First CBS president, former Medill professor dies

Sig Mickelson, a former Medill School of Journalism professor and television news pioneer, died Friday.

Mickelson died in San Diego of complications from pneumonia. He was 86.

“This is a man who really and truly went to the top of the mountain in television journalism,” said Medill Assistant Dean Roger Boye, who worked with Mickelson at Medill.

The first president of CBS, Mickelson has been credited with bringing talented anchors to the station, including Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow.

After about 20 years with the media giant, Mickelson moved into academics. At Medill, he taught television journalism and served as chairman of the editorial department from 1972 to 1975.

Boye said he remembered Mickelson as someone pleasant and easy to work with during their research together.

“When you dealt with him and talked to him, it was like talking to your uncle,” he said.

Boye said he recalled waiting for Mickelson to finish a phone call one afternoon with a group of other colleagues.

“I could tell it was somebody pretty significant,” Boye said.

When Mickelson got off the phone, Boye asked who had been on the other line. Mickelson said it was “a former colleague.” Boye later learned it had been Walter Cronkite.

“A number of people would immediately drop a name like that, but not Sig Mickelson,” Boye said. “He was a humble person.”

During his time at CBS, Mickelson helped oversee broadcasts of the 1952 presidential conventions, Edward R. Murrow’s documentary series on Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. He helped push CBS from radio to television broadcast while television news was still evolving.

Mickelson also founded and was president of the Radio and Television News Directors Association from 1948 to 1949.

Medill Prof. Richard Schwarzlose, who also worked with Mickelson at Medill, said Mickelson brought expertise to the school from his role as an executive during the founding of television journalism.

“He was a very intense person to know because he had been there in the beginning,” Schwarzlose said. “He had a lot to say about those days and he was very willing to share.”

Schwarzlose said Mickelson always seemed a little out of place as a teacher and was more fit for his role as an executive.

“He had that air of the industry about him,” he said.

Mickelson left Medill in 1975 to head Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty until 1978.

He also taught at San Diego State University and Louisiana State University and wrote seven books.

Mickelson is survived by his second wife, Elena; two children from his first marriage, Ann Mickelson de Brauw and Alan Mickelson; two stepchildren, Alberto Mier y Teran and Ina Mier y Teran Sheppard; and seven grandchildren.

His first wife, Maybelle Brown, died in 1985.