Daly’s news: ‘I still love Chicago and its people’
Forty-five years after he came to Chicago and changed the face of local news forever, legendary anchorman Joel Daly says he’s still a news junkie at heart.
“I read two papers a day plus the New York Times online,” Daly, 77, told me the other day. “My general impression of local and cable news is there’s too much flash and dash — more motion than meaning. I end up more concerned, wondering what happened to Vince [Vincent Falk], the dapper savant who always danced at the window [outside ABC 7’s studio]. I really dig the issues raised by Aaron Sorkin on The Newsroom.”
For Daly, remembering what he calls “the good old days” takes him back to the late 1960s when the 33-year-old magna cum laude Yale graduate arrived from Cleveland and was paired with Fahey Flynn, an avuncular Irishman who’d been on the air in Chicago since the ’40s. Together Flynn & Daly pioneered a style at WLS-Channel 7 that catapulted the ABC-owned station to the top of the ratings and became a model for news across the country.
Though critics derided their presentation as “happy talk,” viewers loved the freewheeling approach of the Eyewitness News team that stressed chemistry and camaraderie over gloom and doom. “We always took the news seriously if we didn’t always take ourselves too seriously,” Daly once explained. Believe it or not, casual banter among news, weather and sports people was considered a wildly radical concept back then. Today, it’s standard.
Along the way, Daly earned a law degree, toured regionally as a country singer with the Sundowners, acted onstage professionally, became a licensed pilot and won numerous championships as a yodeler. By the time he stepped down as the dean of Chicago television news anchors in 2005, he had achieved a legacy of top ratings and longevity at one station — 38 years — never to be equaled.
Though he taught at John Marshall Law School for a while, Daly let his law license lapse and admits he’s “relatively bored” these days: “I still work regularly as the public information officer for the Federal District Court. So I see my media buddies whenever there’s a ‘heater trial.’ Not much happening since Blago. I’ve signed on with a talent representative in an effort to find some acting work. Nothing yet, but I occasionally reprise my truncated version of Darrow for legal and social groups.”
Mostly he spends time taking care of his wife of 55 years, who’s recovering from cancer. His own health, Daly reports, is “good as can be expected.” Still working out three times a week, he’s lost 25 pounds since his last years at ABC 7. “Still mobile, still vocal,” he adds.
Hailed as a true Chicago icon, Daly visited his former studio at 190 North State Street last March when he taped an interview with Janet Davies about his self-published memoir, The Daly News: A Life on Television News. “Nothing’s changed,” he said after looking around his old haunts. “Many pleasant memories here.”
The surroundings may be familiar, but truth be told, everything else about the business has changed. (“I used to say the news was ‘an island in a sea of entertainment,’ ” Daly said shortly before he retired. “Now the beaches are sorely deteriorated if not washed away.”) It’s the memories that endure for a Hall of Fame journalist and many thousands of viewers who respected and admired his work over four decades.
“I still love Chicago and its people . . . the best,” Daly told me. “I hope I have a few years left and the energy to do something meaningful.”