When Jack Bogut was the king of morning radio in Pittsburgh, waking up to his favorite station wasn’t as scary as it is today. We always seem to be on the brink of something terrible or facing something terrible that happened overnight – political violence, mass shootings, pandemic – but it wasn’t always that way.
Bogut ran Pittsburgh Morning Radio from 1968 to 1983. As the voice of KDKA-AM – the 50,000 watt radio station that could be heard in 38 states – he made our day easier with his smoothness and storytelling. . In Pittsburgh, often described as a cross between the Northeast and the Midwest, he appealed to our Midwestern side.
Bogut’s stories are extraordinary because they are so ordinary, so familiar. The subject of his 1993 book “Big Sky Café and Other Schools I Attended” is the restaurant of his Montana youth. From the customers to the cooks, to the waiters and the food – a “breakfast that lives in the memory forever” – Bogut calls it “a place we all know”. Although we have never really been there.
During his heyday, Bogut was named by “Good Morning America” as the #2 radio personality in the nation, and in 2011 he was inducted into the Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Here at home, Bogut was known for his on-air playfulness, such as the Farkleberry Tart holiday fundraising campaign he created for Children’s Hospital.
Pittsburgh residents flocked to his broadcast booth in the Horne department store window, dropping their donations into a barrel, exchanging a few on-air words and picking up their mystery pies. “People were connected by the radio and their own generosity,” says Bogut.
Growing up in a religious home, young Jack was bound by the Ten Commandments, so he developed his own 11th Commandment: “Thou shalt not take yourself too seriously.
“Start your day with a smile,” Bogut says, “because bad news will come. And when it happened on our show, we stopped the entertainment to take care of business. Jack Bogut, who told another story that made you smile.
As for the difference between those days and now, Bogut is realistic.
“It’s in the nature of things to change, and the world is just different now,” he says. “For six months after 9/11, this country was united as one, with no selfish tendencies. But when the pandemic arrived, it drove us further and further apart. It’s a traumatic time we live in.
And the media does not help.
“My main philosophy was to talk to one person on the air. Now it’s more and more impersonal,” says Bogut.
But if you ask him if he sees a way out of this mess, his response is quick: “Storytelling is the way to get us back together.”
And he goes back to the introduction to “Big Sky Café”: “I’ve always been amazed at how much you and I have in common, how many things we share, even though we’ve never met and never don’t know… we share more things that are similar to us than they distinguish us.
“We are all bound by a common denominator, that sometimes sticky glue of human experience that we thought only happened to us.”
It is a story worth telling.