Clifton and Frayn Utley

Curator's note: My introduction to Clifton Utley came in the fall of 1950. Every day at noon I would rush home from school to watch his Channel 5 newscast which, in those days, largely focused on the Korean war. Utley's even-handed presentation was a significant factor in restraining my Cold War anxiety. I likewise became a regular listener to his wife Frayn's WMAQ radio commentaries. On this page you can learn more about the Utleys and view a fragment of an early Clifton Utley television news broadcast. (Visit the Bill Ray page to learn more about early television news at Channel 5.)

"Newscaster Clifton Utley heard Monday through Friday from 4:55 to 5:00 p.m. over station WMAQ, reports the local, national and international news with his own comments on the top news stories of the day.

"Utley, long recognized as a master in news reporting capsules the important news in five minutes, permitting those people with a minimum of time to get the news fast and accurately.

"Those listeners, Mr. Advertiser, can be the answer to increasing your sales. Contact your WMAQ or NBC Spot salesman today for full information."

The text quoted above comes from an April, 1957 WMAQ radio program schedule aimed at potential advertisers. Clifton Utley's five-minute weekday news and commentary broadcast was unsponsored at the time---though clothier Charles A. Stevens sponsored Frayn Utley's five-minute news broadcast at 10 pm on Sundays. Both Utleys probably would have found fault with the copy writers gender-specific pitch to "Mr. Advertiser (news folks have generally had low expectations for those who populate the sales department.)

Clifton Utley's career at NBC-Chicago spanned the years 1932-1959 and included both radio and television. He came to broadcast journalism via the classic City News Bureau-Chicago Daily News-Associated Press route. His interest in---and advocacy of---foreign affairs was a constant throughout his professional life (he was a director of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations for eleven years beginning in 1931).

During the years of World War II, Utley's 7:55-8:00 am newscast from studio H (sponsored by Quaker Oats) provided many Chicagoans with their first news update of the day--- coupled with analysis that other broadcast journalists who merely rewrote wire copy couldn't match.

When television came to NBC-Chicago in the late 1940's, news director Bill Ray quickly tapped Utley to become the medium's first newscaster-commentator (thus beginning a tradition carried on later by Len O'Connor and Dick Kay).

When Clifton Utley suffered a stroke in 1953, his wife Frayn (who had moderated a daily foreign-affairs broadcast on CBS in 1940 and 1941) ably filled the gap.

Clifton Utley returned to radio in 1956 and television the following year. He retired in 1959 and died in January of 1978 at the age of 73.

Frayn Utley died in August, 2001 at the age of 97.

You can regularly see the Utley's son Garrick on CNN. Their daughter-in-law Carol Marin remains Chicago's most distinguished broadcast journalist.

Click here to view a fragment (:46) of an early Clifton Utley television broadcast. I can't precisely date it yet---though it's almost certainly pre-July 1950 (when Utley grabbed his first television sponsor).

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