Ron Gleason nears retirement after leading The Score, WBBM Newsradio

He’ll retire Feb. 3, capping a radio career that began in 1978 and included stops at WJOL in Joliet and WMAQ in Chicago. But nothing could top helping create Chicago’s first sports-talk station.

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Ron Gleason has been WBBM Newsradio’s director of news and programming since 2005.

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In the early days of The Score, the often rambunctious and raucous hosts didn’t always see eye-to-eye. But they found common ground with one particular subject: assailing their boss.

Ron Gleason, the station’s program director for its first 9½ years, was mimicked and mocked tirelessly on the air by top talent. They ripped him, and they complained about him. But their intentions might not have had the desired effect because Gleason was happy to play the foil.

Listeners, however, couldn’t believe their ears.

“I would have people who ran their own companies call me and say, ‘How can you allow your people to talk about you that way?’ ” Gleason said. “ ‘If my people did that here, I would have a major problem.’

“My response would be, ‘Everyone wants to be able to rip their boss, and everybody can live vicariously through our people on the air.’ And it’s a show. There’s always a grain of truth to something that they would complain about. But they’re supposed to embellish, they’re supposed to have fun. They wanna make fun of me? That’s fine. It was a show.”

Gleason last worked for the station in 2001, but even though he has been on Bears radio broadcasts for 22 years and has served as WBBM Newsradio’s director of news and programming for 17, he said people still connect him with The Score.

“It showed the power of that radio station and how people related to that station and still to this day relate to The Score,” he said. “I have people that still think I work at The Score.”

Gleason, 66, won’t be working anywhere much longer. He’ll retire Feb. 3, capping a radio career that began in 1978 in Cheboygan, Michigan, and included stops at WJOL in Joliet and WMAQ in Chicago. He also was the backup voice of the White Sox and the lead voice for DePaul basketball.

But nothing could top helping create Chicago’s first sports-talk station. What began in 1992 as a daytime-only station given little chance to survive has made an indelible mark on the city’s media landscape. Recommended to the original owners for the job, Gleason never questioned whether the station would be successful, and he oversaw its rise in a way few likely could.

“He was the perfect guy to lead a band of cutthroats, basically,” said Mike North, an original host on The Score, “a bunch of guys that wanted to win that had inner squabbles because of creativity. This show wanted to be better than that show. There were times our best competition was against ourselves, and Ron was above it all.”

North was at his bombastic best middays with Dan Jiggetts, followed by Dan McNeil and former Sun-Timesman Terry Boers. Such Type A personalities probably would not have jived with a Type A boss, which Gleason was not.

“We had a few circumstances here and there to deal with, there’s no question,” Gleason said. “You try to treat everybody with respect. You also can’t treat everybody identically because everybody reacts a different way.”

Gleason and North had a great relationship, but they also had plenty of shouting matches over content.

“Because that’s the way he would hear you, because that’s the way I would hear him,” Gleason said. “But at the end of that, we’d shake hands, everything’s fine. I remember having salespeople come up to me because they would hear the screaming behind closed doors, ‘Are you OK?’ ‘Of course I’m OK.’ ”

Gleason’s expertise extends to the technical aspects of radio. Before overseeing content, he provided it as a sports anchor and reporter for WBBM and WMAQ in the 1980s. He returned to the anchor desk in 2004 at WBBM, this time in news, before leading the operation. Along the way, he developed an ear that has left colleagues in awe.

“He has a strong opinion and wants things done a specific way. He’s tedious with that,” said Jeff Joniak, the voice of the Bears on WBBM and the station’s director of sports programming. “When they cut the different liners, jingles, he’s got an ear for that. He listens intently to the slightest vibration. He will be in the studio with a production crew listening to a song for an hour, going over exactly how it fits.”

Despite his sports background, Gleason has maintained WBBM’s place as the dominant local news brand in the market.

“I’m ultimately responsible for the quality of the product, and this is a news product,” he said. “We have to be pristine, accurate, authoritative and credible. We don’t take sides. I’m a huge believer of that, and that’s why BBM has maintained a very strong presence in the marketplace. It’s not because of me. It’s because I’ve helped protect that product, not because I’ve created the product.”

He did help create the product at The Score, and North said he did even more.

“At BBM, I think what he’s done is great,” he said, “but the feather in his cap to me is being the program director from the beginning and hiring guys like Mike Greenberg, Jesse Rogers, Jonathan Hood, one guy after another is still around. I think that’s his legacy.”

Gleason said he’d love to stay involved in radio but not every day. That’s the kind of job he’s leaving. With WBBM, he’d go on vacation and still take calls, check emails and listen to a stream of the station while lying by the pool. He admits to being a workaholic, but he’d like to be one on his terms.

“I want that freedom,” he said. “People don’t understand management in radio. When you’re a 24/7 radio station, you’re on call, and you get called. You go in on the weekends sometimes, you talk to people at night, you get a call at 3 o’clock in the morning. It really is a very taxing profession. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s very busy.”

In two months, Gleason won’t be.

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