City Within A City

WFLD moves on

By October 1984, WFLD had been at Marina City for about 17 years. In the Chicago metro edition of TV Guide, for the week of December 16, 1967, the address for WFLD is listed as Marina City. The UHF television station was in the theater building – above Marina Cinemas – but new facilities were being constructed for WFLD on Lake Shore Drive.

(Right) Rich Koz, as “Son of Svengoolie,” stands outside WFLD studios at Marina City in 1983.

WFLD

Although it had dropped its five-minute evening newscast the year before, in 1984 WFLD was planning to re-enter the competitive Chicago television news market. 48 people would produce a half-hour newscast every weeknight at 7 p.m., beginning in mid-1985.

The movie theaters had gone out of business in 1977, so when WFLD left Marina City in 1986, the theater building sat vacant.

WFLD
Photo by Steven Dahlman (Above) In this video frame from 1983, the son of Svengoolie is asleep in an area now occupied by a glass atrium and entrance to the concourse level (left). The skating rink is visible in the background, in space now utilized by a Smith & Wollensky restaurant.

Svengoolie remembers “The Whale”

“The whale” is what Rich Koz called the building that once housed WFLD. The television station was located at Marina City from 1967 to 1986, starting in the office building where Hotel Sax is located today, but soon moving to the theater building now occupied by House of Blues. WFLD was on the second and upper floors, above the movie theaters that closed in 1977. In the early 1980s the theaters were converted to more office space for WFLD.

Better known as “Svengoolie,” Koz is the host of a weekly show on WCIU and the “Me-TV” network. From 1979 to 1986, he was “Son of Svengoolie,” a local cult favorite that featured such films as the 1955 3-D thriller, Revenge of the Creature.

WFLD WCIU WCIU
(Above left) Cover of 1982 press kit for 3-D broadcast of Revenge of the Creature. (Center) Svengoolie. (Right) Rich Koz in 2007 with less makeup.

To get to WFLD, a visitor to Marina City would enter the theater building lobby from the ground floor, walk around to the left, and near the back of the building ride the elevator to the upper floors – a studio level, which contained WFLD’s master control and two studios, one of which eventually became an office.

Offices were on the next floor up, but above that was a large attic where props, set pieces, and videotapes were stored. One peculiar recollection Koz has is when a stagehand brought down an artificial Christmas tree. Someone said, “how’d you put the snow on it?” To which Koz replied, “that ain’t snow – it’s asbestos!”

Some of the set pieces in the attic were from Cartoon Town with Bill Jackson, a popular children’s program that aired on WFLD from 1968 to 1973.

“We found some old monogrammed shirts, still in the bags from when they were returned from the dry cleaner that belonged to [Chicago White Sox owner] Bill Veeck, who had done some shows there in the ’70s.”

Station employees parked on the marina level below the theater building, which could be unpleasant, says Koz. “People were mugged or had their cars broken into down there.”

A stairway led from the marina level all the way up to the storage attic. “Homeless guys would go in there, to the various levels to keep warm and/or relieve themselves. They couldn’t get into the building levels proper, because the doors on each floor only opened from the inside.”

Born in 1952, Koz took over the character of Svengoolie from Jerry G. Bishop, with whom he worked on a morning radio show at WMAQ. Svengoolie now airs on WCIU Channel 26 every Saturday night at 9 p.m.

(Right) 1983 opening of Son of Svengoolie, which included exterior video of Marina City.