Floyd Brown, trailblazing Chicago broadcaster, dies at 92

Floyd Brown had a gift of gab and broke racial barriers in radio and television, working for WMAQ and WGN.

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Floyd Brown joined WMAQ-AM in 1965, becoming the first African American to be hired by a major network. From 1971 until 1999 he worked for WGN on television and radio.

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Legendary Chicago broadcaster Floyd Brown, a trailblazer whose 54-year career encompassed radio and television, died Friday. He was 92.

Smart and personable with “the gift of gab,” Mr. Brown worked for WGN-TV and WGN radio from 1971 to 1999. On TV, he worked as a newscaster and sports anchor and hosteda show called “Nightbeat.” On the radio, he was host of the long-running, jazz-centered “Floyd Brown Show,” interviewing legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton.

“He leaves big shoes to fill,” said his son F. Keith Brown, a retired Kane County judge, who says his father was determined that his children “had every opportunity to be the best they could possibly be.”

“He said, ‘Browns never quit,’ ” Keith Brown said.

Mr. Brown didn’t when confronted with quadruple bypass surgery, cancer and a stroke. And he didn’t quit when racism threatened to derail his career almost before it began.

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Floyd Brown and his wife, Betty. Betty Brown described her husband as a “happy warrior who had to keep busy.”

Provided by Daily Herald

Born to a teenage mother on Nov. 5, 1930, in Dallas, Mr. Brown grew up poor, shining shoes because he was too small to pick cotton, his son said.

He and his mother moved to Washington, D.C., where he graduated from high school at 16.

He moved to Chicago, studying accounting at Northwestern University while supporting himself by working as a porter at the Drake Hotel.

Keith Brown said his father got his start in radio in the military while stationed in Alaska.

He was hired as an engineer for the radio station WRMN in Elgin in 1951 but wasn’t given an on-air slot because management “was afraid people wouldn’t listen because he was Black,” his son said.

But he caught a break, filling in on days when the morning man was late for his 6 a.m. shift.

“People liked him and he got his own show,” Keith Brown said.

He left the Elgin station to start WYNR, a rock station in Chicago. In 1965, he moved to WMAQ-AM, where he was the first African American broadcaster hired by a major network.

An avid golfer, he applied for membership in the Elgin Country Club during the late 1970s but was initially blackballed, Keith Brown said. He eventually joined, becoming the first African American member of a private country club in Illinois not associated with a subdivision, his son said.

As a youngster, Keith Brown sometimes accompanied his father while he hosted his overnight show on WMAQ. For a while, the son said he considered following in his footsteps but said his father discouraged that ambition.

“Get into something that, if all else fails ,you can put a shingle out and work for yourself,” Mr. Brown advised him. “You can’t do that unless you own the radio station.”

Moving to WGN in 1971, Mr. Brown hosted his own show for nearly 30 years.

“My dad closed his programs with [the spiritual] ‘Kumbaya’ and inspirational readings,” Keith Brown said. “It was a great way to go to sleep.”

From 1985 until his retirement in 1996, Mr. Brown hosted WTTW’s “30 Good Minutes.”

He was a founding member of the Elgin Human Relations Commission and served as president of the Elgin Housing Commission. He served on the boards of the Salvation Army, Adler Planetarium and the U.S. Golf Association, according to his son.

Betty Brown, his wife of 67 years, called her husband a “happy warrior who had to keep busy.”

“He would never get tired of doing something for other people,” she said.

Mr. Brown also is survived by a daughter, Diane.

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On WGN-TV, Floyd Brown was a newscaster, sports anchor and host of a show called “Nightbeat.” On radio, he was host of the long-running, jazz-centric “Floyd Brown Show.”

Brian Hill, Provided by Daily Herald

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