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Peasley: Newsman gives inside look at his radio career

McHenry County residents know Stew Cohen as news director at STAR 105.5 FM, (1039 The Fox). Now you can learn more about Cohen as author of “The WYEN Experience.”

For three years, Cohen researched former announcers who sat where he did on his first day on-air Aug. 16, 1976. He recounts how a mannequin leg hung from the ceiling of the studio, strategically placed near the on-air board visible to the news anchor.

“I remember this visual because I was so nervous on my first newscast at WYEN,” said Cohen, who was a newscaster at WYEN for three years. “Having a leg hanging nearby made concentrating all that much harder.”

The book includes stories of celebrities and newsmakers, including Cohen’s interview with Shirley Temple Black in a Chicago hotel penthouse. Cohen’s words of anguish describe sitting in front of a microphone for the first time and “getting grilled” for failing attempts at professionalism. He writes about WBBM’s Bob Roberts, WGN Radio’s Garry Meier and WLS FM’s Greg Brown, who once broadcast at WYEN in Des Plaines.

Cohen’s attributes his drive to tell stories to his fourth-grade teacher, Cathy Wallace, who left an impression by reading to his class.

“A simple thing of reading to our group gathered around her rocking chair meant so much. I thought about her contribution and evaluated how I could give back. People of all ages love a good story whether they read it on their own or are told the story.”

Cohen spent weekends writing his book from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. and experienced many exhausting evenings falling asleep at his keyboard, waking up and typing, falling asleep, and repeating the entire process.

“This was self-torture, but I couldn’t give up,” he said. “I typed in my spare time after putting in an 8- to 10-hour day at STAR 105.5.”

He grew up in Morton Grove, and graduated from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale with a degree in radio-television. He came to Woodstock in 1979 and lives in Crystal Lake with his wife, Rita, and their two children. Cohen is a multiaward-winning broadcast journalist with radio stations WZSR-FM and WWYW-FM in the Chicago area.

His community service includes emcee for Miss McHenry County Pageant and Alzheimer’s Walk; Woodstock Children’s Summer Theatre volunteer; McHenry County Spelling Bee as a pronouncer; Love to Read Week reader; Crystal Lake Central High School speech coach; organizer of Scout Day at STAR 105.5 FM; and yearly job shadowing sessions. For 21 years, Cohen co-hosted the Adult and Child Therapy Center Cablethon and served on boards for Crime Stoppers and Ambutal.

For more information, visit www.thewyenexperience.com.

• Don Peasley has been editor, columnist and historian in McHenry County since 1947. He began his association with Shaw Publications in 1950. 815-338-1533.

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