Photo by Matthew Gilson
Some people like being in the hot seat–and directing a newscast in a major market like Chicago is about as hot as it gets. A staff director at WLS-TV, Jef Kos has spent his entire 29-year career at the ABC owned-and-operated affiliate.
“I love live television because of the immediacy of it,” he says. “You have to be able to think on your feet, react quickly and maintain control. The shows tend to be very scripted but, more times than not, there are last-minute changes or technical problems.”
Working in television was the last thing on Kos’ mind when he began his freshman year at Southern Illinois University in the mid-1970s. He wanted to be a newspaper photographer but was disappointed with the school’s program. Fortunately, he took a friend’s advice and looked into TV news, which combined his interests in current events, photography and electronics. After transferring to Columbia College, and while still an undergraduate, he was offered an entry-level position in the WLS-TV mailroom.
That led to a job as production assistant, then assistant producer, then stage manager and, finally, show director. He bounced back and forth between news and public affairs until 1983, when he started working exclusively for news. Currently, Kos directs the station’s 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. weekday newscasts.
He marvels at the technological innovations he has witnessed during his three decades at the station. “When I started, we were using film,” he says with a laugh. “Now, we don’t even use video tape. Everything is digital.”
Kos also participated in a piece of television history. Meteorologist John Coleman was the weatherman at WLS when Kos was stage manager. In the late 1970s, Coleman came up with the idea of a network devoted exclusively to the weather. “John developed the concept and I stage-managed the pilot program for what became The Weather Channel,” says Kos, relishing the memory. “We stayed after the newscast one weekend and put together the pilot, which John was able to sell to investors.”
Born and raised in Chicago, Kos has no regrets about spending his entire professional career in the Windy City. “I love Chicago as a city and it’s a great news market.” He feels the competition is particularly fierce in places like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago where the network affiliates are all owned-and-operated. He likes the fact that in Chicago the late news starts at 10 p.m. rather than 11. “You have a lot more viewers awake and watching at 10, which makes for a far more competitive news market.”