When Clark Weber and Ron Riley, two of the most popular personalities on Chicago’s hottest radio station, WLS, introduced The Beatles to a sold-out crowd at cavernous Comiskey Park on August 20, 1965, the reaction was tumultuous. “As we brought The Beatles on, you could put your hands out and actually feel the sound from the crowd,” Weber remembered. “You could feel the thunderous noise passing through your fingers.”
It was impossible for any of the 33,000 in attendance to pick up a sound from the stage. “No one heard a single note of that 45-minute show,” Weber said. “Later, that was one of the reasons why the group decided to quit touring nationally. The audience could never hear them because of all the screaming.”
Introducing The Beatles was just one high point in the 54-year career Weber carved out on Chicago airwaves — when he passed away last year at the age of 89, one of the most recognizable voices in the Midwest was silenced. Millions had grown up listening to Weber: at one point, he had a fan club numbering more than 300,000.
“Clark Weber was part of the soundtrack for generations,” the Chicago Tribune reported. He had “impeccable style, class, and professionalism,” another obituary proclaimed. Friend and fellow broadcaster, Bob Sirott, called Weber “quick-witted, warm and smooth, a pro’s pro.”
Born November 24, 1930 in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa, Weber made his radio debut when he was 17, doing a guest deejay spot on the local WFOX station.
“In only 15 minutes, my appearance was finished–as I left the station, I had an epiphany and knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he wrote in his 2008 autobiography, Clark Weber’s Rock and Roll Radio.
After one year at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Weber, who had enlisted in the Naval Reserve, was called to active duty in Korea. He saw live combat while serving as a radio operator. It was during that time Weber discovered another lifelong pursuit — he trained to pilot an airplane, ironically, a skill which figured heavily into his success on radio.
Following his return from Korea, Weber spent the next half decade learning the broadcasting basics at a trio of Wisconsin stations before being recruited to the 50,000 watt powerhouse, WLS. It was just a year after WLS had abandoned its barn dance orientation to go to a rock and roll format, a very risky decision at the time.
Weber quickly advanced to the coveted 6-10 AM slot. His ratings were monstrous: WLS was a clear-channel, so Weber was on top in markets in Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, well away from his perch at the corner of Michigan and Wacker in the heart of Chicago.
The music was the big draw, but Weber, by then, had become, in the words of one Windy City columnist, “the radio equivalent of Johnny Wooden’s ‘Be Quick, Don’t Hurry’ offense. Precise, brisk, no wasted motion — that’s Clark Weber.”
“I don’t do monologues,” Weber said of his broadcasting style. “I provide the information the listener wants, time, temperature, important news. I mix in a little humor and let the music take it from there.”
Also sprinkled in the show were sagacious “Thoughts for the Day.” These included Weber’s own personal mantra, Everything we want is just on the other side of fear.
Other offerings were Under every success lies a firm foundation of failure and Don’t drop your children off at church on Sunday, take them.
Because he had the pilot’s license, Weber was able to fly around a five-state area, emceeing local dances, which in those days were called “sock hops.” Those personal connections, plus interviews with smaller newspapers, solidified his identity and expanded his listener base.
Weber was extremely thoughtful in responding to his fans — no letter went unanswered, no phone call to the station was ignored. “It has always amazed me that by the time some show business or sports lout reaches a position of notoriety, they refuse to be bothered with an autograph request,” Weber wrote in his autobiography. “I have always believed that you sign the requested autograph and be grateful that they’re fans. They pay the salary, and besides, some day they’ll stop asking.”
In Weber’s case, the fans never stopped asking. Overtime, he worked at a handful of other Chicago stations and closed out his career with a nationally syndicated commentary, A Senior Moment.
He retired in 2015, continuing to receive mail, calls, and emails until his passing March 7, 2020.
Near the end of his life, Weber said: “When your career is winding down, you will find, as I have, the moments that stand out, the moments you have really lived, are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of kindness and love.”
Clark Weber, RIP, thanks for daily morning doses of optimism.