Over a Chicago radio and television career spanning four decades, Jim Conway was the first local broadcaster to announce the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on WBBM AM 780 and the first to anchor a half-hour news program on WGN-Channel 9.
But it was as the suave and charming host of several morning television talk shows that he gained his widest following and most enduring reputation.
Conway died last Friday of natural causes at an assisted living facility in Buffalo Grove, according to his son, Michael Conway. He was 94.
“Jim Conway truly was a leading man,” said Bruce DuMont, founder and president of the Museum of Broadcast Communications. “Smart, well-read, always prepared and always comfortable in who he was.”
DuMont worked as a production assistant on “The Jim Conway Morning Show” and credits the host with launching his own career as a broadcaster.
A Chicago native, Conway began his radio career in Milwaukee in 1938 before joining WBBM in Chicago. He was on duty at WBBM on December 7, 1941, when he delivered the first news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. By the end of the decade he was one of Chicago radio’s most popular personalities as host of “Shopping with the Mrs.”
A pioneer of Chicago television in the early 1950s, he first hosted “In Town Tonight,” a musical variety show featuring visiting stars, on WBBM-Channel 2. He later hosted “Conway on Q” for WMAQ-Channel 5, and went on to anchor the first nightly newscast at WGN in 1960, and then the first local morning talk show at WLS-Channel 7 and later at WGN.
Today’s talk show hosts “are a little more daring,” Conway said in a 1995 interview. “They let people say things that we would have considered too vulgar or too risque. . . . It’s all a quest — sad to say — for ratings. You’re apt to get a little manic about that.”
Conway served in World War II as a U.S. Navy aviator and continued for years after in the Naval Reserve.
Survivors include his wife, Mary Jane, four children, 12 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and two great great-grandchildren. Plans for a private memorial are pending.