Bob Greenberg, known universally as the blind sportscaster from WBEZ (91.5FM), and the Chicago-based correspondent for KMOX-AM in St. Louis, left a legacy of unparalleled success in a field of dreams that others only imagined.
Bob, who passed away early this week at the age of 68 from cancer, defied logic and odds in the third-largest radio market in the country to achieve success as a sports broadcaster. In doing so, he raised the standards and expectations for people with disabilities in this country. His employment in the radio industry preceeded the Americans with Disabilities Act. If Barack Obama called his journey to the presidency the audacity of hope, what would the prognosis have been for someone like Bob, born 20 years earlier than Obama and blind from birth as a result of oxygen destroying his ocular nerve?
How could he dare to dream of one day hosting a radio show, and even more so, become a sportscaster, without the audacity to dream?
And what exactly helped him achieve his dreams? The answer is....perseverance. Belief in himself. He was fearless in pursuit to go where no man had gone before. Sheer gumption. Confidence. Keen intelligence. A remarkable memory and inner vision about the games he covered. Indulgent parents who encouraged and supported him in his dreams, despite no real precedence of blind broadcasters to that time.
And finally...belligerence in the face of conflict. The Bob I knew and interned for from 1989-1991 never took no for an answer. He used whatever means necessary to get his story. And he was rewarded for it....his home studio had a second-place plaque for radio broadcasting from the Illinois Broadcasters Association. Bob's methods to get an interview raised questions, and sometimes controversy, but one fact is indisputable...the job got done.
Here's how he got to interview then-Vice-President Dan Quayle at the All-Star Game at Wrigley Field in 1990. The Vice-President was running out of time for questions. Bob asked Quayle's handlers for some time with him, and was refused. "Okay," he said calmly, "I work for WBEZ. National Public Radio in Chicago. I'm going to tell my News Director that the Vice-President won't give an interview to a blind guy."
He got his interview with Vice-President Quayle.
"You, see, Alison," he told me. "You have to use everything you have to get the story."
Another time, that perseverance helped me and my family, and got an exclusive story for WBEZ. My brother lived through the great San Francisco Earthquake of 1989, and all attempts to reach him, of course, were futile. During a very long night, there were many fruitless attempts. Until Bob called from his home studio, explained that he was a radio journalist trying to contact someone he knew for an eyewitness report, and somehow, got put through to my brother. Thank God my brother was uninjured. He gave a few interviews, as exclusives to WBEZ.
I also appreciated his utter willingness to guide me through the ropes of broadcasting, and provide me with more opportunities than I could ever imagine to perfect a craft. He didn't mention it was an ongoing process, but I was grateful for every Chicago Blackhawks, Bears, White Sox, Cubs, Bulls, and Fighting Illini game I covered because of him.
It would have been easy to write Bob off if he hadn't been so intelligent. Or less knowledgeable about sports. Or had he not been so generous with his time and willing to educate those who took him to games and helped him get his interviews (like me) on the fine points of navigating a career in broadcasting. When I met him, he'd already been doing this for 15 years. Many "seeing eye" people like me had come and gone. He was established. And was making a living at broadcasting....not everyone, sighted or otherwise, is able to do that.
I related my own story about how I met Bob Greenberg and my 1 1/2 year internship to Chicago Radio Spotlight
"I had prayed for an opportunity to do some kind of broadcasting and I was a volunteer at CRIS Radio, a sub-carrier of WBEZ, in the late 80's. I attended a CRIS fundraiser, and I met Bob there. He told me he was looking for more people who could take him to games and essentially, be his "seeing eyes." It became my post-college internship for a year and a half. Bob worked very hard as a one-man sports show. He was also the Chicago correspondent for KMOX-AM, the 50,000-watt CBS station in St. Louis, and for the public radio station in Champaign-Urbana, so we were feeding game actualities and wrap-up reports until just before dawn. Bob also did a 15-minute show for CRIS Radio called "Sportscene," which he eventually gave to me. Then, he'd go on the air at WBEZ in the early AM. The man never rested! What did I do? Everything! Went inside the locker room to seek out players for him to interview, learned to write the wrap-ups, and splice tape.
A few months later, Bob lost his voice, and cleared me to do reports on his behalf. So my voice was being heard on WBEZ airwaves for a month. I also got to cover the Citrus Bowl in Orlando when Jeff George announced he was going pro, and the NHL All-Star Game at Chicago Stadium."
And then, it was time to go. I moved on to UPI Radio Network, and then to other venues. Bob and I lost touch. But I never forgot him, nor his influence on my life.
However, his life should be remembered. And one of the best ways you can do this is to make a gift in his memory to the Chicagoland Radio Information Service, the radio reading service for persons with disabilities. Bob relied on that service himself, for his preparation when going to games. His incredible memory helped him remember batting averages and other stats provided by the CRIS Radio volunteer readers. They're a service of the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind. To donate, please go to http://www.chicagolighthouse.org.