Legendary broadcasting executive Ward L. Quaal died Friday (9/24) in a Chicago nursing home at age 91. Since 2008 the annual Pioneers Awards by the Broadcasters Foundation of America have been called the Ward L. Quaal Pioneer Awards in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the broadcasting industry.
“Free and local broadcasting was built by a handful of visionary giants, but few stood taller than Ward Quaal. 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,” said a statement Monday from NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith.
Quaal began his career on WGN-AM Chicago as an announcer in 1941 and was one of those who broadcast the first bulletins on the attack on Pearl Harbor. After a stint in the Navy during World War II, he rejoined WGN in 1945.
Quaal spent time in the 1950s as vice president and assistant general manager for Crosley Broadcasting in Cincinnati, and returned to WGN in 1956 as VP/GM. He moved up to president of then-WGN owner and Tribune precursor WGN Continental in 1961.
Quaal served on the original FCC advisory panel on advanced television systems. In 1973, he received the NAB’s Distinguished Service Award, which celebrates individual broadcasters for their “significant and lasting contribution to the American system of broadcasting.”
Active in public service campaigns and charity fundraising in Chicago and on a nationwide basis, Quaal worked with many celebrities and political notables. He was known to be a close friend of President Ronald Reagan.
RBR-TVBR observation: So often we don’t really honor our heroes until after their death, so it was particularly pleasing to us that Ward Quaal was able to be present in Las Vegas two years ago for the presentation by the Broadcasters Foundation of America of the first Ward L. Quaal Pioneer Awards, of which he was a recipient. While he was financially successful at WGN Continental, Ward Quaal always made service to the public the top priority of the stations he ran and continued to seek out ways to serve long after he had retired. Broadcasting has lost one of its great ones.