Earlier in this list we mentioned the passing of Paul Harvey and Ed Schwartz. In June, the WGN Radio family lost another member. His name was Hank Surma and, while he was not as well known to listeners as Paul or Ed, to us his sudden passing was a major loss. Below is the obituary that appeared in the Chicago Tribune.
Henry "Hank" Surma, 1954-2009: Kept WGN radio on track with commercials, programming
June 12, 2009
Henry W. "Hank" Surma was the head traffic cop at WGN-AM, overseeing the daily logs that assure commercials and other programming run when they are supposed to run.
A 36-year veteran of WGN, Mr. Surma, 55, collapsed at work in the Tribune Tower on Monday, June 8, after suffering aortic dissection, said his wife, Debbie. The Tinley Park resident was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Mr. Surma started in the mail room at WGN's combined television and radio broadcasting operation. His mother, Jean, had been secretary to WGN general manager Ward Quaal, but he applied for the job without her knowledge, his wife said.
His initial duties included driving footage of Phil Donahue's TV show to O'Hare International Airport for delivery to New York. Working his way up to the traffic department, his official title for many years was manager of traffic systems. In that capacity, he oversaw daily advertising schedules, a busy job at a station like WGN.
Salespeople would make last-minute requests to get time for their clients, upsetting his carefully laid-out logs and sending the sometimes curmudgeonly manager into a fit that subsided as quickly as it flared.
"He'd say, 'You can't do it, you can't do it, you're too late.' And then he'd do it," said Julia Nilles, assistant traffic systems manager.
He took his laptop everywhere so he could monitor programming logs, and would call in on days off and from vacations. His license plate was "WGN AM 1," and he and his family were ready volunteers at station events.
"He truly loved what he did," said Tom Langmyer, vice president and general manager of WGN-AM. "It's a very key and unsung position of the station. He's one of the final points before commercials make it to the air."
Mr. Surma grew up in Burbank and graduated from St. Rita High School, where he played baseball, his wife said. He spent a couple of years at DePaul University before beginning at WGN.
For more than 25 years, he led vacations to Disney World. His wife suggested they go to Hawaii on a couple of special occasions, but he liked Disney World, once agreeing to a Disney cruise.
Mr. Surma is also survived by two sons, Brian and Steven; a daughter, Bridget; his mother, Jean; and a brother, Kenneth.
Visitation is set for 3 to 9 p.m. Friday in Lawn Funeral Home, 7732 W. 159th St., Orland Park. Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Elizabeth Seton Church, 9300 W. 167th St., Orland Hills.
More at legacy.com.
Year in review 2009