Though best known for his nearly four decades as a radio talk show host in San Francisco, Jim Dunbar will forever be remembered in Chicago as one of the original Top 40 jocks on WLS 890-AM.
Dunbar, who hosted mornings on WLS when it switched to rock and roll on May 2, 1960, died at age 89 Monday at his home near San Francisco.
“Acerbic and quite the witty intellectual, Jim and rock really didn’t roll together,” recalled Bob Sirott, the veteran Chicago broadcaster who worked at “The Big 89” in the 1970s.
After three years as a DJ and assistant program director at WLS, Dunbar moved to ABC-owned sister station KGO in San Francisco, where he became a pioneering news/talk host and a top-rated personality until his retirement in 2000.
He twice made national headlines during his years on San Francisco television and radio. In 1969, while hosting “A.M. San Francisco,” Dunbar received a call on the air from a man who claimed to be the Zodiac Killer. In 1973, he survived an assassination attempt when a gunman who shot at him was thwarted by his studio’s bullet-proof glass.
A native of Dearborn, Michigan, Dunbar attended Michigan State University and served in the U.S. Army, where he honed his skills at the base radio station in Fort Riley, Kansas. He went on to work for a radio station in New Orleans before joining WLS in 1960.
Dunbar was inducted in the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1999.