Chicago broadcasting icon Hugh Downs passes at 99

(Downs and Walters on 20/20)

He was a pioneer of broadcasting whose career would span a century. On July first, we lost 99-year-old TV News legend Hugh Downs. Downs passed away peacefully at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. Downs was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1985 for having logged the most hours on network television, with more than 15,000 hours.” His family announced his passing in a statement:

“Mr. Downs was a man of many parts, with numerous interests unrelated to broadcasting — in his own self-effacing words, he was “a champion dilettante” who dabbled in music, art and science. But he was best known as a perennial television fixture, beloved for what The New York Times’s John J. O’Connor called his ‘reassuring, warmly upbeat presence’ and renowned for his longevity.”

The son of Milton and Edith (Hick), Downs was born in Akron, Ohio, on Feb. 14, 1921. Valentine’s Day. His father was a machinist and battery salesman.

After he graduated from Shawnee High School in Lima and accepted a scholarship to attend Bluffton College in Bluffton, Ohio, Downs was forced to drop out to help support his family.

That didn’t deter him, as Downs was hired took an announcing job at WLOK, a radio station located not far from the farm, for $12.50 a week. Within a year he was promoted to program director at twice the salary.

Downs helped define early TV in Chicago beginning in 1945. In 1950, Downs became the announcer for iconic Kukla, Fran and Ollie and Hawkins Falls. His career spanned from newscaster to announcer to game show host, with a familiar voice that helped define early TV.

NBC News Chicago wrote of their old friend and mentor:

“In the 1950s and 1960s, Downs had a hand in some of the programs that have transformed NBC and worked to shape the network’s history. In 1957 he helped establish The Tonight Show franchise by joining the show as Jack Paar’s announcer and sidekick, the same franchise now hosted by Jimmy Fallon more than 60 years later.

He also hosted NBC game show called “Concentration” from 1958 to 1969, a memory game where contestants tried to find matching pairs of cards on a game board. The show was sponsored by Extra Mild Lux Liquid, for “the woman who does dishes without the help.”

The Emmy Award-winning broadcaster served as a Today show anchor for nine years from 1962 to 1971, one of the country’s most turbulent periods.

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It was on Today that Downs would be paired with his eventual 20/20 co-host, Barbara Walters. Not only were they a dynamic pair on-screen, it’s said two shared an affection for each other off camera as well. 

“From day one, we clicked,” Walters told Newsweek. “It was a sort of unspoken lovely relationship in the office. The audience felt our affection for each other. We were different kinds of people, different kinds of minds.”

For all of Downs’ achievements, many ReelChicago readers know him best from his long stint on ABC news’ 20/20.

Hugh Downs will be fondly remembered by those who remember him and will be profoundly influential to journalists for decades to come.

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Downs signature sign-off was, “We’re in touch, so you be in touched.” It’s fair to say Hugh Downs touched us all with his genial delivery.