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In Loving Memory of

Ronald A. Weiner

March 18th, 2024


Ronald Alan Weiner was born in Chicago in 1930 of Jewish immigrants Hyman Weiner and Min Goldberg Weiner. He and his younger sister Phyllis grew up on the city's West Side. Ron and his friends played stickball in the streets and biked everywhere. A favorite destination was Emil Denemark's Cadillac dealership on Ogden Avenue. Sitting on their parked bikes, the boys would peer through the showroom window at broadcasters doing a radio show from a glass booth next to the new Cadillacs. Ron wondered how one got to be a radio announcer.

While his father steered him toward a job in the family's grocery, garden, and pool supply business, the U.S. Navy and broadcasting drew him more strongly. The first in his family to attend college, Ron completed the two-year undergraduate program at the University of Illinois at Navy Pier, then enrolled at nearby Columbia College. He earned a bachelor's degree in speech at Columbia, and by his graduation year, 1952, he had been accepted into the Navy's Officer Candidate School (OCS).

After boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois and OCS training in Newport, Rhode Island, Ensign Weiner was sent to Naval Station Argentia, on the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. He spent three years at Argentia as a communications officer. He would later serve in the Naval Reserve based at Great Lakes, retiring in the early 1990s with the rank of Captain.

In 1955, the young naval officer attended the wedding of a family friend in Chicago. There he met the almost-20-year-old Phyllis Zolno. They married three months later, and would raise four children together in Wheeling and later Highland Park, Illinois.

Determined to break into the new medium of television, in 1956 Ron landed a job as a prop man at the Chicago Tribune-owned WGN Television, then housed in the Tribune Tower downtown. One day, Ron substituted for a floor director who had called in sick. It was his big break. He joined the technical staff and worked his way up to WGN staff director by 1960. Ron eventually directed every kind of program in WGN's schedule, from the sign-on routine (this was before television was a 24-hour medium) to news, children's programs, interview shows, and broadcasts of Cubs games and other sports events.

When Phil Donahue brought his hourlong talk show to WGN from Dayton, Ohio in 1974, Ron was assigned to direct the live, four-camera "Donahue" five days a week. His work over the next 11 years—the last three with "Donahue" having moved to CBS's Chicago affiliate—won him three national Daytime Emmys for Outstanding Individual Direction for a Talk or Service Series, in 1979, 1982, and 1984; he was nominated seven times. His use of a fifth camera (handheld instead of stationary), quick cuts, and frequent shots of faces in the audience were groundbreaking for their time, shaping what is now the standard for an unrehearsed, multi-camera show on television, whether it be a talk show, pop music performance, fashion show, awards program, or telethon.

Ron's post-"Donahue" career included work on other talk shows and pilot productions for Tribune Broadcasting. Among the specials he directed were "How to Be a No-Limit Person" with Wayne Dyer; "The World of Anne Frank," an hourlong docudrama for cable; an extravaganza marking Bozo the Clown's 25th anniversary at WGN; and the television special "An Evening with B.B. King." Redeploying the commanding baritone he'd used in the TV control room, Ron also began doing commercial voice-overs for television and radio. He was circling back to his dream of being an announcer and even expanded on it: he acted in amateur theatricals on the radio and on CenterStage in Lake Forest, Illinois, appearing in "The Front Page," "Seussical: The Musical," "It's a Wonderful Life," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," and "Guys and Dolls," among others.

Ron taught classes in television direction at his alma mater, Columbia College, for several decades and was active in the arts community, serving on the boards of the Shakespeare Project of Chicago, the North Shore Chamber Orchestra Society, and the Chicago coordinating committee of the Directors Guild of America. In 2003, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences named him a Chicago/Midwest Silver Circle Award honoree.

Ron’s beloved wife of 53 years, Phyllis Zolno Weiner, died in 2008. He is survived by his four children, Deborah, Lauren (Diana Schaub), Vicki (Joseph Koelbel), and Howard; his two grandchildren, Griffin and Jameer; his late sister Phyllis’s husband, Eugene Weinstein; many nieces and nephews and their families; a close circle of cousins; and numerous friends and colleagues.

Memorial Events

Shalom Chapel Service

Date & Time Monday 03/25/2024 at 10:00 AM

Address Shalom Memorial Funeral Home
1700 West Rand Road
Arlington Heights, IL 60004


Address Shalom Memorial Park


Max & Benny's
461 Waukegan Road
Northbrook, Illinois 60062
Monday 12 - 4 PM

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