WBBM’s Dave Kerner signing off Friday after 26 years in Chicago radio

Kerner came to town in 1997 as an update anchor and reporter for The Score. He moved to sister station WBBM in 2004 when he was traded for Zach Zaidman. It’s true.

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Dave Kerner grew up in Barrington and latched on to Chicago teams before attending Syracuse.

WBBM Newsradio

There are those who watch the clock longing for their workday to be over. Then there’s Dave Kerner, whose workday at WBBM Newsradio is predicated on the clock.

Sports reports must be given at 16 and 46 minutes after the hour, or the whole operation unravels. Traffic and weather follow on the eights, with more news after that.

So when Kerner signs off for the last time Friday after 43 years in radio, the last 26 in Chicago, he’ll have to start learning how not to watch the clock in retirement.

“That’s one thing I’m going to have to try to withdraw from,” said Kerner, 65. “I’m always looking at the clock. All the time. When do I need to be somewhere? How much time do I have? Now I can step away from that. It’s not gonna be easy.”

Kerner has been an easy listen since coming to Chicago from Buffalo in 1997. He sent cassettes to Ron Gleason, then the program director at The Score, who was looking for an update anchor and reporter.

“He had a tape of his hosting either pregame or postgame of a Bills game from the station that he was on,” said Gleason, who recently retired as the PD at WBBM. “I liked his sound. He was doing it solo, so he was kind of riffing, if you will. Among the candidates that we had, he sounded the best.”

Gleason also was drawn to Kerner’s local ties. He grew up in Barrington and latched on to Chicago teams before attending Syracuse. The Score had been on the air for only five years, but it became a powerhouse. Kerner’s strait-laced style complemented the station’s strong personalities.

It was a different time in radio. One of Kerner’s responsibilities was lining up guests for shows. If he was at a Bears practice, for example, he’d grab a player walking off the field afterward, ask if he’d go on the air and hand him a phone. That doesn’t happen anymore.

Kerner moved to sister station WBBM in 2004 when he was traded for Zach Zaidman. It’s true. Drew Hayes, then the program director at both stations, asked Kerner if he wanted to switch with Zaidman.

“I agreed to do it,” Kerner said. “Looking back, I think it was a really, really good decision because that was a whole different atmosphere with professionals that have been in the radio news business for 20, 30, 40 years and I’m still doing sports. That part was extremely rewarding.”

“Dave’s personality was good for ’BBM,” Gleason said. “He’s got such a great sound. You listen to him doing commercials on the station, and it’s like, Wow, he’s the best sounding of almost everybody doing a commercial. He’s just really good at what he does.”

But sports aren’t as prominent at WBBM as they were. Kerner said the pandemic played a big part.

“Before the pandemic, we had a staff that could provide updates essentially live 18 hours a day,” he said. “The pandemic comes along, and I think economic realities for the company set in. We had to cut back by the end of the summer of 2020.”

Now former sports director Jeff Joniak is at ESPN 1000 with the Bears, and Kerner is putting his microphone away. It remains to be seen whether either will be replaced and what direction new brand manager and news director Craig Schwalb takes sports coverage.

“Sports is still vital in this market,” Kerner said. “This is still a fairly provincial market. People do want to know about the teams and the athletes behind them. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve loved being here and covering sports because I know how people feel about the teams.”

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