Natalie Interviews Notables: Lou Canellis

Natalie Wexler I started watching Lou Canellis, the head sportscaster at FOX 32 Chicago, when I was working for Sports Illustrated Kids as a middle-school reporter. I was lucky enough to get the chance to shadow him for the day when I was in the 8th grade, and it was one of my favorite days ever! Mr. Canellis is an inspirational person who offers a wealth of wisdom and life experiences, as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of sports, which is why interviewed him a few weeks ago for The Forum. NW: How long have you worked in sportscasting? LC: You are going to age me here, but, I started in sportscasting when I was a freshman in college, 34 years ago in 1982. NW: What does a typical day look like for you? LC: A typical day is I wake up at 7:00, and by 7:30 I am on the internet looking at what happened overnight. I usually know what happened because I anchored the news the night before, but sometimes stories do break overnnight, so I look at the Fox 32 Chicago website, ESPN.com, and Chicagosports.com (a Tribune website). Then I hop on Twitter, because Twitter is an incredibly informative tool for people in my business, because Twitter spits out information much faster than the websites. I can get a scoop at 8:40, and then I want it out there at 8:41, because I want the world to know that I got the scoop. There used to be a time before Twitter, when if I got a scoop, like that Jay Cutler broke his thumb and was going to be out for 3 weeks, I could wait until the 9:00 news and then break the news at 9:45 when I was on the air with my sportscast. But now because Twitter is out there, and word travels so fast, it is impossible to hold a scoop for too long. So you actually put the news out on Twitter, and then you can still lay claim to having the scoop. I then turn on ESPN radio, and “The Score” on my computer, so my day at Fox really starts at 7:30 a.m. There’s always a misconception that your job doesn’t start until 2:00 and you go from 3:00-10:00. Not true! If I waited until 2:00, I would be so far behind on stories that I wouldn’t survive in my business. I start writing my Bears shows on Thursdays, and then I will go out and cover a Blackhawks practice, Bulls practice, or Bears practice. Some days I have to leave at 10:00 a.m. to get to the Advocate Center by UC, Johnny’s Ice House (where the Blackhawks practice), or Hallis Hall up in Lake Forest, and then I don’t get home until 11:00 p.m. Those are long 13 hour days, but as I tell people, if you love what you do, you don’t even notice it. NW:  Going back to what you said about Twitter and how so many stories break when you are not on the air, would you say that your sportscast isn’t just confined to when you are on the air with Fox News? LC: In business today, it is all about building trust, which builds your brand. People can get information on their phone 24 hours a day. So, why do people watch Lou Canellis at 5:48 during our 5:00 newscast or at 9:46 during our 9:00 newscast? You notice how I have it down to the minute? The reason they watch Lou because of the trust that I have built from everything that I do during the day, like on Twitter and Facebook. If you go to my Facebook page you will see the last thing I posted was yesterday, so I went into Fox on my day off. I’m “off” on Fridays and Saturdays, because I’m not on the air for the 9:00 show. But most of the time I am still writing and prepping for my Sunday shows. My Sundays during the football season are enormous because they start at 7:00 in the morning and go to 11:30 at night, and I do 8 Bears shows on Sundays. I’ll give you a great example: Yesterday I went into Fox and I took two interviews that I did during the Cubs Division Championships celebration a week ago on Friday and put them on social media. Remember that? The Cubs clinched and then had their party on Friday. It was a clinching celebration with all of the fans on the field with champagne and everything. I did two really, really good interviews. You just never know when you are going to walk into a really great interview, and I did two. I did one with Joe Maddon, and I did one with David Ross, the catcher. Why were they really good? They were really good because if you look at the interview, Maddon walks over to me and I do the interview one-on-one with Joe in the middle of craziness and their celebration. One-on-one interviews in the middle of celebrations like this are really, really, really tough to get. They show the relationships that you have built with the players and the manager over the course of the season. That is so important for me because when viewers see Joe Maddon walk over to Lou Canellis, and Joe gives Lou an exclusive interview, or a one-on-one interview in the middle of something like that, it shows that I have credibility with these guys. So it shows Natalie Wexler: You know what?  If I want the up to the minute information on the Cubs during their playoff run, then I am going to put on Lou Canellis at 5:48 and 9:46 at night because he knows the scoop and he is going to know the up-to-the minute Cubs information. So I put those two interviews on Facebook and Twitter to show people: Hey, Lou has got access to Joe Maddon, and a relationship with David Ross that no other reporter– not Mark Giangreco, not Dan Roan on Channel 9, not the guys on channel 5 or Ryan Baker on channel 2 have. I have interviews and relationships that the other guys don’t have. I’m actually building my brand through social media. Because of my social media, a lot of people watch me at 9:46 and 5:48. For some people, they watch Lou because they know I am from the south side, they know I have been working in the business in Chicago for 34 years. That stuff is huge. That stuff means so much, especially in Chicago, Natalie, because Chicago is a provincial sports town. Chicagoans love their people. They support their people. My viewers that are from the south side, or the west side or the east side, or the north side. I’m talking about urban communities. I’m talking about Little Village, Hispanic communities, I’m talking about people who grew up in Oak Lawn with Lou Canellis, went to school with my brothers Peter or George, or people from the North Shore in Highland Park that watched me do the Bulls games back in the 90’s with Michael Jordan, and who had season tickets and became huge Lou fans. All of that stuff is important, but social media has become a huge important factor in the game as well. My 3 coworkers on the 5:00 and 9:00 newscasts are Jeff Herndon and Dawn Hasbrouck, who do the news, and Bill Bellis who does the weather. The four of us are the youngest newscast team in the market. And the four of us are really, really, really aggressive on social media. The ratings business is broken down into adults 25-54, adults 18-54, females between 18-54, and males between 18-54. If you look at our ratings at Fox, we do really, really, really well in 18-54. The four of us have been on the news together for the last three years, and for the first time we tied WGN at 9:00. That is really the result of incredibly hard work since we have been together, and I thoroughly believe the reason why we tied them finally was because of our hard work on social media. It is really, really tough, but it means so much to the station. One tenth of a ratings point is the equivalent of like $700,000 of revenue to the TV station. It’s enormous! That’s what my employer looks at. So when they see our 9:00 team making progress like that, and that number going up, even if it is just a tenth of a point, when it means $700,000 more in the company’s pocket, everyone on that 9:00 newscast gets credit. NW: That’s awesome!  It sounds like your days are all action packed and unique.  How did you know that you wanted to be involved with sportscasting in the first place? LC: I used to play baseball in high school and I was a pretty good ball player. Then I had the opportunity to go away to college and play baseball, but my dad wouldn’t let me go. I was the oldest of three boys and my dad was a pretty strict Greek father who couldn’t let his oldest go away. He just couldn’t, it was tough for him. I worked in the family business, my dad owned a dry cleaners for 60 years on the South Side on 69th and Western. That’s really where I got my work ethic. When people ask me who gets the credit for my success I tell them my mom and dad because they’re the ones that instilled the work ethic in me to make it in my business. My mom was a teacher and my dad had gotten his masters degree at the University of Chicago, and he was a very, very smart man. His dry cleaning business had fallen into his lap when his father, who ran it, unexpectedly passed away. My dad and my mom were educators to an extent, and they said “What’s your backup plan?” in case it doesn’t work out in sports as a baseball player, “What’s your backup plan?” So I thought to myself, I love sports so I want to be in sportscasting or maybe even a sports writer. I wrote for my high school newspaper, the “Oak Lawn Spartan” when I went to Oak Lawn High School. I was the co-sports editor and I had fun doing it, but I came to realize that there wasn’t a lot of money in writing. So I said “Well heck, if I am going to do it, I might as well get rich at it, so to let me be on radio or TV”! So I went to Loyola University in Chicago because since my dad wouldn’t let me go away to school. That’s how I ended up at Loyola, and sportscasting there. NW: What is the coolest thing you have ever done in your life? LC: The coolest thing I ever did in my life was when I flew in an F16 on TV with the Thunderbirds for a show called “190 North” on Channel 7. They did all of the tricks and the pilot tried to make me throw up because when you pull 9.4 G’s, most people end up losing their cookies except for the pilot. He couldn’t get me to throw up! He said I had the perfect build for a fighter pilot because I am stocky up top. They teach you how to breathe and you wear a special suit you fly in those F16’s. It was the coolest moment in my whole life! NW: What is your favorite thing that you done in your career? LC: The best thing I have done in my career was building a relationship with the Bulls where I had the opportunity to interview Michael Jordan after every game for 3 years. I traveled with the Bulls on their team plane, and on the bus, and stayed next to the guys in the team hotel. That was one of the coolest things as well. Back when Michael played, everyone watched them. People ask “What is the best thing that happened in my career?” and that truly was the best thing, and that was before social media and everything. Everyone watched Michael and the Bulls, so the exposure for me was great and unparalleled. NW: For all of the seniors that are going to be reading this piece: What are some pieces of advice that you can give them about going from high school to college, and then on to a career in journalism or media? LC: Have a plan. I know a lot of kids are told go to school and have fun and decide in school what you want to do.  I don’t agree with it because it has become too competitive out there. Chase your dream. If you have a dream don’t let anyone tell you you can’t chase it or catch it. I had a dream to be a sportscaster on TV in my hometown, and I made it. It was only because I had a plan. Once you decide what your dream is, you have to work incredibly hard to achieve that dream. It is not going to “just happen.” It won’t. Too many kids are finishing college now. It’s not like 60% of my high school class are finishing college.  At Latin, 100% of those kids are finishing college, and they are probably going to be in the top 5% of their class academically. They are going to go to the finest schools in America. If you are coming out of Latin, you are headed to the “Major Leagues” against the best of the best in this country. You’d better be ready to battle every single day. So, decide what your dream is, decide that you will work so hard to get it that at no point you will decide it is too much- because once you think it is too much, you are out of the game, and had better pick something else. I’m 52, and I’m hanging on now. I feel it everyday, Natalie. I feel young people nipping at my tail. It’s a young man’s game, my business in TV. So I can feel 30 year olds nipping at my tails for my job on Fox. You marveled at the fact that my job starts at 7:00. I still outwork every single person in my business. You can ask anyone that works with me. You may not watch me because you don’t like Fox, because Lou has a big nose, because I don’t know, because you just don’t like Lou Canellis- but no one can ever say they don’t watch Lou Canellis because he doesn’t know his stuff. I can guarantee you that I know more than every single guy I compete with on the 9:00 news. Going back to the seniors in high school: You have to be so passionate about it that you will outwork everyone else. Also, while you are working hard to get to your dream, be cool. You are going to need help, and someone to grab you by the hand, and open a door for you. You are going to need someone to help you to create a relationship for you that will help you in the career or dream that you chose to achieve. Be nice to people! It’s really simple. Nobody wants to help someone who isn’t nice. I can’t tell you how many people have helped me because my dad raised his three boys to be nice to people. When you are nice to people, people help you; and I guarantee you that to succeed, every single human being needs help, and someone to hold their hand sometimes. On the way up the ladder, don’t forget the people with you because you’re going to fall down. I have been fired by the same guys three times in my business, and I still invited them to my wedding. After firing me, they have still helped me get back on my feet. A lot of times you get fired, not only in TV or radio, but in every other profession as well. You get fired or laid-off for nothing that you did wrong. Maybe a company had to go into cost cutting mode.  Maybe your boss got transferred somewhere else and a new boss came in and they wanted to surround themselves with their people that they felt comfortable with. On the way down, you are going to meet those people you met on the way up. If you stepped on them, they are not going to help you as you are falling down. If you were nice to them on the way up, they are going to help pull you back up so you are back on your feet. Those are my key pieces of advice. NW:  That’s great advice!  What do you say to people who try numerous times and still fail, yet are passionate about their dream and not willing to give it up? LC: Good question! I’ll tell you how it worked for me in my business: I decide I want to be on TV. I met a general manager at a local TV station here and she said to me, her quote to me, in person, was: “You will never be a main sports anchor in this town.” I thanked her for that, and I used it as the motivation to be a main sports anchor in this town. So then I realized “Okay, the direct path to being a main sports anchor has been altered at this station.” How can I still be a main sports anchor, and maybe find a different path to the dream I am looking to achieve? In TV, it meant maybe I have to go do radio or be a producer at a TV station. Maybe I have to be an editor. It meant taking on another job to get my foot in the door, so I am in the TV game,  still at a TV station, and I can show people how hard I work, so they can ask me what else do I want to do? Well, I want to be on air. Then they helped support me, and gave me that opportunity to be on air. If someone is out there chasing that dream, and they keep getting knocked down once, twice, three times in that business. Let’s say someone wants to be a singer and they are finding that no one is giving them an opportunity to be a singer, no one is giving them a recording contract, maybe the solution is to become a producer, or to work on the sound, or behind the scenes. Getting involved with a recording artist behind the scenes, and building a relationship with that recording artist, so they give you the opportunity to sing a song for them, or show them what you can do, that person has now built a trust with you and that sometimes is a way to get in the door as well. There are always so many different ways. People want to get into sports all of the time and they say “I want to do what you do and be on TV every night!” and I’m like it is going to take you 20 years of starting in the business, starting in small markets, making your way back to Chicago. Are you prepared for that fight? If they say “Oh my gosh no!”, then okay, find another dream. Find something else that you are prepared for. If you are prepared for the fight, and someone doesn’t want to put you on the air right away, go back to that person and say okay I get it, can I work behind the scenes for you? Can I work as a producer or an associate producer or a booker? Maybe I can help book the morning show at Fox? So find other avenues and other jobs in the business that you dream of being in. Find smaller jobs that will get you in that game. At some point, once you are in the game, you can still chase your dream. NW: Do you think that it is a common misconception for people that you can just go from 0-100 mph right away, especially for people my age that are used to things happening so fast? LC: It will never happen. I promise you. I don’t care who you know, it will never happen. Unless your relative owns the station, and even then, let’s use Fox 32 as an example- even if your relative owned the TV station, if they put you on the 9:00 news without working your way through the ranks, they would lose the respect of their whole TV station. They would lose the respect of a 150 people that make Fox 32 Chicago the station it is. People that have worked hard for 20, 30, and even 40 years in the business. If they put someone right in that chair because of who they were, they would lose respect. I’ll tell you what, in TV, and I know I speak on the behalf of TV because I am in TV, it takes a village to win. It took a whole 9:00 newscast team to tie WGN. Not just Lou. Not just Dawn. Not just Jeff. Not just Bill. The people behind the scenes, the writers, the producers, everyone. If you think coming out of college, even if you come out of Harvard, that you are going to immediately sit on top, you are wrong. You have to work your way to the top. You have to earn the respect of your peers. NW: What do you wish you knew at the beginning of high school that you found out later? LC: I always tell people that if I could rewind the clock, I would change something. It’s not a knock against Oak Lawn High School, but my mom wanted me to go to Brother Rice on the South Side, which was a private all boys high school; and I didn’t want to because I wanted to go to Oak Lawn and hang around with my friends, and I wanted to be in a high school with girls. The result was that I had to work twice as hard when I got to Loyola. Oak Lawn is a good school, but I don’t feel like I was as prepared for Loyola as I would have been if I had gone to Brother Rice. So, I always tell people that it’s my- it’s not even a regret because I have been so blessed in my life and career, but it’s the one thing that I would do differently. I had to work so hard at Loyola to achieve my 2.9 GPA, which fell short of my goal to walk out of Loyola with a 3.0. Although, because I had to work so hard at Loyola, and at my dad’s business, I was able to develop my strong work ethic, which is the reason why I have been able to succeed in such a difficult business. I won’t take “no”. Someone told me “Your nose is too big to be on TV” and said I should get a nose job. I’m like no, I see other people on TV with big noses. It’s not about the size of your nose. In Hollywood maybe it would be, but not in Chicago because Chicago is the greatest town in America. People come to Chicago to work in TV and they don’t leave, because Chicagoans are so incredibly loyal to their people and the people they watch. Want to hear more from Lou Canellis? And who wouldn’t? Here’s how: Catch Lou Canellis on Fox 32 Chicago delivering the sportscast and follow him on Twitter and Facebook!]]>