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Celebrating the Life of John Callaway


John Callaway

John Callaway Excellence in Online Journalism Fellowship

WTTW is proud to announce the creation of The John Callaway Excellence in Online Journalism Fellowship. This fellowship was conceived to pay tribute to John Callaway, the founding host of WTTW’s flagship show, Chicago Tonight, and to bring his legacy into the future through online journalism.

Chicago journalist and broadcast legend John Callaway excelled in every facet of his career. He was an acclaimed radio and television host, moderator and interviewer; news anchor, reporter and analyst; documentary producer and narrator; author, teacher and fellowship program administrator; national lecturer; and in his later years, a stage writer and performer. Probably best known for his work as host of Chicago Tonight from the program's inception in 1984 to June 1999., he died on June 23, 2009 – exactly 10 years after his last Chicago Tonight broadcast, which aired live from the Harold Washington Library on June 23, 1999.

The John Callaway Excellence in Online Journalism Fellowship will be funded through the generous donations of family, friends, and WTTW viewers.

“John Callaway remains an iconic figure in the history of WTTW,” said Dan Schmidt, president and CEO of WTTW. “I can’t think of a better way to honor his memory than by making this opportunity available to talented young journalists.”

The fellowship is open to graduate students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Each quarter, the program will give a fellow the opportunity to work with award-winning television producers and web staff to create original and supplemental content for the Chicago Tonight website. The fellows will gain hands-on experience with online journalism, work under deadline pressure, hone editorial judgment, and sharpen fact-checking and research skills.

“My sister Liz and I are thrilled that WTTW is honoring our father’s legacy by creating this fellowship,” said John’s daughter, singer, songwriter, and actress Ann Hampton Callaway. “He was a passionate mentor to budding journalists, and this would have pleased him immensely. He was also keenly interested in new ways of delivering stories to an audience.”

The John Callaway Excellence in Online Journalism Fellowship is a full-time fellowship which runs for 10 weeks and mirrors the Northwestern academic calendar. Each online fellow will receive a $3,000 stipend.

"We admired John Callaway. We look forward to carrying on John's extraordinary commitment to quality news coverage in Chicago," said John Lavine, dean of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

For information on how to contribute to The John Callaway Excellence in Online Journalism Fellowship, call the WTTW Honor and Memorial Gifts office at (773) 509-5553 .

To apply for this prestigious Fellowship, you must be a current Medill student. Visit the Medill website for more information.

John Callaway’s Life and Work

John Callaway, the original host of WTTW’s flagship program Chicago Tonight and a 48-year news journalism veteran, excelled in every facet of his career. He was an acclaimed radio and television host, moderator and interviewer; news anchor, reporter and analyst; documentary producer and narrator; author, teacher and fellowship program administrator; national lecturer; and in his later years, a stage writer and performer.

Callaway is probably best known for his work as host of Chicago Tonight from the program's inception in 1984 to June 1999. He died on June 23, 2009 – exactly 10 years after his last Chicago Tonight broadcast, which aired live from the Harold Washington Library on June 23, 1999.

In the decade since stepping back from that position, John served as the host and senior editor of WTTW's critically acclaimed history-anthology program Chicago Stories, which won seven Emmy awards in its first three seasons. Since 2006, he hosted Friday Night, a half hour one-on-one interview program. He was also host of the monthly public affairs series Front and Center with John Callaway at the Pritzker Military Library in downtown Chicago.


John with President Carter

In the course of his distinguished career in journalism, Callaway has interviewed everyone from former, current, and future U.S. Presidents, literary figures, politicians, and A-list celebrities. Some of his subjects, to name only a few, have included Oprah Winfrey, John Updike, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, Mike Ditka, Andy Rooney, Tom Brokaw, Tim Russert, Henry Kissinger, Alan Alda, Aaron Copland, Helen Hayes, Leontyne Price, Howard Cosell, Mike Wallace, and Jonas Salk.

Other Callaway series on PBS nationally were Campaigning on Cue, Inside Television, Dilemmas of Disarmament and The Paper Chase Addendum Interviews. He also was the co-producer and host/reporter of the nationally broadcast documentary about American voting habits, None of the Above.

The Chicago Tribune described John Callaway as "Chicago Television's No. 1 Interviewer" and "the best in the business." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said, "He is hands down, the best on-air interviewer in the land," and the Chicago Sun-Times reported, "...his colleagues widely consider him the best interviewer on television...he is Chicago television's conscience."

Callaway also and performed two critically acclaimed autobiographical one-man shows, Life is...Maintenance and John Callaway Tonight. Both productions were given their World Premieres at the acclaimed Pegasus Players Theater in Chicago.


John Callaway rehearses his one-man show, "John Callaway Tonight," at Pegasus Players Theater in 2001.
(Tribune / Candice C. Cusic)

Callaway's broadcast journalism work has been honored with more than 100 awards, including the coveted Peabody Award and 16 Emmys. A drop-out from Ohio Wesleyan University who hitchhiked to Chicago in 1956 with 71 cents in his pocket, he is the recipient of 10 honorary doctorate degrees, including Northwestern University, Loyola University and the John Marshall College of Law. He also is the recipient of the Benton Medal from the University of Chicago, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Chicago Silver Circle award, and election into the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame.

John Callaway began his career as a police reporter for the famed City News Bureau of Chicago. In 1957 he joined CBS as a reporter/documentary producer for WBBM Radio and TV. At CBS he won 7 national awards for his 13-part documentary series, The House Divided. As News Director at WBBM, he helped develop that station's all-news format and in 1968 was appointed Vice President of CBS Radio in New York. In 1973 he returned to Chicago to serve as the lead reporter for the new WBBM-TV newsroom. Callaway has covered 12 national political conventions.

In the late 1970s, Callaway was host of the nationally distributed radio series, Conversations from Wingspread, which dealt with a variety of public policy issues.

In addition to his work at WTTW, John Callaway was also the founding Director of the William Benton Fellowships in Broadcast Journalism program at the University of Chicago. He is the author of the bestselling book of essays, The Thing of It Is. His singing stints have included benefits for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

The WTTW11 and 98.7WFMT families continue to mourn the loss of legendary Chicago journalist John Callaway, who died on the evening of Tuesday, June 23, 2009 in Racine, Wisconsin. He is survived by his wife Sandra and his two daughters, Broadway performers Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway Foster, and four of Sandra Callaway's children.