Broadcasting Legend Ward Quaal Dies at 91

Ward Quaal, former WGN president, died Sept. 24 in a Chicago nursing home.

Quaal began his career in broadcasting as an announcer at WDMJ in Marquette, Mich. And appeared on Detroit’s WJR when he was 17. He was involved in coast-to-coast CBS Radio Network broadcasts while still a student at the University of Michigan and began his long-time career with WGN radio immediately after graduation in 1941. He was on the air when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor later that year and broadcast the first bulletins of the bombing.

“Free and local broadcasting was built by a handful of visionary giants, but few stood taller than Ward Quaal,” said Gordon Smith, NAB president and CEO in a statement issued shortly after Quaal’s death was reported. “During his long and storied career, Ward Quaal built WGN into an institution whose impact extended far beyond Chicago, and he counted as friends even those who occupied the Oval Office. NAB extends our sympathy to the Quaal family and we mourn the passing of this broadcast pioneer.”

Quaal’s career track next took him to Washington, D.C. and the Clear Channel Broadcasting Service, an advocacy group for some 15 AM broadcasters, including WGN, which operated on clear channel frequency assignments. In 1952, Quaal joined the WLW Crosley Broadcasting operation in Cincinnati, serving as vice president and assistant general manager.

Quaal returned to Chicago in 1956 as WGN’s vice president and general manager, later becoming president of WGN Continental. He retired from that position in 1975.

He also served on the original FCC advisory panel of advanced television systems.

Quaal was honored by the Broadcasters Foundation in 2008 when that organization renamed its annual Pioneer Award the Ward L. Quaal Broadcast Pioneer Award.