Floyd Kalber

A/K/A "The Tuna"

About Floyd Kalber: Floyd Kalber died on May 13th, 2004 at the age of 79. Click here to view an entire WMAQ-TV news broadcast featuring Floyd Kalber as solo anchor---the "NBC News Night Report" from February 23rd, 1967. It's Floyd at his best on a heavy news day. Visit the Floyd Kalber memorial website to read the tributes of his friends and colleagues. And for more on great journalists who labored on the 19th floor of the Merchandise Mart, visit the Val Press, Len O'Connor, Clifton Utley, Johnny Erp and Bill Ray pages on this site.

Right: Floyd Kalber, as seen on the monitors in studio E control.
Studio E control

Well before the end of his tenure at Channel 5---which began in 1960 when he arrived from KMTV in Omaha and ended in 1976 when he left for the Today Showin New York---Floyd Kalber had become a legend. He was known as "The Tuna", because his power in the newsroom was perceived to be as great as the power of the late Tony Accardo (a/k/a "The Big Tuna", a/k/a "Joe Batters") in the Chicago Mafia.

The photograph above, taken in the control room of studio E, shows Floyd on the monitors in midst of one of the newscasts he anchored (always solo prior to the arrival of Jane Pauley). Director Roger Lee Miller, a 31-year veteran of WMAQ-TV, has provided the curator the following clues as to the dating of the photo and the identification of the technical and production staff:

"I would place the Studio E control room picture, in your "Tuna" page, to be around 1965-66. Although the picture is not very clear, I shall make an educated guess that left to right we see Joe Petrillo, Director, and Paul Hempen Technical Director. I may have been out on the floor as Associate Director. The News set, as seen on the monitors, is pictured in color, in the 20th Anniversary booklet published in 1968. A picture of Studio D Control, in the same publication, shows the back of my head on the left, and Bob Rahnert on the right."
Right: Floyd at KMTV in the late 1950's---before the dawn of Omaha's era of color television. Kudos to the lighting director. Floyd Kalber at KMTV

About Floyd Kalber...

Floyd spent his final professional years as a news anchor for WLS-TV, ABC's Chicago owned-and-operated television station. He retired following the 6 pm broadcast of 2/27/98.

Hardship characterized Floyd Kalber's early years (these details are based on an article that appeared in the alumni newsletter of the Journalism School of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, in the spring of 1995; Floyd had spoken to students there the previous December).

Floyd Kalber was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on December 23rd, 1924. His parents were divorced when he was a child, and he and his two brothers were obliged to live in an orphanage before his grandmother reunited the family on her small farm (eight and a half acres) west of Omaha. Financial difficulties plagued the family (these were the depression years) even after Floyd's mother remarried.

Floyd served two years with the Army in the South Pacific. In 1946 he returned to Omaha and enrolled in the journalism department of Creighton University. But he dropped out of college after a semester to work at KGFW radio in Kearney, Nebraska (a station which now includes Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger on its program roster). Slightly short of two years later, he became a sportscaster at a newly-formed radio station in Peoria, Illinois.

Floyd saw television for the first time in 1949 when he went to New York to cover Peoria's Bradley University's efforts in the National Invitational Tournament. Figuring that video was the medium of the future, he quit his job in Kearney and moved back to Omaha where the age of television was about to dawn.

Here's a brief chronology of Floyd Kalber's television career:

1950: KMTV, Omaha, hires 26 year-old Floyd Kalber as its first television newsman. The newsroom has a staff of one. Kalber alernates as on-air talent, control room director and studio production man.

1951: Kalber covers severe flooding in Kansas City. KMTV has no film cameras, so Kalber acquires one from a local detective agency and flies to St. Louis (in a Strategic Air Command jet upon which Kalber somehow hitches a ride). Since KMTV lacks film processing and editing facilities, Kalber somehow persuades rival station WOWT to develop the film stock. KMTV runs the unedited raw footage, the only video of the flood viewers in Omaha saw. In 1984 (on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of KMTV), Floyd recalled, "That was the greatest feeling in the world....We learned what television news was all about. We learned what it could be. And what the fantastic potential of it was: to serve a community, to serve viewers, to educate and to inform---that television news didn't have to be just Union Pacific films and Playhouse 90, and Ed Sullivan and the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts."

1958: Kalber's coverage of the manhunt for mass-murders Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate brings him to the attention of NBC News executives.

1960: Kalber becomes mentor of a new KMTV hire, twenty-year-old Tom Brokaw. (Brokaw's first assignment is to cover the opening day of Omaha's public schools). Brokaw later recalled (when Floyd retired---for good---in 1998), "The newsroom, under the influence and guidance of Mr. Kalber was absolutely politically correct---in Floyd's terms. It was all white. All male. It was all testosterone. It was all conservative. Barry Goldwater got more votes in the KMTV newsroom than he did in Arizona." [Curator's note: Floyd had already moved to Chicago by the time Goldwater ran for the presidency. But it's a good line].

1962: Kalber is hired by WNBQ (later WMAQ-TV), NBC's owned-and-operated television station in Chicago. He initially serves as Midwest correspondent for "NBC Nightly News (these were the days of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley). But within three months, he replaces Alex Dreier as the station's principal news anchor. With weatherman Harry Volkman and commentator Len O'Connor, he moves channel 5's newscasts to the top of the ratings. But after WLS-TV institutes a "happy talk" news format in 1968, channel 5's ratings begin to fall.

1975: Hoping to reverse the ratings trend, WMAQ-TV news director Ed Planer plucks Jane Pauley from an anchor job at WISH in Indianapolis and pairs her with Kalber as an anchor team. Chicago Tribune reporter Michael Coakley visits Pauley in Indianapolis and concludes that "this future dispenser of news to countless Chicagoans knows virtually nothing about Chicago." But the Tribune's Marilynn Preston later characterizes Pauley as "a Breck girl with brains." Channel 5's "News Center 5" concept (rolled out in September) flounders. (The station promoted the new news set ("Come See What We've Built!") but not the talent). NBC researchers in New York determine that not one WMAQ-TV reporter has estsblished an identity in the market. Harry Volkman, Len O'Connor, anchor Jim Ruddle, reporter Peter Nolan and documentary producer Scott Craig jump ship. Ed Planer fires reporter Keith Klein and closes down the Northwest Indiana bureau.

1976: In May, NBC announces that Kalber will move to New York to become newsreader for the Today Show (Kalber would later refer to the "Today" years as "horrendous"). Ed Planer hires Ron Hunter to replace him. Jane Pauley takes up a post at the Today Show in October. Back at WMAQ-TV, news Director Sheldon Hoffman (who has replaced Ed Planer) says that "the field is open" for Ms. Pauley's successor. Kalber remains with the "Today Show" for three and a half years, then moves to NBC Special Projects. On the occasion of his departure from Chicago, Floyd observed, "I think we all know we all know what has happened to local television news all over the country. I think that there are a lot of us in electronic journalism, a lot of you, who join with me in hoping that it will return to what it once was. I think it will."

1981: Kalber retires from NBC.

1984: Hoping to boost sagging ratings, WLS-TV lures Kalber out of retirement to anchor its 6 PM newscast.

1998: Kalber retires from WLS-TV at the end of February.

2004: Floyd Kalber dies on May 13th at the age of 79.

Floyd Kalber according to his Chicago colleagues...

Russ Ewing (former WMAQ-TV reporter): Floyd Kalber was a perfectionist. He wanted everything perfect. Floyd taught me how to write. No question about it...Sometimes he would take my mistakes and mark 'em up. Throw it back to me. I'd have to do it over.

Dick Kay (WMAQ-TV political reporter): Floyd had his own style and was demanding. Yet he was easy to work for if you knew his style. and the producers usually knew very well.

Patricia Dean (Floyd's long-time producer at WMAQ-TV): He cared about news. But he always framed it, "How does this relate to the audience?" And I think he represented one of the people of the classic "Chicago Style" news. I call it "meat and potatoes" news. It's basic issues that are important to your life. And that's what he wanted on his shows.

Floyd Kalber according to his son Mick...

Curator's note: The remarks of Mick Kalber come from an interview that appeared in a tribute to Floyd Kalber that aired on the "Chicago Tonight" broadcast of May 17th, 2004.

Regarding the "News Center 5" format: He was very uncomfortable with that. My father was a solo guy. He was a single, straight-ahead news guy. And the happy-talk format, he hated that. He just hated the concept. And I guess you could day it was one of my father's shortcomings that he wasn't able to adapt to that. But it was his principle that the news was serious business. And this wasn't a joke. This wasn't happy time, you know? You got the information out, you did it in straight-forward fashion. And you didn't chat with the guy next to you, laugh and make jokes. And he was dead set against that. And he wouldn't go that route.

Regarding returning to Chicago in 1984 and becoming a WLS-TV anchor: Dad was always uncomfortable with his celebrity or his popularity. When he worked at channel five he didn't deal real well with that. He didn't go out and embrace the public coming up to him because they would flood him. He couldn't really go, like, to a baseball game or the amusement park or something, because people would be all over him. But when he came back here, he was a much different person. And he very much embraced the people that knew him and loved him. And he let his guard down with the people. And he really enjoyed that through the last fifteen years or fourteen years of his career.

On his unrealized career ambitions: When the NBC Nightly News position came up, when Chet Huntly left the show [in 1970], when that position became available, he really wanted that. That's the one thing that I think dad wanted that he didn't get. And I think the reason for that was because he had such a hammer-lock on the market here in Chicago that NBC was unwilling to pull him out of this market.


Below: A great photo sent to me by one of NBC's great engineers (now retired), Murray Cutler. It's 1970, and Floyd has just finished the 11:55 AM (Central time) newscast, a five-minute update fed from Studio E in Chicago to the entire NBC Television Network. He's wadded up a page from his script which he's about to toss at announcer Henry Cooke (another long-term NBC Chicago fixture). That's Murray behind the camera. This weekday newscast was, I believe, NBC's last regularly-scheduled Chicago network origination.

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