‘Chicago Tonight’ Turns 35


On this date, 35 years ago, “Chicago Tonight” was born. Mayor Harold Washington was just finishing up the tumultuous first year of his first term, and WTTW’s John Callaway and Bruce DuMont thought the station should have a nightly show that could help Chicagoans digest the political turmoil going on in the city.

“Council Wars,” as it was known, pitted loyalists of Mayor Washington against the so-called “Vrdolyak 29” aldermen who opposed virtually every move the mayor attempted to make. The situation caused the Wall Street Journal to dub Chicago “Beirut on the Lake.”

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So Callaway and DuMont persuaded WTTW President Bill McCarter to let them create “Chicago Tonight” to chronicle what was going on in city government, and tackle other stories important to Chicago as well.

And so we take you back to that night, Tuesday April 24, 1984, for the premiere of “Chicago Tonight.” Callaway’s first guest: Mayor Washington. You’ll see, the more some things change, the more they stay the same. The big issue on the table was a major economic development project. How will it get off the ground? “It’s a very ingenious financial device called tax increment financing (TIF),” says Washington.

Callaway and Washington go on to discuss the value of focusing on neighborhood economic development versus downtown development. Later in the program, the two talk about one of Washington’s main nemeses – the still controversial Ald. Ed Burke.


Related stories:

Archive: John Callaway Interviews Elizabeth Brackett

Remembering Harold Washington, Chicago’s 1st African-American Mayor


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