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What the Blizzard of 1979 Was Like

It was so bad, Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson hosted an hour-long live call-in show that allowed residents to bombard top bureaucrats with questions, capturing history (and the collapse of a mayoral administration) as it happened.

Abandoned cars on Addison Street on January 15, 1979.   Photo: Michael Budrys/Chicago Tribune

Whenever a big blizzard bears down on a city, journalists invoke the specter of Michael Bilandic, the Chicago mayor whose reign and reputation were allegedly ended by his disastrous response to the mess. The truth is a bit more complicated: the CTA was crippled by a significant design flaw on train engines, and Bilandic’s fall had as much to do with his political bungling as his poor emergency management.

But the truth remains that the city was thrown into chaos by the storm. It was bad enough that Bill Kurtis and Walter Jacobson, the legendary news team, held an hour-long live call-in show–plus on-scene reports from the clogged streets–on WBBM, archived by the Museum of Classic Chicago Television. It features some very uncomfortable-looking public servants, including the heads of CTA and Streets and San, trying to answer Chicagoans’ questions about what the hell was going on.

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