My Afternoon With Red
enjoyed a close friendship with ABC chairman Leonard Goldenson, who ran
ABC from its New York base of operations. Red, who often ran the
station as an independent unit rather than as part of the five ABC owned
and operated stations often clashed with the rest of the New York suits.
One of many times was during the Kefauver hearings which Quinlan aired
on WBKB pre-empting many of the ABC network programs
emanating from New York without their knowledge. When the network
did find out they were furious but the hearings had garnered so much
attention that they were unable to say anything.
As the television industry grew, not just
in Chicago but around the world, Red found he was constantly nagged by a
very important question- What is television? Has it made us
what we are? Or have we made television what it is? He
finally came to the conclusion that the answer was both of the above.
Television is a mirror of who we are. Like the printing press,
movies, and radio before it, television reflects who we are as a
society, a species, as a race. In a 1999 interview, Red expanded
on this over forty year old logic when he stated that the Internet would
be the biggest mirror of all with its ability to interact.
Armed with this new epiphany in the 1950s, Red sought
provocative programming that more than once raised the eyebrows of ABC's
corporate hierarchy. One such example was Tom Duggan, whose
outrageous and flamboyant personality was perfect for channel 7.
Duggan had been doing a five-minute sports show over at NBC when he
attracted the attention of Quinlan and WBKB. In six
months, Duggan's evening program became number one. Duggan talked
about everything and anything. Duggan was loud, abrasive, and at
times unpredictable. Perhaps best described as the Morton Downey
Jr. of his day. Duggan also had ties to the Chicago Mob, an
association that made Quinlan nervous, especially when Duggan would
"predict" a Mob hit on the air and two or three weeks later
that hit would come to pass.
But in spite of the anxiety the Mob's presence
caused, Red, ever the creative idealist and businessman, decided to use
Duggan's Mob connection to produce a new "point of view"
program focused on the Mob itself. Titled This Is Your Life-
Tony Accardo, the special was, not surprisingly, not
embraced with open arms by the Mob itself. So Red
sought the assistance of the local and state law agencies, even going
public with The Chicago Crime Commission. But it would be Accardo
himself that would convince Quinlan that producing such a program would
not be in the best interest of Red's health when the two men talked
briefly in a chance meeting at Tradewinds, a local lounge long
suspected of having Mob ties.
But by the early sixties rising tensions between Quinlan and New York
were coming to a head. Seeing the writing on the wall, he soon
found himself being courted by Marshall Field III, owner of Field
Enterprises, publishers of The Chicago Sun-Times. Field was
interested in entering the television business and had his eye on a
construction permit that had been changing hands since the early
sixties. The permit's current holders were Harry and Elmer Balaban
who were doing business as H&E Balaban Inc. The Balaban
brothers were part of the eight brother Balaban family that also
included Paramount Pictures' head Barney and WBKB founder
John. Field left Quinlan with an open invitation
should he ever want to leave ABC and WBKB.
His biggest nemesis on the east coast was Ted Shaker, who ran ABC Spot
Sales. Shaker campaigned to take over all the ABC owned and
operated stations. Shaker and Quinlan did not get
along; with Quinlan constantly avoiding Shaker's calls and
letters. Things finally came to a head when ABC supported Shaker
in an issue and Red went to New York and resigned, taking the chief
engineer, the program director and the comptroller along with him.
copyright 2002 Steve Jajkowski