Alum Spotlight: Larry Yellen

A front-row seat to history

"Being a reporter gives you access to the places the average person might not have access to."

Yellen on the job at Fox.

At 4 foot 11 and 70 pounds, 12-year-old Larry Yellen (Mich. ’74) was no big force on the golf course. So it’s probably a good thing he didn’t know what was in store for him the first time he picked up a golf bag.

"It was a big old Wilson bag, and it weighed a ton," he recalls. "I went to caddying school but I wasn’t ready for that size bag. On hole 14 or 15, (my golfer) said, ‘Larry, I’m not sure you’re going to make it. I’ll take the bag the rest of the way.’"

But Yellen, a fighter, didn’t let that first round deter him. Undaunted, he pushed through, caddying steadily for the next six years. "I wasn’t going to let one abbreviated experience on the golf course keep me away," he says.

Decades later, Yellen is still pushing, and he’s made his way to the big time as a legal analyst, award-winning investigative reporter and weekend news anchor for Fox News in Chicago. From the scene of 9/11 to the trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, Yellen has had a front-row seat to nearly all the major local news stories of the past few decades. He recently was named a winner of the Chicago Bar Association’s 2010 Herman Kogan Media Awards, which spotlights the best of Chicago’s legal reporting.

As an Evans Scholar at the University of Michigan, Yellen discovered that the First Amendment aspect of journalism especially intrigued him. "It was an outlet for my rebellious attitude," he says. After graduation, he earned a law degree from Northwestern before he got his first job as a writer at a local newspaper in Michigan.

His reporting gigs eventually led him to TV, and from there, he became an anchor — a rarity for someone who lacked professional behind-the-camera training. "I had never paid my dues working in smaller TV markets, but (my managers) were willing to take a chance and put me in front of the camera," he says.

Since then, he’s covered all sorts of stories. An investigation about children being burned by hot chocolate served at fast-food drive-thrus resulted in Wendy’s decision to stop serving the drink in 1994. Covering the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial from Los Angeles, he was the first local TV reporter to score an interview with witness Kato Kaelin.

Reporting on refugee camps during the war in Kosovo, he was able to provide a medium for refugees with Chicago relatives to call and let them know they were safe. "It was one of my favorite moments," he says.

When Sept. 11 occurred, he immediately headed to D.C., where a jet hit the Pentagon, leaving behind a wife who had just undergone knee surgery. "I remember her on the front porch on crutches crying as I said good-bye," he says. "Nobody knew what was going to happen that day. But she understood why I had to go." Fox was the first local Chicago station to give live reports.

He’s even made it onto television as the news. While chasing down a prosecutor in the indicted Congressman Dan Rostenkowski case, Yellen hit a concrete pillar at full speed, knocking him to the ground. The episode, caught on camera, landed him a guest spot on Oprah for reporters’ bloopers. "It was a hilarious video," he says.

Despite never knowing what the day brings, Yellen says he’s constantly surprised, and that’s one of the best parts of his job. "I was surprised when (Chicago’s) Mayor Daley said he wasn’t going to run for re-election. I was surprised at the rapid rise of Barack Obama to the presidency," he says. "I’m constantly surprised at what’s happening in the world."


-First printed in the Winter 2010 Mac Report