By Dan Haley
Odds and ends with some a bit odder than others:
Not in my backyard: Picture the corner of Oak Park and Madison. No, we're not looking at the Comcast building (more on that later). Look north at the Oak Park Arms and the radio antenna atop the building. I'm no judge of heights (more on that later) but that tower appears to be, what, 100 feet tall?
Put it on the list of things that wouldn't be built today in Oak Park. Imagine the village board meeting if the owners of the handsome Medical Arts Building on Lake Street or the less handsome 1515 N. Harlem office building (think of the round room extending out from the top floor) came forward and said they wanted to affix a decidedly vertical radio tower to the top of their buildings.
Outrage over aesthetics, dangerous radio waves, tipping in a tornado. Just plain wouldn't happen today. And yet we have driven past it every day since the early 1950s, only vaguely aware it is there and the source of zero upset.
How tall is that antenna?!: Front page of Wednesday Journal, maybe 25 years ago. Yours truly is reporting the story of Cablevision's efforts to gain approval for an antenna atop Mills Park Tower, the senior citizen building and another one for the list of things that would never get built today. The antenna was going to be 300 feet tall! I reported. A week later we ran a slight correction that if you added up the height of the 19-story building and the antenna together, they'd be 300 feet.
Radio days: There is an eccentric history to the radio stations housed over the decades in cramped quarters on the upper floors of the Arms. Egmont Sonderling, an immigrant from Germany, founded WOPA AM-1490 (Oak Park Arms) there in 1950.
These days it is WPNA (Polish National Alliance) and still broadcasting brokered ethnic programs. The more interesting history is on the FM side where WOPA-FM gave way in the early 1970s to WGLD, which struggled as a 1950s oldies station. Then the station stumbled into success and controversy when Morgan Moore, its midday host, shifted from records to sex, hosting "The Femme Forum," a call-in show. The FCC was not amused when it got complaints about a particular show where listeners talked about oral sex. It fined old Egmont $2,000 in a case that had long-lasting repercussions in limiting topics on radio. Not long after, WGLD gave way to WBMX – The Black Music Experience. I remember trudging to the top floor occasionally to be interviewed by the old WOPA host Len Petrulis and wending past all the accoutrements of the Black Music Experience. A total and hilarious disconnect. BMX eventually became WVAZ (V-103), though the studios of that popular station are, sadly, no longer atop the Arms.
Now about Comcast: A final vote on the proposal to convert the Comcast building into apartments for low-income people is now a week away. Monday night, though, the village board heard limited testimony from fans and critics of the project and then raised its own questions about the project that they want answers to before they vote next week.
Seems a safe bet to me that this project goes through, perhaps with some minor tweaks. But even the sharpest critics of the project were laudatory to the board this morning in their comments on OakPark.com, giving its members credit for their thorough understanding of the project and the focused nature of their questions. In this case, the critics are right.