A look at ABC7 Ron Magers' early, wacky years in TV

Monday, May 23, 2016
Ron Magers during the early years
?Ron Magers Electric Impressions" only lasted a couple seasons, but left a lasting impression.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- ABC7 Eyewitness News anchor Ron Magers will sign off Wednesday for the final time.

The Chicago broadcasting legend will retire after 50 years in television. Over the years, he has delivered some of the most important and serious stories in Chicago's history. Most think of a highly credible, unflappable anchorman

But he's also no stranger to the lighter side of television. We took a look back one of Mager's most memorable projects, which most people have likely never seen.

Let's activate the "Way Back" machine.

It's 1971. San Francisco. The bosses at KPIX really dig their young, popular news anchor and choose Magers to host a half-hour locally produced show - although they're not sure what it's supposed to be.

"Imagine that," Magers recalls. "A television executive saying, 'Fill a half hour on Saturday night and do anything you want to do.'"

The "Ron Magers Electric Impressions" show is born. The idea: Push the envelope at a time when TV is trying to figure out what it wants to be.

"It really became kind of a San Francisco freak show," Magers recalled.

Viewers come up with ideas, such as a swordfight with the sports guy.

"Many of your requests were dangerous, silly, or obscene," Magers says during one of the decades-old episodes.

The swordfight occurred on deck and in the rigging. And in the end: "I'm not going to tell you who won that swordfight, but you don't see a scratch on me," Magers said during that throwback episode.

His guests included Beau Diddley, George Carlin, Bill Haley and the Comets. One show featured David Frost, Chuck Berry and Toby the Singing Dog.

"Big-time people came through there and Ron, again, he has that really nice off-handed approach to an interview," said Barry Tompkins. "He gets people to say things they don't say to other people. That's how they made that show."

Tompkins, by the way, was the sports guy on the wrong end of the swordfight.

"Electric Impressions" lasted only a couple seasons, but it made a lasting impression.

In 1988, actor Tom Hanks came to Chicago to promote his movie "Big." And he knew Magers from his youth.

"He walked right up to the news desk and said, 'Ron Magers Electric Impressions,'" recalled Magers. "I said, 'Wow, that's an answer to a trivia question.' He said, 'I watched the show when I was 12 years old, living in the Bay Area and I loved it.'"

You might just say - for its time - the show was magic.

As Magers disappears and says goodnight, we wanted to show more colorful graphics from Electric Impressions, but our Editor Casey Klaus was concerned that his retinas were getting damaged.

In any case, Magers eventually gave up magic and sheathed his sword because he realized the pen was mightier.

He did master the pen, and the typewriter, as well as later iterations of technology.

However, he can tell stories quite nicely without any words in front of him.

"Windy City Live" dedicates its Monday show to Magers. The episode airs 11 a.m. on ABC7.

ABC7 will air other farewell tributes to Magers this week. During Monday's 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. broadcasts, we will look at his career as a storyteller.