Ron Magers: King of ad lib shines without scripts

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Ron Magers is leaving the anchor chair at the top of his game, a guy who is known as the gold standard in this industry.

"He tells a story like a human being might tell it to another - in a conversational tone. Without undue personalization or emotion, but plainly and calmly with an attitude of awareness." Those words were written about Magers by an Oakland Tribune columnist 46 years ago. Some things don't change.

It's one thing to read the news. It's quite another to remain unruffled when real news breaks or equipment breaks down.

"I think I'm at my best when I have no scripts," Magers said.

"He's the greatest ad-libber I've ever been around - to this day - and I think that's born of starting the way we did," former colleague Barry Tompkins said.

When Barry Tompkins and Magers worked together in San Francisco four decades ago, there were no Teleprompters or ear pieces, and almost every night, something would go wrong, so you had to know how to dance. And Magers has long done it with honest humor - like when a robotic camera started to droop.

"And the camera started moving down, and Ron followed it down and read the copy all the way to the bottom of the set. I mean it was classic, but it was natural for him to do that," Mark Giangreco said.

The more important command is: know what you're talking about. That has always been a Magers forte.

"Ron will dig back in that reservoir of knowledge and will say this reminds me of this, and all of a sudden the light bulb goes off in your head and you say, 'Oh Wow, I forgot about that,'" ABC7 Executive Producer Tony Shute said.

"What I've always said is, you give me and any other reporter a week to do a story and I'm highly average. You give me and any other reporter a half hour to figure out something complex and have it make sense an hour from now, and I do that pretty well," Magers said.

At his core, Ron Majors has always remained a reporter. Fifty years ago he was the only reporter on the inside of an Oregon prison riot. He was happy to come out alive. He was one of the first reporters to recognize the huge importance of DNA science in criminal cases, and he loved the chase - breaking stories that others missed. Those reporter instincts have served him well in the anchor chair.

"I think a good anchor is holding up the work of all the people who are behind the scenes in a favorable light. That's really all we're supposed to do. The light may be on us, but it should shine on the people who've done the work," Magers said.
But the anchor is also a leader, and sometimes the leader is challenged to take a stand - one that may have significant consequence. Mr. Magers knows about that - for he has taken principled stands in the past that have not endeared him to his bosses.

Stay tuned for more on that part of Ron's career Tuesday night on ABC7 Eyewitness News at 10 p.m.
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