Q & A with Cortney Hall
Host of NBC TV’s Chicago Today and a fan favorite with the Chicago Bulls
Round-the-clock news broadcasts on the New York September 11 terrorist attacks first inspired Cortney Hall — then an undergraduate in business at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. — to consider a career in broadcast journalism. After stints in Champaign, Orlando and locally on WGN, Hall was recently hired by NBC Chicago to co-host its new lifestyle show, Chicago Today. When not on screen, the former Oak Brook resident works as an in-arena host for the Chicago Bulls, entertaining an audience of 20,000-plus fans at the United Center.
Tell our readers about your connection to the west suburbs.
I was born in Chicago, in the Beverly neighborhood. My family moved when I was six years old, so my sister and I really grew up in Oak Brook. And my parents
are still living in the house I was raised in.
What kind of kid were you?
I was actually quite shy. I just liked to play and color. My parents always say it’s so interesting that I do what I do now, because I was never a theatre kid or very outgoing. I went to Fenwick High School in Oak Park. I played soccer and tennis, but I wasn’t very good — I just did it for fun. And I worked on the school yearbook.
How did you become interested in the broadcasting industry?
I think the whole notion of journalism came into my mind subliminally when I was at college for business at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. I was there during September 11, and that was a scary time. We were on lock down and all we did was watch broadcast news. I was fascinated by the responsibility journalists had and how dependent we all were in that moment on their information. That stuck in my head and resurfaced when I was figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I have tremendous respect for newspaper and magazine journalism, but what impacted me personally was broadcast news.
How did you get started?
First I worked at the World Bank in D.C. It was an amazing experience, being in a place where all those different languages and cultures come together in one building to solve world issues. But my day-to-day job was basically sitting in front of a computer. It just wasn’t for me. I moved back to Chicago and decided to go to journalism school. Luckily, I was admitted to the Medill School at Northwestern University, which
is one of the best programs out there.
Did you go straight into broadcasting after graduating?
I moved to New York and worked for Bloomberg News as a producer. That was a great experience. While I was there, I had a mentor who said, if there is any shred of you that wants to do on-air reporting, do it now while you’re young. I took that advice. I resigned from Bloomberg and I got a job in Champaign, Illinois as a general assignment reporter for WCIA, a PBS affiliate. I took that job because it was close to Chicago. I would just go out and about and report on anything that happened — my skills in reporting and turning in a story quickly came from there. Champaign is where I really learned about TV. From there, I went to Orlando — so many crazy stories happen to come out of Orlando and Florida, and they hit nationally. I was there during big stories like Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin. Not to mention the news around the Florida elections and NASA
and Disney. It was just a good move for me to get exposure. And I did — it helped me get a job at WGN in Chicago. It was always my dream to come back here.
Talk about that first Chicago job.
I was hired as a morning anchor on cable for CLTV (Chicagoland Television). It was a big break for me because I was hired during the holiday period and I got to fill in for people on WGN-TV. Then, when WGN expanded into a 9 a.m. hour of morning news, they asked me to come on and read the headlines. It gave me greater exposure and I got to pitch stories and set up interviews. I liked that a lot.
Can you share a memorable story?
I did a story on DNA testing. I took a test myself, and I found out that I have Senegalese ancestry, from the Mandinka tribe. I decided I wanted to go to Africa and asked my news director if I could do a story about it. I paid my own way, but WGN reimbursed my vacation days and hired a local camera crew to follow me around for a few days. I was able to meet people from the Mandinka tribe — it was amazing to think there was a real possibility that someone walking around in this village could be a very distant relative of mine.
Tell our readers about your new role on Chicago Today at NBC.
It’s a brand new show. I’m the co-host with Matt Rodrigues. It’s on Fridays at 11:30 a.m. but may soon go to daily. We are a lifestyle show. The segments are fun, and we keep it light. There are interviews — we were just with Tyler Perry on the release of his new movie, “A Fall from Grace.” We’ve met the people from “Chicago Med” and “Chicago Fire.” And it’s a lot of fun to have regular Chicagoans on the show. We have segments on things to do and just having fun. It’s very much like working for a start up. We’re a small team, small but mighty!
You also work with the Chicago Bulls. Can you speak about that?
Yes! I grew up in the 90s, so I’m a huge Bulls fan. I heard they were looking for a host, so I tried out and got the job. I basically emcee the game as if it’s a party or an event. I introduce anything that’s going on, like giveaways or performances. Even if the team is not playing so great, ticket holders still like to feel they are being entertained. I’m on my fourth season right now. I get a lot of exposure from that and it gives me a chance to show some personality. A ton of people recognize me from the games — and it’s a great experience to host in front of thousands of people. I love it!
What kinds of changes have you seen in broadcast news?
I have tremendous respect for the news industry. There are so many events happening in the world and we need the news to make sense of them. But it’s disheartening that people are losing trust in media. And while social media is great, it has given a megaphone to people who don’t need one — creeps and racists or just people who are ill-informed. Social media companies like Facebook and Twitter need to take responsibility for allowing misinformation and hate groups to spread on their platforms. I hope that faith in the media will come back — and I think it will.
Tell our readers about your work with very young newscasters.
I run a broadcast camp through an organization called Breakthrough Urban Ministries in West Garfield Park. The group focuses on just 20 blocks and tries to stop violence and make life better there. I work with kids and together we make a mock newscast. They have such a good time being little reporters. It’s super cute and I get a lot out of it because the kids are so funny and smart and they are very engaged in what is going on in their neighborhood.
Congratulations on your recent wedding! Can you share a little about it?
My new husband’s name is Dane. The wedding was in my parents’ back yard. It’s the house I grew up in. Not only was it free and available but it was very picturesque and the sun came out for our ceremony. Dane’s grandfather officiated, along with my great aunt Mabel. It was a wonderful day. And then we had our reception at Butterfield Country Club in Oak Brook. It really was perfect.
Favorite sports team? The Bulls, of course. I also like baseball — both the Cubs and the Sox.
All-time favorite players? Michael Jordan! And Scottie Pippin. I’ve met them both at Bulls’ activities. I’m looking forward to getting to know some of the new players, like Coby White and Zach LaVine.
News personality you admire? Cheryl Burton. When I first started out, I sent a random email to her — and she responded. She has been such an angel to me.
Who would you like to interview? Oprah! I love her!
Where would you take visitors to show off Oak Brook? We’d stop by my parents house for a mimosa. Then I ‘d go to Oakbrook Center — I used to work at Neiman Marcus. We’d have lunch at Mon Ami Gabi. Then I would need to confer with my mom on what to do next.
Would you ever move back to Oak Brook? It’s not out of the question. We’ll see!