a storm of protest that has been going on for almost a year,” said Antlitz. “I wish our audience were more forgiving. Our audience is not. It’s a supportive audience, but it’s unforgiving and merciless in its demands.”

Andres told us, “Before the last meeting that the Friends [of WFMT] had, a man called and said he was going to stick up for me. I said, ‘Watch out!’ He did it–and he was booed. I can’t understand how people can be that way without even knowing a person.”

Do you have problems with any of the ads you air? we asked him.

“I have no objection,” he said. “I think they ought to use more ads. They’re the only way to make money. And I see no reason why you can’t put a jingle in with serious music.”

What about the Lotto ad? we asked.

“I like it. But I’m different. That’s why I’m going–I’m different.”

The bouncy, unintelligible Lotto spot is the one that Antlitz told us a few weeks ago he hated but was going to accept because he couldn’t afford to kiss off $60,000 a year in revenues. Antlitz acknowledged later that the $60,000 was a projection–all the Illinois Lottery had actually bought to begin with was 20 spots for about $5,400. And now he let us know that if the lottery asked to renew the ad, he’d probably say no. “The real question is, does WFMT have principles and guts or doesn’t it?” he said. “Are we going to sell out for $5,000 a month or $10,000 a month or $60,000 a year? My answer is no. As long as ownership is willing to back us up.”

Is ownership? we wondered.

“I don’t know, dammit! That’s the question!” said Antlitz.

That conversation had left us wondering who’s manning the tiller at WFMT, and Jay Andres said nothing to reassure us. “It doesn’t have a firm direction right now,” he said. “Too many people are running it.” They’d include Antlitz; and Antlitz’s newly arrived superior, Tom Voegeli, who’s senior vice president for radio of the Chicago Educational Television Association, which owns WFMT; and William McCarter, president of the board of CETA; and the revitalized CETA Radio Committee, now expanded to include four new members endorsed by the Friends of WFMT.

“WFMT needs change, and it’s not going to change,” Andres told us.”I think they want to go back to the time when Mike Nichols was here and everything was hunky-dory. I would say disregard the Friends of WFMT. But the problem is, they’re on the board now. They probably have good intentions about running a radio station, but the sales department frankly should run a commercial radio station–within reason–because they are the ones bringing in the money.”

Let’s Make a Hero

From victory, credulity . . .

Thursday evening, February 28: a drummer in a Greektown band calls someone he knows at WBBM TV, reporter John Davis, and says that out in Palos Hills there’s a Green Beret just back from the gulf with one hell of a story to tell. Naturally, WBBM is interested. Davis fetches the story for the ten o’clock news. It’s a sweeps week, after all, and Channel Two will not climb out of the ratings basement by stressing wariness.

Over at the City News Bureau, night editor Dan Haar notices Channel Two teasing its Green Beret blockbuster at every station break. At ten, Haar’s TV screen brings him George Kakaletris, 25, a patch over his left eye, telling of derring-do behind enemy lines. Just that morning, Haar had read a piece in the Sun-Times about American commandos. Here was Chicago’s own. A reporter calls Kakaletris, and CNB moves a story on its wire shortly before 1 AM.

Friday: the Southtown Economist and Channel Seven ready their own accounts of the local hero. And a crew from Channel 32 catches up to him as he leaves the Westside VA Hospital. But a couple of details nag at Channel 32’s assistant news director Mark Rosati. Kakaletris had claimed 42 missions behind Iraqi lines in which he’d been wounded in various body parts by rifle, bayonet, and grenade. All this strikes Rosati as an awful lot of combat. And why would such a warrior, fresh from the field, be treated in a VA hospital? Rosati asks assignment editor Paula Janos to call the Pentagon.

At 9 PM Haar tunes in the Channel 32 news. Uh oh! WFLD is saying that Kakaletris’s gallant tale resembles Swiss cheese. Haar tells a reporter to start checking, but the appropriate Pentagon offices are already closed for the weekend.

Saturday: The Tribune carries a story, “Green Beret home after secret war mission in Kuwait.” The AP moves its own account of Kakaletris’s heroics. And that night there’s a welcome-home party for him at a Greektown bar.

Monday afternoon: After getting through to various Army offices, CNB sends out a new story knocking down its original.

Tuesday: The Tribune runs a follow-up. “Army contradicts suburban man’s gulf war story.” Editor Jack Fuller apologizes for running the original article without corroboration.

Later, Fuller tells us the really bothersome thing is that nobody at the Tribune, from reporter Laurie Goering on up to himself, thought twice about Kakaletris’s amazing yarn. “I myself–I saw it on television and I didn’t think twice about it,” Fuller says. “In retrospect, the only thing that popped into my head was, ‘Holy Jesus! This guy got hit a lot of times!’ Most guys I knew as a war correspondent who got hit once, stopped. The only guy I know who got hit a lot of times and kept going was Sylvester Stallone.”

The Squib Heard Round the World

A year ago this week Dr. Bruno Bettelheim died, giving us an easy paragraph to round out our column:

“RIP Bruno Bettelheim, who apparently was understood to be a great Chicagoan everywhere but in Chicago. We appreciated the thoughtful page-one obit in the next morning’s New York Times; from the play the local papers gave his death, he might as well have been a waiter at the Berghoff.”

Great Chicagoan? Did that touch a nerve! In the following few weeks, the Reader published 15 letters about Bettelheim, most of them long and anguished. The first of these letters set the tone. A former patient of Bettelheim’s Orthogenic School called him “an evil man who set up his school as a private empire and himself as a demigod or cult leader.”

This passionate correspondence was soon noticed. Revisionist articles appeared in the Chicago Tribune (“Bettelheim led us cruelly down wrong road for children”), the Washington Post (“The Other Dr. Bettelheim”), Newsweek (“‘Beno Brutalheim’?”), Commentary (“Who, Really, Was Bruno Bettelheim?”), the Tribune again (“Solving the puzzle that was Bruno Bettelheim”), and the New York Times (“Accusations of Abuse Haunt the Legacy of Dr. Bruno Bettelheim”). The great man’s reputation spiraled downward before our eyes. The last time we saw him mentioned in the press, he was being accused of plagiarism.

To our amazement, our casual little paragraph had more of an effect than anything we had ever written in our life. So let the record show that the very first response was a telephone call from an angry waiter at the Berghoff.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.