ABC 7's Rafer Weigel talks Television, Media, Blackhawks (Exclusive)

ABC 7's Rafer Weigel talks Television, Media, Blackhawks (Exclusive)

You know Rafer Weigel as the iconic weekend WLS-TV sports anchor/reporter. His “Rafer’s Recap” segment on ABC 7 appears on the Saturday night 10 pm news. It’s must see television. Rafer Weigel was the sports anchor for CNN HLN’s Morning Express with Robin Meade. Weigel grew up in Evanston, with journalism as the family business. He’s the son of iconic Chicago sports anchor and newspaper columnist Tim Weigel and former WGN Radio news anchor Kathy Worthington. Rafer is also the grandson of Weigel Broadcasting founder and former Lawrence Welk radio announcer, John Jacob Weigel.

Like this author, he’s an Illini; graduating from the University of Illinois in 1992. Weigel has written extensively for the Chicago Sun-Times and L.A. Times. In addition to his work in journalism, he has done quite a bit of acting. Rafer Weigel has has starred in television shows and movies opposite Jenny McCarthy and William Shatner. He’s even been the voice of a Star Wars video game.

In this exclusive, we talk sports media, the future of journalism, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bears and more

Follow Rafer Weigel on Twitter here

Paul M. Banks: So how did you get started in this field, and who were your biggest influences and role models?

Rafer Weigel: I got started as a “stringer” for the Sun-Times covering high school sports. Bill Adee (now with the Tribune) let me come on, but former preps reporter/columnist Taylor Bell, along with my editor Ralph Greenslade, really mentored me.

I then went to the Los Angeles Times and worked part-time in their preps department. The entire staff allowed me to grow as a reporter and eventually hired me full time.

I eventually got my first TV job in 2005 as a freelance reporter for the weekend morning show at KUSI in San Diego. I was basically “Bruce Almighty” at the chili cook-off, so to speak. I actually commuted from Los Angeles two days a week and still worked at the LA Times for a year; until I got my first staff reporter gig at KOVR in Sacramento.

All along the way I was blessed with people who were willing to mentor me. But the biggest influence obviously was my father because following in his footsteps was always the goal.


PMB: What were the most important lessons that your father taught you?

RF: To always be humble, personable, available and gracious. You are employed because people like you and it can be taken away at any moment. Careers are fleeting in TV. Be kind to everyone regardless of their stature and treat everyone the same. Today’s intern will be your boss tomorrow.


PMB: Very true. Sound advice. Of all your contemporaries in this city, who do you think does the best work? Not just presentation, but hard-nosed journalism?

RF: I respect the print reporters the most because they have the hardest job. Having worked in print, I’m often frustrated by how little time we on TV have to get in so much information. Guys like Chris Kuc and Brian Hamilton at the Tribune. At the Sun-Times, Adam Jahns and Mark Lazerus. Mark Potash is never afraid to ask a tough question. Columnists like Rick Telander and David Haugh I admire because they always put their neck on the line offering their opinion and that takes courage.


PMB: I would like to get your reaction to this quote by your colleague Mark Giangreco at the Ring Lardner awards. It seems really apt given all these television networks: CSN Chicago, 80% owned by four of the pro teams, Yes Network, MLB Network, NHL Network, NFL Network NBA TV etc. all sprout up in the past decade. What do you think of this phenomena changing the landscape?

RF: He’s absolutely right. I remember the old days. Unfortunately, it seems sports teams here have a sense of entitlement when it comes to monitoring reporting. If you report something they don’t like they take exception to it and I’ve seen some of them confront reporters or columnists on it. While that’s not entirely new, I think in the past teams expected it more and now teams try and monitor what’s being said about them more than ever before. Which is odd because sports has never been more popular.

I think you can be supportive of a team while still being objectively critical of it. My father was. He appreciated when the team succeeded while still holding their feet to the fire when they underperformed or deserved it.


PMB: Couldn't agree more. I've had every single one of the professional teams in this city take issue with something I've written about them at one or another. This Blackhawks Cup run was very interesting on Twitter. We both mixed it up with a lot of Hawks fans who had major disagreements over what we had to say about many Hawks news stories. How do you think Twitter has changed the sports media game? More specifically, how do you feel about this new situation of media personalities being instantly accessible?

RF: Social media has changed the game because now people can take shots anonymously. It used to be you had to man up and make a phone call. I stood alongside my father closely while he worked for 13 years. He answered every phone call. And they called. They wanted to be heard if they disagreed with him. And he listened and talked to them. Now cowards can attack you and be faceless.

But at the same time, the access is a good thing. We are working for the people after all. So hearing their thoughts is important. It also is a platform for journalists to show their true colors. We are human beings after all. And it makes the relationship more real. More authentic I think. It can also can be a good source of information.


PMB: Where do you see sports media headed in the future? Do you think we’ll see a time when the individual personality becomes bigger/more important than the outlet they work for?

RF: I actually think it’ll be the opposite. The business is shrinking. And there are more people willing to do your job for less money. There are too many options to get your news now. I see it going to a place where we will all have to be able to write, do TV and also radio. I think everything is moving towards consolidation. Aspiring journalists can no longer say what type of journalist they want to become (print, radio or TV) because I think to stay employed in the future you will need to be able to do it all.


PMB: I can definitely see that happening. The Blackhawks went from obscure afterthought in ’08 to ruling this town in ’13. Do you think they’ll be “the lead” in Chicago for awhile? Or do you think this will remain a city where the Bears are always on the home page?

RF: While I think the Blackhawks popularity is at an all-time high, I still think it will always be a Bears town because football will always be king. During the Blackhawks point-streak I had to explain to many people how you could lose a hockey game and still get a point.

I think there are generations of Hawks fans being fostered right now. There are certainly new fans. But while I can’t imagine a day where the Hawks surpass the Bears in popularity, the turnaround of the franchise by Rocky Wirtz and John McDonough is truly one of the great turnarounds in the history of sports.

For more Rafer Weigel biography see his Wikipedia and IMDB pages.

For the Rafer Weigel ABC 7 bio page

Rafer Weigel Facebook Fan page

Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports (“Quasi-endorsed” by Philadelphia Eagles Coach Chip Kelly) He’s also an author who contributes regularly to MSN, Fox Sports , Chicago Now, Walter and Yardbarker

Banks has appeared on the History Channel, as well as ESPN and CBS radio all over the world. The NFL, NBA expert does a weekly spot for 95.7 The Fan. President Barack Obama follows him on Twitter (@PaulMBanks), like him on Facebook

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