In Memoriam: Milt Rosenberg

Steve Balch

Talk radio isn’t known for its erudition, but Milt Rosenberg was able to keep things highbrow while winning a nationwide audience’s love.

From behind his mic at Chicago’s clear channel WGN, Milt made “big talk” with the likes of Henry Kissinger, Norman Mailer, James D. Watson, and James McPherson for over thirty-nine years. Running from 9:00 to 11:00 PM each weekday night, these dialogues, together with listener call-in, were heard throughout mid-America and sometimes beyond, illuminating the late evenings of the hundreds of thousands of Milt’s fans. In the world of AM radio, he was truly a nonpareil.

Not surprisingly, Milt’s background was distinctly different from that of the other heavyweights of his industry. A psychologist of distinguished reputation, he held a doctorate from the University of Michigan with numerous books and articles on cognitive psychology and other scholarly subjects to his credit. Before beginning his lengthy tenure in the University of Chicago’s Department of Psychology, where he directed the doctoral program in Social and Organizational Psychology, Milt had served on the faculties of Yale, Ohio State, Dartmouth and the U.S. Naval War College. His journey across the heights of academe, commencing in the 1940s and continuing until the end of his life, gave him a vision of its glorious ideals and a horror at the panorama of their corruption.

Milt made his program, “Extension 720” (conveying the sense of a university on-the-air), a regular forum for in-depth discussions of political correctness and the increasingly beleaguered state of campus free speech. I had several opportunities to appear on his show, as did Peter Wood, Alan Charles Kors, Stanley Kurtz, Tom Lindsay, Bruce Gans, and other stalwarts of higher education reform. Discussion of academic PC for the most part gets soundbite treatment in the broadcast media. Milt addressed it “long-form,” allowing discussions to unfold at length. He greatly valued the NAS’s perspective, repeatedly turning to us for opinion, commentary, and interview leads. During the last decade of his life, he served on the National Association of Scholars’ advisory board.

Milt Rosenberg was a singular radio personality, able to create a mass audience for conversations about important and complicated questions. (To find anyone like him today, one would have to look to the much narrower medium of the podcast.) His career was about enlightenment, not pander, and Milt wanted America’s universities and colleges to be as he. If higher education once again could meet his exacting standard, its problems would be solved.

Milt died on January 9th at the age of 92. The NAS laments his passing.        

Image: BW radio mic by PhillyCAM / CC BY 2.0

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