For fifty years, five nights a week he was a slave to the clock and a captive of the calendar. Starting in Eugene, Oregon. Moving up to Portland. Segueing to San Francisco. Migrating to Minneapolis. Landing in Chicago, where he stayed for thirty-five years. In all of those cities, virtually every weekday night, Ron Magers knew where he had to be and exactly what time he had to be there.
On the night of May 25th, 2016, Magers was set free. He signed off as the news anchorman at WLS-TV Channel 7 for the last time, ending a distinguished television career that took him to five cities and the studios of six stations.
Life goes on after the ten o’clock news, and Magers has been living the good life. “The greatest difference in my life since I retired is my whole day is no longer driven by the clock,” said the ex-anchorman par excellence who will turn seventy-three on August 27th. “Time is a cruel taskmaster. I had to be somewhere a couple of times a day every day at a specific time. And when they say they want a story in a minute thirty seconds, they don’t want it in a minute forty seconds.
“For the first time in fifty years I’m not working nights so I can go to the movies or live theatre or concerts or dinner on a weeknight. What a pleasure that is. … When I retired that also was the first time I could take a trip without having to ask someone if I could go. When I was working, I couldn’t take off during the major rating periods in February, May, and November, and sometimes July. And then I had to work around other schedules at the station because somebody had to replace me. Now, I can go somewhere tomorrow without having to ask somebody.”
In mid-November, Magers and his wife, Elise, became snowbirds, moving to Aventura, Florida, “just south of Gulfstream Park,” for the winter. They came back to Chicago a few times “for the holidays and other things” and in late March they spent a long weekend in Mexico, attending a wedding in San Miguel de Allende. In late April, they returned to their home in Chicago, where they will remain until November when they will go back to Florida.
“I’m grateful that I worked long enough to know that I worked long enough.”
– Ron Magers
“My days are filled,” Magers said of his life in Florida. “I have a number of friends; we’ve had a lot of visitors and we’re about fifteen minutes from the racetrack (Gulfstream Park). I’m an amateur poker player and now I can devote more time to playing in various amateur tournaments. I have a regular gin game. I work out regularly—Pilates a couple times a week. I’ve always been an avid reader, reading two or three newspapers cover to cover during the course of a day; I scan the internet; and I’m taking in more movies than I have in a long time.”
Not surprisingly, Magers has received overtures to see if he’s interested in going back to work but he has no interest in restarting his career either in the news business or any other business. “I’m grateful that I worked long enough to know that I worked long enough,” he said. “It was time for me to step away when I stepped away. There’s a line that fits me but I can’t find attribution for it: ‘I miss some of the clowns but I don’t miss the circus.’”
That’s not entirely true.
“There has been only one moment when I had a regret about it, and that was on Election Day when I realized in the middle of day that I wasn’t going to see the first wave of exit polling. That was always an interesting part of Election Day, getting a look at what the country was doing. When I realized I wasn’t going to be able to do that, there was a tinge of regret.”
With regard to not having the opportunity to report on the pre-election and post-election toxicity, the feeling is one of relief rather than regret.
“I am very relieved I’m not immersed in covering the present political climate,” he said. “It’s unpleasant, often too ugly. The partisan rancor has reached a point that gives me great discomfort and I don’t see it ending.”
Magers’ relaxed manner and wit in delivering the news was reinforced by a keen awareness that he and his colleagues had less than thirty minutes to give viewers a microcosm of the city, state, nation, and world. “My job was to disseminate the news,” he said. “Essentially, I viewed my job as holding up the work of countless other people in a good light. It wasn’t about me. It was really about the work the newsroom had done. I was the conduit for that work.”
He was a conduit with a conscience.
“People talk about the conscience of the newsroom,” Channel 7 sports anchorman Mark Giangreco reflected. “Ron truly was the conscience of our newsroom. He made everybody around him better. It made him the M.V.P. of all time. Ron has been my big brother for thirty-five years and one of my all-time best friends. He has given me so much great advice. Every day we’d spend time in my office or his office. It’s tough coming in here every day without him. I miss him a lot.
“Ron has had a really interesting, crazy life. He’s a unique personality, just a brilliant human being—one of the smartest human beings I’ve ever known. He did everything the way he wanted to do it. He’s a spectacular poker player who just keeps winning money and now he’s breeding racehorses, which is his true love.”
A Stable Passion
Starting in the late nineteen eighties, thoroughbred racing became Magers’ avocation, and his immersion in the sport as an owner and breeder has increased in retirement. He and his business partner for nearly thirty years, Rob Marcocchio, of Rolling Meadows, a northwest suburb, have an interest in about forty weanlings, yearlings, broodmares, and racehorses.
Their racehorses are a three-year-old colt, Terzaluna, and a pair of two-year-old fillies, Levetta and Almora (named in honor of the Cubs’ baserunning hero who scored the winning run in game seven of the World Series). Terzaluna is a son of Third Chance, the Illinois-bred champion three-year-old filly in 2011 and champion older mare in 2012. Third Chance is one of two state champions who raced for Magers, Marcocchio, and partners. The other is Banner Bill, the champion of the two-year-old colt and gelding divisions in 2011.
Like the lineage of Third Chance, that of Banner Bill traces back to Lehmi Go, the first horse Magers owned all by himself. He acquired her after she ran in a plebian $16,000 claiming race at Arlington International Racecourse. Four other owners put in a claim for the filly, and it came down to a roll of the dice. Magers won the shake, and Lehmi Go became his horse.
With Bobby Voelkner doing the training, Lehmi Go left the claiming bargaining basement and went on to win two upper echelon races: the Grade III Arlington Matron Handicap and Grade II La Prevoyante Handicap at Calder. She retired in 1993 with earnings of $330,805.
Magers intended to sell Lehmi Go when she was finished racing but was talked out of it by Bill Betz, a Kentucky breeding farm owner. Betz bought a fifty-percent share of the mare and began tutoring Magers in the fine art of breeding thoroughbreds. They sold Lehmi Go’s first foal for $650,000 at the top-of-the-line July yearling sale at Keeneland in Kentucky in 1996 but kept her second foal, a filly named Temporada sired by 1990 Preakness winner Summer Squall, and raced her in partnership. “Temporada had lots of potential but couldn’t overcome her physical problems,” said Marcocchio, recalling a four-race career that saw her earn a relatively meager $25,811. “We liked Temporada so much that Ron and Bill sold Lehmi Go (to a Saudi Arabian sheikh for $650,000) and kept her for breeding.”
Temporada foaled a colt named Stormy Afternoon and a filly named Azedo. Thinking that Azedo would perpetuate the Lehmi Go line as a broodmare after she completed her racing career, Magers sold Temporada. Then came two devastating setbacks: Stormy Afternoon died of a heart attack while training, and Azedo perished in a 2006 barn fire at a farm in Kentucky where she was recovering from a minor injury. “At this point, after all the heartbreak we had with Azedo and Stormy Afternoon, I really did think of walking away from racing,” Magers remembered. “But then Rob called me and told me what he saw in the sales catalog (for the 2006 fall breeding stock auction at Keeneland).”
Lo and behold, there was Temporada in foal to a well-regarded stallion named Kafwain. Using part of the insurance settlement from the fire that took the life of Azedo, Magers and Marcocchio reacquired Temporada for eighteen thousand dollars and brought her to a farm in southern Illinois where she gave birth to Third Chance. In addition to state champions Third Chance and Banner Bill, Temporada has gone on to produce other notable offspring. At Keeneland’s 2014 September sale, her yearling son, Zulu, was sold for $400,000.
“The breeding side of it, you can run much more like a business,” Magers said. “The racing side you can run it like a business, but it’s much tougher to make money doing it.”
A Life On Air
Magers and Roe Conn, the WGN Radio afternoon talk show host and frequent host of Windy City Live on WLS-TV, who has partnered with Magers and Marcocchio in several horses, most notably Third Chance, Banner Bill, and Terzaluna, first met when Magers was the WMAQ-TV anchorman and Conn was working for WMAQ Radio. When Conn was called on to do some television work, he was intimidated by the thought of working with Magers. “I was twenty-two years old, and he was Ron Magers,” remembered Conn. “Big-time TV anchors seem like bigger-than-life figures. But he was so nice to all the people around him, not only his colleagues but also the technical people, the writers, and other people who often get Ted Baxtered.
“He was the exact opposite of a Ted Baxter (the pompous, arrogant, and egotistical news anchor on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show”). Ron understood it was a teamwork kind of thing.”
A decade later, Conn was doing an afternoon radio show on WLS with Garry Meier when the station made a deal with WLS-TV to try to incorporate their anchors as part of the show. Magers, who had moved from WMAQ to WLS in 1998, joined the team. At first he used a remote microphone in his office but then he began coming to the radio station’s studio because he enjoyed the camaraderie. He and Conn continued working together until Conn left the station in 2014. “Ron is one of my closest friends in the world and certainly my closest friend in the business,” Conn said. “He’s like an older brother. He’s as authentic as you can get. People sense that. I think that’s why he was probably the most successful TV anchor ever in this town.”
“He’s as authentic as you can get. People sense that. I think that’s why he was probably the most successful TV anchor ever in this town.”
– Roe Conn on longtime friend and colleague Ron Magers
Conn marvels at the ease with which Magers transitioned back and forth between TV and radio during their years together. “The thing that’s lost on a lot of people is that it’s two separate skill sets,” Conn said. “Ron is a natural with the ability to envision who the audience is at any given moment and he does it in a subconscious way that isn’t obvious to the listener or the viewer, which is the trick. He may be the most talented all-around broadcaster who ever worked in Chicago.”
Magers began his broadcasting career as a teenager at a radio station in the small town of Toppenish in the state of Washington where the family moved after leaving his childhood home in Alaska. He had no career plans, but the pay was $1.10 an hour—ten cents an hour more than he was making baling hay. “I absolutely loved radio when I was in high school and college, and still do,” he said. “Some of my most fun times were in radio.”
Having fun was the highest priority for Magers at that point in his life, and he wasn’t about to let schoolwork get in the way. “I hesitate to describe myself as rebellious, a more accurate term would be to say I was a troubled student,” he reminisced. “I managed to work my way in and out of five colleges and I think I only left two of them voluntarily. I always threatened to go back to college and finish but never got around to it.”
Magers’ shortcomings as a student were offset by a lifelong passion for the printed word that goes back to his childhood in rural Alaska where his father was a bush-plane pilot and accountant. “Kindergarten through fourth grade we lived in Alaska,” said Magers, the oldest of five children. “There was no television and no radio, but my folks had a lot of books and I read everything I could get my hands on. I’ve always been an avid reader and an avid consumer of information and that was a good advantage for me in my career.
“I kept working in radio because I needed to make money. One day somebody came along and asked me to consider a TV job in Eugene, Oregon. I have no idea how that happened. It was just one of those fortunate moments in my life, and the rest of it kind of unfolded.
“I was twenty-one years old when I got the job in Eugene. It’s a very pretty place and I thought I would stay there the rest of my life. I didn’t have any aspirations to move on to the next big place or anything like that. Everywhere I ever worked I felt the same way. Portland was a wonderful place. San Francisco was nothing short of fabulous. I’m still fascinated with Minneapolis. I kind of rode the wave instead of plotting the course. People came along and asked me to look at the possibility of another job and I did. I ended up being in Chicago for the majority of my adult life and I’m grateful. I never wanted to live in New York and I didn’t want to be a correspondent and go on the road.”
Chicago Till The End
Magers came to Chicago in 1981 to anchor the five, six, and ten newscasts at WMAQ. He and co-anchor Carol Marin left the station in 1997 when a new general manager decided to put reality TV star Jerry Springer on the set with them. Magers and Marin envisioned Springer turning the ten o’clock newscast into a latter day adaptation of “The Three Stooges” and wanted no part of it.
After he quit, Magers had offers from other parts of the country but he didn’t want to leave Chicago and was contemplating retirement. Then, he received an overture from WLS and after thinking it over, he decided to take the job and went back on the air in 1998 as a co-anchor of the five p.m. newscast before moving to the ten o’clock news in 2002.
During his half-century in television, Magers worked for affiliates of all three major networks—CBS, NBC, and ABC. Highlighting his thirty-five years in Chicago, he earned six Emmy Awards, the Peter Lisagor Award, a National Press Club citation, and an Ethics Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.
When Magers retired, long-time Chicago TV critic Robert Feder described him as “the role model for getting it right.”
Ron’s sixty-three-year-old brother, Paul, followed him into television and in late March joined him in retirement after spending the last thirteen years of his award-winning thirty-five-year career working as the nightly news anchor for KCBS in Los Angeles. Before moving to KCBS, Paul spent twenty years working in Minneapolis at KARE and was the No. 1 news anchor in the Twin Cities. “We’re probably the answer to a trivia question,” mused Ron. “Who are the only two brothers who anchored newscasts in two of the three biggest markets in the country at the same time?
“I don’t think we watched each other very much, but I think our styles are similar and I do know our voices are very similar. Chicagoans who’d visit L.A. would tell me about being in a hotel room when Paul was on with the news and they thought they were hearing me.
“Paul has homes in Los Angeles and Palm Springs and he’s going to stay in California. He isn’t involved in horses, but now that he’s got time I’d like to get him involved. Rob Marcocchio and I are sometimes looking for horses but we’re always looking for partners.”
“After the clock having been my slave driver for more than fifty years, I’m still getting accustomed to being able to have dinner whenever I want to.”
– Ron Magers
When he was anchoring newscasts, Magers routinely went to bed by 12:30 and slept for about seven-and-a-half hours. Now, he goes to bed earlier but still spends his mornings with his nose in newspapers. “Every day when I sit down and read the newspaper from front to back I learn something I never would have looked for,” he said. “I haven’t watched as much television news as I used to. When I was working, I sampled a lot more to see what everybody else was doing because I wanted to stay informed.
“Once I stepped away, it took me a while to get used to the idea that I wasn’t driven by the clock anymore. After the clock having been my slave driver for more than fifty years, I’m still getting accustomed to being able to have dinner whenever I want to and taking as long as I want.
“As a consequence of my job, I’ve always been very punctual: If we’re having dinner at seven, I’m there at seven—not 7:05.”