Anyone who has ever lived in Chicago -- or within reach of WGN's 50,000 watt radio signal -- is probably familiar with Milt Rosenberg's erudite interview show. For over 40 years, Milt brought an astonishing intellectual sophistication to AM radio on his late night show, Extension 720, which featured interviews with leading literary, academic, political, finance, science, arts, and culinary figures. His show was often described as the most important first stop on any book tour.
Milt earned his PhD in Psychology at the University of Michigan, and later taught at Yale, Ohio State, and Dartmouth, before settling at the University of Chicago. He began his radio show in 1973 -- initially with a moderated discussion between Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman -- and continued at WGN until 2012, when the station declined to renew his contract. After leaving WGN, he held forth for a time on a suburban radio station and on his own podcast.
In the words of one of his long time friends, “He could discuss Shakespeare’s comedies one night, and the latest developments on what are black holes and physics the next night, and a roundtable on politics the next night."
I was privileged to be interviewed by Milt four times -- he was generous that way to Chicago authors -- and each time he impressed me by the stunning breadth of his knowledge. He'd read my book, of course, but he was also familiar with all of the related literature, while figuring out how to bring lots of seemingly unrelated literature into the discussion.
Milt's politics took a sharp turn to the right in his later years, which generated disfavor in some quarters. But I prefer to remember him as the guy with whom I could chitchat in Yiddish (before the show), and then discuss Civil War history, jurisprudence, and international politics on the air. As it happened, I was one of his last guests on WGN, in the week before his show was canceled. There is plenty of intellectual programming these days on NPR, but Milt Rosenberg did it on commercial radio for 40 years.