Legendary broadcaster, polymath, and public educator, Milt Rosenberg, dies at 92

Anyone who listened to Milt Rosenberg’s iconic program, Extension 720, on Chicago’s WGN radio, knew what a rare talent he was.

He had on the most interesting authors and public intellectuals, actually listened to what they said, engaged them seriously, and never, ever talked down to his audience. His station was not a rarefied, specialized one; it was the biggest in Chicago. He assumed his listeners wanted to be pushed intellectually, whether they had PhDs or GEDs. He assumed the authors wanted real dialog, with pushback but never yelling. He gave it to listeners, guests, and authors alike, drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge.

He taught at Yale and then the University of Chicago for several decades, published important research in social psychology, and kept learning and growing, not only in his speciality but across all the liberal arts. It was a love of learning he shared with his audience.

What always shined through to me with Milt was how much he valued the intellectual banquet that had been opened to him–him, the son of poor immigrants, raised in the 1920s and 1930s in the poor New York neighborhoods, but able to rise in a melting-pot America by dint of intellect and hard work. He was an undergraduate at Brooklyn College in the days when Jews like Milt were not wanted at prestigious Ivy League schools. He never forgot those roots and tried to keep the door wide open for generations to come, always reminding them what a wonderful country America is.

Milton Rosenberg was awarded every honor the broadcasting industry could give, including a star on WGN’s Walk of Fame outside the Tribune Tower. He enjoyed the recognition, but what mattered most to him was his nightly “seminar,” as good as any liberal-arts college’s and more diverse intellectually. Anyone who listened regularly was treated to a list of books to enjoy, topics to engage, and debates to enter.

May his memory be a blessing.

Here is Joe Morris’ tribute to Milt

Joe is a distinguished international attorney, friend of Milt’s, and a frequent guest on his program

With sorrow I advise of the death late on Tuesday, January 9, 2018, at Chicago, of Milton J. Rosenberg. Mr. Rosenberg died of pneumonia and its complications after entering the hospital on New Year’s Day. He would have been 93 on April 15th.

Milt was a remarkable client and a treasured friend. A full-time professor of psychology at The University of Chicago from the mid-1960s onward, he was also a fixture on Chicago radio, hosting “Extension 720”, a daily two-hour festival of intelligent talk on WGN-Radio, the flagship station of the former Tribune Company, for nearly 40 years, from 1973 until the end of 2012.

He was a polymath, a perceptive analyst, and a keen questioner. These traits, combined with a prodigious memory born of wide reading and experience, made him an outstanding interlocutor of political leaders, business executives, academics, journalists, artists, and others in the long parade of guests whom he welcomed to his studios and to the extraordinary conversations that he then held for the benefit of millions of Americans listening to his program each night in their homes and cars across the nation as streamed by clear-channel radio at 50,000 watts. For four decades his show was the mandatory first stop on the book tour of every author of a serious work of fiction or non-fiction.

His career was also described by the arc of a moral conversion, carried out in public via his nightly broadcasts, from the “soft mindless leftism of an East Coast academic” to an embrace of free market economics, traditional social values, and an appreciation of the United States as the world’s best hope for the defense of freedom and human decency in global affairs.

Milton J. Rosenberg was born in New York City on April 15, 1925. He earned his undergraduate degree at Brooklyn College, the A.M. at the University of Wisconsin, and the Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Michigan in 1954. Before joining the faculty of The University of Chicago, he taught at Yale University, the Ohio State University, Dartmouth College, and the Naval War College.

After the convulsions that broke up the Tribune Company and brought the long run of “Extension 720” to an end, Milt continued to broadcast on WCGO Radio in Chicago and via podcasts.

He married Marjorie Anne King on September 5, 1954. They had one son, Matthew Rosenberg, now of Seattle. His widow and his son survive him. He is survived, as well, by two grandchildren; by a devoted friend, Claire Fabvier; and by thousands of students and millions of listeners who will no longer hear his voice probing the far reaches of the cosmos, the fine details of history and literature, and the depths of the human mind.