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Callaway Interviews We’ll Never See

Wouldn’t you love to see Mayor Daley squirm as John Callaway asked him about Olympic budget cost guarantees he never shared with the voters? Or what about a one-on-one with Oprah? Or an unscripted half-hour with our latest political celebrity Patti Blagojevich (“What advice did your dad, Ald. Dick Mell, give you on which defense attorney to hire?”)?

Photo by Karen Kring. John Callaway, Thom Clark & Geoff Dougherty at 2/22/09 "Future of Journalism" Town Hall Meeting

Photo by Karen Kring. John Callaway, Thom Clark & Geoff Dougherty at 2/22/09 “Future of Journalism” Town Hall Meeting

Master interviewer John Callaway died Tuesday evening of a heart attack at 72. I find myself already missing some of the interviews I wish he’d completed. The long-time host of WTTW Channel 11’s “Chicago Tonight,” Callaway gained a deserved reputation as one of the region’s premier interviewers. Like Workshop mentor Studs Terkel, Callaway could push his subjects beyond their prepared sound bites to probe a celebrity’s motives, question a politician’s manevuers, or help illuminate an author’s tome. Ironically, Callaway was the only nominee to ever turn down a Studs Terkel Community Media Award, believing a younger person should fill the slot.

John was always well-read and well-prepared for his interviews, but his intellectual prowess didn’t overwhelm or overtake his subjects. His wonderment and curiosity informed so much of his work, as displayed in a one-man show of his life produced for a week or two at Pegasus Theatre in 2001. My last encounter with him was sharing the panel at last February’s Town Hall Meeting on the future of journalism, a somewhat bleak afternoon for traditional journalism, where John was typically inciteful about a city without daily newspapers and bloggers who steal content.

Now I don’t how public television’s digital signal will pick this up, but I understand John’s next interview will be with St. Peter to explore who paid for the pearly gates.

Thom Clark

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