Friday, August 24, 2007

Flashback: More Talk Radio Leads to the Moniker for /his WLS Program “We Love Salvi!”

[Fifty years plus of politics written as a memoir for my kids and grandchildren].

When I had accumulated enough experience to “run the board” at WLS…meaning punch the right buttons, keep an ear out for obscenities, “go to break” for commercials and say things of sufficient interest to encourage listeners to call in…they decided that although I was in my mid-sixties and the oldest geezer on the station, I could do some choice spots—like the early morning drive where you show up at 4:30 a.m. to prepare as substitute for full-time hosts on vacation for a 5 to 9 a.m. push when the listenership is at its height, and evening drive (2 to 5 p.m.) in similar circumstances. The early morning drive was what I hated most. I had a terrible time being wide awake and bouncy at that time of the morning when my fellow retiree colleagues were sleeping in. Afternoons weren’t so bad but a combination of the two started to get to me. So I asked management for a gig of my own.

They gave me a choice one (at least I thought it so): Saturday mornings from 8 a.m. to Noon. Saturday mornings is when most of the world is recreating, driving to the store with a high listener rating. It so happened that a favorite of mine, Al Salvi, was seeking the Republican U. S. Senate nomination against the establishment favorite, Bob Kustra, the lieutenant governor of the state. Kustra and I had been fast friends during his career in the legislature since we both taught at Loyola (me part-time when I was at Quaker) and lived in the same town, Park Ridge. When he asked me to support his initial run for the state House, I was at Quaker and asked him how he stood on abortion. He didn’t look me straight in the eye which made me think the issue was inconsequential to him and mumbled some equivocation.

I told him: Bob, this issue may not strike you as important but it is number one with me. You’re running for the state House in my district and you’ve asked me to support you. If you’re not pro-life, forget it.

I knew the pressure he was under. He was a favorite of Park Ridge Mayor Martin Butler who typified the get-along, go-along Republican good old boy run-of-the-mill follower-man-ship of Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and George Ryan. Thompson was a legendary pro-abort; Edgar was a mild-mannered pro-abort; Ryan was a fairly (then) flat-out pro-lifer but he was downplaying it. I could see that Kustra’s inclination was to get along with Butler whose wife Jeri was a formidable organizer. Jeri was a pro-abort but Marty technically was not. Kustra didn’t bat an eye but said he was pro-life.

I said: I don’t mean now, Bob. I mean after you get in. A lot of people begin as pro-lifers and then when they get in with the liberal GOP establishment start to “grow” and become pro-abort.

Kustra said: “You’re really tough on that issue, aren’t you?”

I said yes. Tough enough to have demonstrated, having run the risk of picketing abortion clinics which were I to be arrested could conceivably jeopardize my business career—if not get me fired. So yes, my friend, the issue does mean much to me and I’m tough on it.

He said: “Okay, I’m pro-life. I’m a Catholic, teach poly sci at Loyola and went to St. Benedict College, Atchison, Kansas where the Benedictines indoctrinated me—so yes, I’m pro-life.”

I said: I don’t mean that you’re personally pro-life but will rise above principle to support legislation and actions on the other side…just like Jimmy Carter. I mean I will hold you to pro-life votes all down the line, from opposition to public funding of abortion to anything else that comes your way.

He replied: “Okay! Okay! Enough already! I’ll do it!”

That wasn’t the kind of response I wanted but he was the only candidate at that time who gave me that pledge—so I became his finance chairman, appealed in his behalf to brother and sister directors of corporate PACs. He won, became quite popular and after a few terms sought the state Senate. At that time he asked me to support him over a dedicated pro-lifer, John Nimrod whom he was eager to challenge in a primary. Nimrod’s pro-life credentials were not in question but he was an erratic individual, having run in congressional primaries and approached campaigns in a half hazard way. As an example, when he announced for Congress for his second go-round he not only put my name in his press release as a supporter without talking to me but said I was his campaign manager—again without talking to me. I had to disavow the campaign manager “appointment’ and talked to him, saying: John, why didn’t you cal me first before you issued the release?

His answer: Aw, I thought my staff did. Baloney. No way was I going to support someone with that kind of cavalier approach.

So when Kustra, a Ph.D in politics and a bright, astute guy, asked me to support him against Nimrod, I did but asked him to reaffirm his stand on pro-life. He said: “Hey, don’t you know my stand by now? “ I said: well, frankly, Bob, there were times when I had to pull your arm out of its socket to vote pro-life.

He said: “But I always did, didn’t I?

Yes. But tell me you’re going to continue to do this as my state senator as you did as my state Rep even though I had to call you on the phone in Springfield to remind you.

“I will.”

So I joined his campaign, raised money and directed a lot of the organization. He won.

In the state Senate, he became quite a power—the epitome of a suburban moderate, supportive of social needs but fiscally conservative.

After a term or two I kept hearing from him how Park Ridge and his suburban district was changing. No longer as conservative as it had been; Marty Butler and his powerful wife were after him to switch.

I said: “Listen, I’ll give you two reasons why you shouldn’t. One, it’s not right to view a paramount issue in that way. It’s not like an appropriation where you can cut down the numbers—say support a grant for $10 million rather than $15 million. It’s life and death to me. Second let me tell you this: the time for changing on abortion, practically, has long passed. There was a time when the issue was new—before Roe v. Wade—when one could be pro-abort and switch. That happened to Reagan when he was governor, although to be frank with you I don’t think his switch had to do so much with his conviction as the pragmatic nature of the issue…but the point is—that time is over. It’s the 1980s. You switch and it becomes a character issue.

After he became senator, one time we had lunch in the M&M Club downtown and he told me: “Of all my advisers I value you the most. But of all my advisers, you are the only one who insists I stay a pro-lifer.”

Oh, I said, and what are you going to do about it, Bob?

“Nothing. I’m just making the point that the suburbs, especially the fairly well-to-do suburbs like yours and mine, tend to favor Republican lawmakers who have a more moderate approach and I regret to say that being a pro-lifer is a label that they sort of hang on you so that you become known as a rightist.”

I said: It’s Jeri Butler, isn’t it?

He reddened. “Well, yes but also others. There are a good many economic conservatives like you—some who are even more conservative than you on economic issues—who think I’m running under a handicap as a pro-lifer, that’s all.”


“You know them.”

One is Mike Hudson, isn’t it? (Hudson, a neighbor and friend, had my kind of job with Illinois Tool and whose boss was Harold Byron Smith, Jr., a pragmatic party wheel-horse and legendary fund-raiser.)

‘As a matter of fact it is.”

It’s up to you, Bob.

“Okay. Glad to hear you say that.”

It’s up to you but I’ll tell you, you can kiss me goodbye. And so help me God I’ll tell the world how disappointed I am with the switch.

“You wouldn’t.”

I promise you I would.

He buttered a roll, looked down and said: “You have a column in `Crain’s Chicago Business.’ Would you--?”

I tell you I would talk about the character issue and relate this conversation.

“It’s privileged.”

Hey, you never told me it’s privileged.

“Okay, forget it. I’m not switching.”

Good. What you should do is to remember your political science. Remember Edmund Burke who told the electors of Bristol that he would vote his convictions, not be a weathervane and they had the option of defeating him at the next election.

“You know the trouble with you? The Burke thing is everything to you and you ignore the more complex sides of issues.”

Bob. I’m telling you. You switch and I’ll go after you. I mean it.

“You see? You’re putting pressure on me to vote your way. If I were to follow your example and be like Burke, maybe I’d vote pro-choice and take the consequences.”

Go ahead. I’m not stopping you.

“But you’ll blast me.”

So what do you care? You say the suburbs are changing and your being a pro-lifer is akin to being a far-right extremist, you ought to welcome any blast I write and become a moderate hero.

“Forget it. I’m not changing, just examining how strongly you feel about the issue.”

In 1990 with Kustra widely respected as a senate moderate Republican leader despite his pro-life voting record, he was placed in consideration by pro-abort secretary of state Jim Edgar as his choice for lieutenant governor. When I got a call from Kustra the day his name appeared, he didn’t ask. He told me.

“I’ve thought about it and I’m going to announce that I am pro-choice. You have to look at it reasonably.”

I don’t look at the issue of life and death “reasonably” as you put it, Robert.

“Well I’m going to do it. And you?”

I’m going to (and here I described a pincher movement that would remove a male from his manhood).

“There’s something you should know.”

What is that?

“I had the occasion to be with (and me mentioned my boss whom I called General Patton).”


“I brought up the fact that we have been friends and that we disagree on this thing and he said not to give it a thought. Your PAC will support me and he will personally support me.”

And, I said, I hope the money you get will offset the column I’ll write for `Crain’s’ about your lack of character and the wheedling you’re doing on an issue that deserves serious contemplation and not the personal jockeying you’re using. Robert, listen to me--.

“No, you listen to me. I’m going to meet with Edgar tonight and I’m going to be picked. And I’m not going to let something we talked about many years ago when I first ran for state Rep get in the way.”

Goodbye Robert.

Goodbye, Tom.

A day or so later General Patton said he wanted a PAC contribution to Kustra and he expected--.

I said, I hope you’re not expecting that I support him.

He certainly did.

Too bad. Incidentally another year has gone by and each year at an appropriate time I tell you something, I give you some scatological directions and then I go home. So here’s the directions…

And I went home.

When I got home, Lilllian said my boss called three times.

I said: let him wait.

I sat down and wrote the “Crain’s” column and never felt better in my life when I finished it.


The Edgar-Kustra team was elected and reelected. Whenever we saw each other, at political meetings, at conventions, we looked the other way. Once I got on a hotel elevator on the 5th floor; it stopped at the 3rd and Kustra got on. Nobody else. We rode in silence.

Bored and convinced he was getting nowhere as lieutenant governor, he cut a deal with WLS to become a talk show host. Instead of winning applause, the media scorched him, saying that out of craven ambition for the future, he quit the second highest post in state government—even if it wasn’t powerful—to make big bucks as a talk show guy in order to boost himself for future office. It was the truth. But before he could resign, Edgar had either a heart attack or a serious cardiac insufficiency and Kustra couldn’t exactly leave with the governor’s health in jeopardy. So he stayed. He waited for the next chance which was to run for the U. S. Senate against Dick Durbin. Paul Simon had packed it in and had given his troth of Durbin. Everybody said…Bob Novak included…everybody said Kustra was the logical guy.

So a group of conservative activists, me included, called what we called a “Council of Trent.” We settled on a young state representative, Al Salvi, to run for the nomination against Kustra. By then I had the WLS Saturday morning program and I leaned so heavily on the issue that the manager saw me in the Men’s Room, said he liked my listeners’ numbers and said: “Hey, I know what WLS means to you, Roeser! We Love Salvi!”

He didn’t like Kustra either because Kustra had signed a big ticket contract as a talk show host and begged out of it.

He said, “I don’t like the guy at all. But have you considered that he might be a better candidate against Durbin than your guy Salvi?”



I said: It’s a matter of character. When a guy lies to me that’s it.

He said, “okay. Anyhow your numbers are good so go get `im tiger!”


  1. Bob Kustra's stint on radio made him look like a fool. I cannot recall listening to the spot promoting his program "Ask the Lieutenant Governor" without laughing. I always felt that Jim Thompson's equivocations on the abortion issue were even more opportunistic. When the issue was tied up in the courts, Thompson whispered sweet nothings to some of the pro life adherents since his pledges had no impact whatsoever. A few years later, the US Supreme Court adjusted its position on the subject and permitted a degree of latitude to the states in terms of regulating and restricting abortions. Immediately afterwards, Thompson reversed himself and became resolutely pro choice. His courting of the pro life vote was entirely meaningless. As soon as his position on the issue counted for something, he tacked to the left. I am looking forward to reading about Al Salvi and learning how he ran afoul of Jack Roeser of Otto Industries.

  2. In Waukegan there is a radio station called WKRS 1220 which has a strong radio and internet following. This is a no holds barred talk radio station that most listeners find better than WLS with its "controlled big time talk". WKRS regularly takes on the hard political issues from immigration to Gov. Blago to the Iraq war to the poor little pregnant pre-med girl and her lack of a gov. paid for pill. Al Salvi has a regular program on this station between 10 and noon during the week. He is on twice a week.

    What is interesting is that he is not that loved by his listeners! His take on the immigration issue is quite moderate, he has a poor grasp of the Iraq war issues, and he stood up for sending Ryan to a cushy country club prision. When you listen to him a number of times you soon realize that he is not well grounded in the intellectual foundations and history of politics. He takes a blow with the wind "surfacy" approach which becomes a turnoff to his listeners. Such a depth-less politician can easily flipflop on important issues like abortion. The finger in the wind is the important political guage to them. Also the ego trip of politics becomes important to such people too. Oberweis is such a politician. He too is not grounded in anything but his own importance. Such politicians without any foundation tend to go with what makes them popular with any group at the time that they are trying to impress and thus their flipflops that could happen on a daily basis depending on what political group they are with.

    "We Love Salvi"..... I don't think that is the case with many listeners to his radio show.