When we wrote this five years ago, 60 years was an amazing record. Now the show is 65 years young and going strong!
Ed, Denise and Jack still host the show. Jack overcame an injury to his spine, and is running for election to become a judge.
Expect a special show in April, 2018 when the show hits the magic 65 year mark! Lets take a look back at the story when the show became 60!
You would have to look hard around the globe to find a radio show that has run for 60 consecutive years. We have one right in our backyard.
The Hagerty family has been on air since 1951! Almost every benefit, dance, wake, death, party, and announcement since 1951 was brought to you by the Hagerty’s. Local political candidates, politicians from Ireland, musical acts, dancing, and interviews with all sorts of interesting Irish people and characters doing the show live.
IAN talked to the Hagerty siblings who make this program possible. Jack, Denise, and Ed Hagerty have all been appearing on and announcing the show for over 30 years.
IAN: I want to go back to your mom and dad, Jack and Arlene. Tell us a little about how your mom and dad first came here.
Denise: Well, Dad was born in this country. His mom and dad were both from County Clare. First generation. He was very active in the Irish community, mainly dancing and entertaining. Dad took step dancing from his cousin, Mae Kennedy Kane, at a very young age. He danced at the Century of Progress in 1933. He was there with Pat Roach and Donald O’Connor the actor. O’Connor and my dad danced together in that.
Jack: He was the MC at the Century of Progress at thirteen. They called him Sonny.
Denise: Then he started his own dance school in his late teens.
IAN: What did he tell you about the Irish Village at the Century of Progress, because it seems to be kind of a watermark with the Irish in Chicago?
Denise: I think it was a big event for all the ethnic communities. Mae Kennedy Kane was there, Pat Roach was there. Have you read the book, Steps in Time? She documents the whole history of Irish dancing in Progress. But I think it was the first time the Irish had their own stage in Chicago. I gathered from the stories about it that it was a huge success for the Irish. Being the MC and dancing there, that was my dad. Even at age 13. He loved being in front of people, being with people.
Jack: He was US Mens Champion in mens step dancing at the age of 13. I’m telling you, I’ve seen Michael Flatley dance, and to be around that and to see how my dad could dance...
Denise: He was like liquid, he was so smooth.
IAN: When did he meet your mom?
Denise: They met right after he started the Irish Show in 1951. She was working in Senator Dirksen’s office in Chicago. She was one of two on his staff. My father was very active in Republican stuff on a national level, but active locally on the Democratic side. He was working in Dirksen’s campaign and that’s how they met. Jack and Arlene got married in November 1953. And he had his show, Irish Melody Time which started in 1951. Irish Melody Time started about 4 o’clock on Sundays. And there were a variety of people on the show with him. He ran that for about a year and a half. The station came to him and asked him to DJ an all Irish hour starting on Saturday mornings. In the letter my dad sent out in 1953 to potential listeners, he said, ‘This show is for you. It is for all of you, and it is to keep our community alive.’ That was the start of our Saturday morning Irish hour from 9 to 11 am on 1490 AM WPNA at the same studio we have now.
IAN: I’m sure your mom and dad danced and went out to Jim O’Neill’s place?
Denise: Yes! Jim and Kay owned the Holiday Ballroom, and they would come to our house on Sundays. We thought they were really awesome because every time they would come they would bring a little box of chocolates for the children. And nobody we knew had enough money to buy a box of chocolates for every kid! I danced at the Holiday Ballroom as an Irish dancer.
Jack: Jim O’Neill kept a picture of me from when I was 6 in his wallet and would show it to me when I got older to people. It was not the best picture. Let’s just say it was far from good and good from far. But we loved Jim and Kay, they were good people.
My dad went to work at WGN television on the same day as Jack Taylor, another well known name in Chicago. He spent 3 or 4 years doing on-air announcing. He started a show which was a precursor to Family Classics. The show was sponsored by the Jack McLennon Pen Company. I remember flipping the channels forward when I’m 8 years old, and I remember the first commercial Dad had me do on air for the McLennon Pen Company.
Here’s the story of how Dad met Jack for the first time when he was on the elevator at the Oak Park Arms. Dad got on and had a McLennon pen in his pocket. A guy on the elevator had a pen, so my dad said to the guy “I want to show you this McLennon pen, its one of the best pens I’ve ever seen.” My dad was pitching the pen to the guy who owned that business! He didn’t know who he was!
Denise: Well, McLennon was a long time sponsor after that. Mom used to write up the cue cards for dad when they did the TV show. They would bring out cue cards made for teleprompters and with magic marker write out all the script for him. It was unbelievable, but he did like the spotlight.
IAN: How did you all start getting involved with the show?
Denise: That was the Saturday morning treat. You’d go the Saturday morning show with dad.
IAN: When was the earliest you were on the show?
Jack: Well I began to go with him when I was four or five. When he was sick he needed a lot of help. I don’t remember exactly, but I believe he did the show up until really close to the day he died. Probably a month. We went as little kids and then as we got older we didn’t go. It probably stopped at the age of 11 or 12.
Denise: See, Donna and I went longer. I can still remember going to Elmhurst in 1964, so I was 10. We girls went every Saturday. We’d bring our new friends to the show. Then after the show you’d go to Maguires, then maybe a few more places after that. If you had a really good Saturday, then you would go to this place called Bucket of Blood! It was a progression, it was a party. I can still remember bringing my new friends, and we’d walk into Maguires and they would be like, ‘Wow its a bar’ and I’m thinking ‘Wow they are ten and they’ve never been in a bar! How is that possible?’
There were 5 seminarians from Lemont seminary that were a big influence to us as kids. Harrity, Flaherty, O’Donnell, O’Grady and Doyle came out to the Irish hour to advertise a spaghetti dinner fundraising event. My dad had them all back to the house and, until they were ordained as priests, we had the seminarians at our house every Sunday for dinner! They brought their guitars, we had a blast!
Ed: And the pop tarts. They brought us pop tarts and stayed for roast beef and mashed potatoes.
IAN: Did you have any particularly Irish customs or traditions growing up?
Denise: Just the step dancing. Me, Donna and Jack. But Jack dropped out after he figured out he had to wear a kilt.
Jack: Well, there were only two guys out of sixty girls. I was kind of a minority, though looking back at those days, I should have stuck with it.
IAN: Any instruments?
Denise: No, not really. We all kinda dabbled in stuff as kids but nothing really stuck. Ed, though, is a really good ballroom dancer.
Jack: Let me tell this story! We were all in our early 20s and pretty social animals. Out of all the brothers, myself, Tommy and Jimmy were more prone to be seen on the dance floor, and Eddie would not be that guy. Time comes, Tommy’s getting married in Boston. We are at the reception after the wedding and all of a sudden I look out at the dance floor and I see Eddie out there dancing a fox trot. I’m like, where the hell did you learn that? Now, Ed doesn’t do anything half-way, so he decided for Tom’s wedding that he was going to surprise everyone. For a year and a half, five days a week, two to three hours a day, he takes ballroom dancing classes. So many he...
Denise: Becomes Fred Astaire!
Jack: At least borderline professional. We were all stunned. It was a great surprise.
Denise: Well, you still do it?
Ed: Oh, I dance once a week at least. Well, you know what happens when you do something five days a week for a year? You either love it or you hate it. There is no choice. I liked it.
Denise: The radio show was a big part of our parents life, but it was also a big part of our life too. The social life, the concerts, the Clancy Brothers, and others when Jim O’Neill brought them to town. For his job, dad lived in DC and in New York at some point in the 70s. We stayed here in Chicago, and he would come back every Friday night and do the Irish hour on Saturday mornings every weekend. He was truly dedicated. If you think about it he did the show every Saturday for 29 years. Nobody helped him out.
Jack: It’s the difference between a vocation and avocation, this was his avocation. This was his love. It was what drove him, it was him on stage, at the center, and him opening up doors for the community as well. I mean he was an entertainer.
IAN: What did your dad do for a living?
Denise: At that time he was in reinsurance. In the early 60s he started his own company. He was in WWII, and he served in Germany. He had three bronze stars. He never really talked about it. He didn’t speak about it until he was dying. When he was dying he talked about how hard it was.
He and my mother were both, technically, in the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade on the West Side. Tom Gibbons and Tom Ryan, founder of the Shannon Rovers, created a mini West Side parade and they used hearses for the floats and filled them up with flowers. My mother rode in it, and that parade was ultimately brought downtown.
Ed: How the story goes—what I was told by Bobby Ryan—was that he [my father] went down with Tommy Ryan, and Stephen Bailey, the head of the plumbers union around 1952. But, it was three of them who went to see the mayor, saying if they had this parade the plumbers would serve as the sponsors. The people who have written the parade history have overlooked that little meeting of how the parade came to be.
Denise: Well, Mayor Daley deserves some credit.
Jack: Yes he does. He made it happen. But the idea came to him in a wrapped package. Plumbers were going to sponsor it. And I believe from 1952...
Denise: Until the year my dad died, in 1980, he announced that parade. We thought it was great as kids. We’d go downtown and climb on the grand stand with the mayor. He did it every year, he never missed it. The Ryans and the Hagertys were in there from the start.
Jack: He started to get really sick in ‘79. I was in college and I was coming home pretty much every other weekend to help. But I was never on the show as a kid. I was in sports, so my Saturdays were spent doing that. But when I came back from college I got to go on.
IAN: You all seem to be very successful. Your parents must have had a lot to do with that.
Jack: I thought, I didn’t need to go to college. I was a little stubborn, early. I had an opportunity to get a management position and make a fair amount of money. I didn’t want to go to college. My mom said, “you’re going to go” and dragged me by the ear. After much debate, I eventually saw her way of thinking and I did eight or nine more years of school out of my own volition. My parents were very strong on education. We had a very competitive household among the children as well. Everybody was on a peg board and there were comparisons drawn. I don’t know if that was good, bad or indifferent, but it did create a pretty competitive environment. I remember going to school and the teachers were like, Oh, you’re Denise and Donna’s brother, you must be very smart, and I thought, Oh no, I’m in big trouble now!
IAN: Did you all go to the same college?
Denise: No, but we all went to the same grammar and high school. It was a parish school. And, yes, Jack is right, they pushed education and they pushed grades, which is probably a good thing. But everybody went off on their own. Ed got an athletic scholarship to the University of Oregon and played ball there for four years. He got over 70 scholarships to play football. And the most impressive thing about it is that he actually played linebacker for 4 years, got his degree in 3.5 years, and spent the rest of the time going to graduate school. That goes back to, I think, the education.
Jack: We have six college grads, four advanced degrees. All very financially successful. I can tell you how my mom use to tell the story: Denise, she’s the CFO of a medical organization. Donna went to University of Illinois and is a graphic artist. Eddy went to University of Oregon, got an advanced degree and played football. Tommy went to Harvard. Jimmy went to U of I, and Jack is doing fine.
The competition never stopped. They were very, very focused education wise. We are a very Irish family!
Denise: Yes, it was Family, Religion, Education.
IAN: I think fun came first.
Denise: Well, nobody had more fun then my dad! He was 59 when he died, but he lived it like 118 years. I think the biggest testament to our parents is that we are all very much in contact with each other, all the time. We spend our holidays together. We get together every summer.
Jack: Everybody’s had a connection to the program at one point or another. Donna’s not here. She did a couple of shows and is a great supporter. Tommy did the show a number of times. Jimmy’s been a producer for many, many years.
Denise: And he’s read a couple public service announcements.
Jack: All of us have been on the air. My girls, Tara, Caitlyn and Kelly have all been on the air, and cousins, Ryan and Devin. The two girls in Boston, Keira and Jamie, will do it on one of their trips to Chicago. The next generation has made its way to the airwaves. I’m grooming my replacements!
IAN: How has your programming changed from the early days until now?
Denise: Well, there was a lot of Ceili
band days when my dad did the show. A lot of Jackie Barrett and the accordion music. I think we go a little bit more 1980s.
IAN: Did you three bring in the interviews?
Denise: Jack and Ed were the ones that really got that going.
Jack: I don’t know how that happened, honestly, but I think it was a function of a couple of things. We had befriended many of the Irish counsel generals here in town. I think they knew we were reasonably well educated, and that we would treat visitors with respect. So, we began to get calls from the Irish government, and the English government as well, whenever they would come to town. They thought we had a fairly wide and diverse audience. They wanted to get out a message. We got some interesting interviews over the years. One of the most disturbing interviews I ever heard was the interview Ed did with David Trimble.
He was the Ulster Unionist Party leader, and he was the first minister of Northern Ireland. We got a call from the English government here and they said that David Trimble was going to be in town and did we want to interview him? Well they didn’t tell us that there was specific guidelines that needed to be followed. We had to lockdown the studio. Nobody could come in. They had security so myself and Trimble were in the studio, and I’m telling you, you could just see the intensity. It just oozed out of him.
IAN: Who else have you interviewed?
Ed: Mary Robinson, John Hume, Brid Rogers, Bairbre de Brún, Mitchell McLaughlin, Ben Briscoe who was the Lord Mayor of Dublin. Peter Mandelson, who was the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. That’s actually one of the great stories. Mandelson was downtown staying at the Ritz, and I gave him times I could meet him, but if it was any other time he would have to come to my office. A week before the interview they sent the secret service to the Jefferies office to check it out and meet everyone. I had no idea this was a big wig. Then they sealed off the street on Monroe and Dearborn on all corners. He walks in with 11 or 12 handlers and I have Chris, our old engineer at WPNA, with a $12.99 tape recorder, and I wrecked the guys’ whole day.
One of the great ones was Marjorie Mowlam, who died 6 or 7 years ago. She had the job before Mandelson. She died of brain cancer. She was magnificent. Senator George Mitchell was great. We just talked for two hours. And Michael McDowell, the former Attorney General of Ireland.
IAN: Who’s your favorite interviews?
Ed: Mine, no question, was Ben Briscoe. When he came into the studio he was very well dressed and Dublin was just done celebrating its Millennium. He was the representative picked to come to Chicago to talk about tourism. I did not read his bio before the interview. Briscoe walks in with the Lord Mayors pendant on, dressed to the nines. And he walks up to the microphone and says, ‘There once was an Irishman and a Jew…’ and here I am, I had no idea there was a Jewish population in Dublin and he’s Jewish. I can’t do the interview, but he is so well spoken he carried it through for 20 minutes. That was the most fun interview I ever did.
IAN: What was the worst radio moment?
Jack: The worst? There were lots of them on Saturday mornings when I was in college. Any Saturday morning that followed a Friday evening was perilous for years! I think there were moments early on where we had no idea what we were doing. We learned as quickly as we could. But there were problems. For a long time, there was someone who had problems pronouncing the word Fucke’s. For Fucke’s Wheels. That might have been mispronounced by one of my siblings! The nice thing was the people who came out to the show, particularly those people who supported us during this transition. They were so kind to us.
Denise: Some who helped us were Mike Kenny, Brendan O’Leary, Liam O’Brien. They were so good and really took us under their wing. I know why they did it, they loved my father. They were awesome in the way they stepped forward and helped us. Our cousins, Maureen and Dennis Wade, came to the show every week early on to help us out and encourage us to keep the show going. Otherwise there wasn’t a prayer in hell, excuse my language, that we were going to last more than six months. When we first started, I couldn’t get my hand to stop shaking when trying to put the needle on the record. It took me about five minutes, and I had to hold down the other hand trying to steady it. I was scared to death, but you know what, it was probably the one thing my dad wanted. Keep it going. It was really important to him that we do that. And my mother was determined to make that happen too.
IAN: What about the next 65 years?
Denise: You got to be kidding me! Well, Jack’s oldest girl is four years away from a drivers license, so we’ll have to ask her.
Jack: I gotta tell ya for some of us... well for me it was pretty easy stepping into that chair. I wasn’t very good at it at first and I’m probably not very good today. But it was relatively easy for me to do. I’m not big on huge amounts of pre-show prep. Denise probably does more pre-show prep than I do show. She is a perfectionist and she spends the most on pre-show time, Eddy spends a fair amount of time, and I flip the switch when my butt hits the seat and we are off. Denise prefers order, I prefer chaos!
IAN: have you all been to Ireland?
Jack: Yes, Many trips.
IAN: Where have you been?
Denise: Well, Ed’s been the most now. He’s an Irish citizen.
Ed: I go to Ballybunion. I’m a member of the golf course there. And it’s just an area I love. So I spend my time mostly in Kerry. Alternating between Ballybunion, Waterville, and Tralee golf courses. Its easy.
Jack: I’ve been there for a few golf trips. My wife’s family is from Mayo, and our family is from outside County Clare. The Dysart area, you know Dysart Castle? Our great grandmother and her children were the last inhabitants of that castle. They were squatters. Her husband was killed. He was an Irish police officer. But in terms of what to see, I say see it all if you can. My favorite course is Lahinch. When I walk the course at Lahinch I feel a connection to the earth I cannot explain.
Here is a story about the Hagerty brothers at Lahinch. Ed use to organize this outing at least once a year and all 24 of us would go out on this trip for nine days. Lets just say it was exhausting, you were tired when the trip was over. I’m walking down the 3rd fairway and my caddie is maybe 5’3” tall. Not real talkative, but a very nice man. He looks at me and says, ‘ Hagerty is the last name, huh?’ I said yes. ‘These your brothers?’ Yes. ‘Do you know what they say of the Hagertys of Clare?’ I said what? He said ‘Don’t *blank* with the Hagertys.’
IAN: Some of you have overcame a bit of adversity too in terms of cancer.
Jack: Yes. I had cancer in 1991. I’m a survivor.
Denise: We have a few cancer survivors. Four out of six siblings. Both parents died of cancer. But hey, a lot of people have it a lot worse.
Jack: Make sure you appreciate what you have, don’t sweat the small stuff. All I have to do is look at my back wall and see the most important thing in the world to me, my family and my kids.
Denise: You know it was really tough when my dad died in 1980. I was in my 20s and these guys were still in school.
IAN: He never got to see any of you get married.
Denise: Right, and at the time you think, this is so horrible, this is so bad. But the reality is, he gave us this, he gave us each other. He really did. Even if we cross ways, we are still really close. Jack has three girls, Tom has two girls, Donna has two sons. They are great kids, all doing well.
Ed: You know the radio show has survived two generations. It keeps mom and dad alive.
Jack: I made a promise to myself and to my mother before she passed away that we would make it to fifty years. And the only reason we made it to 60 is by virtue that there are three of us. It’s too much for one person. Our busy careers and lives. We all have our own tastes and passions. A friend of mine when he listens can tell by the selection played who ran the show. It’s a lot more fun when it’s live. You get the energy of the people with you. When I’m by myself it’s not so fun, but with people it is much more fun.
May your airwaves continue another 60 years.
- Font Size
- Reading Mode
When we wrote this five years ago, 60 years was an amazing record. Now the show is 65 years young and going strong!