Posted by Bart Goldberg on January 20, 2011 at 07:09:36:
It’s been a little more than a year since Rich Samuels got kicked out of Chicago television news for no good reason. But you just had to know that with all his creative energy (and that great voice), he wouldn’t be silenced for long.
After more than 35 years in the business — including 18 as a correspondent for WTTW-Channel 11’s Chicago Tonight — Samuels was summarily dropped in December 2009 because of a year-end shortfall in the budget at the Window to the World Communications station. Inept management or questionable accounting (take your pick) had cost Chicago a brilliant reporter, an incomparable writer, and arguably its most literate and thoughtful broadcast journalist.
Now, just a few weeks shy of his 70th birthday, the North Shore native and broadcasting sage has reinvented himself: He’s a classical music disc jockey on a non-commercial, listener sponsored, community radio station in Madison, Wis.
At 5am every Thursday, Samuels shows up to host a three-hour program called Anything Goes on WORT-FM (89.9) and online at www.wort-fm.org, exploring what he calls “the boundaries between classical, pop, folk and jazz, and attempting to cross them whenever possible.” He landed the gig when the all-volunteer station was looking to replace Jim Schwall, known to a generation of Chicagoans as Corky Siegel’s partner in the Siegel-Schwall Blues Band.
When I caught up with Samuels the other day, he was sitting in a Starbucks in Wilmette putting the finishing touches on his playlist for today’s show, which, he informed me, would be “two-thirds Hungarian music in anticipation of Madison’s Folk Ball Festival this weekend — which includes two days of Hungarian folk dancing.” That scholarly attention to detail has always been a hallmark of Samuels’ work. (Can you name any other street reporter who has a doctorate in Italian Renaissance history from the University of Chicago?)
After 10 weeks on the job, Samuels seems to be enjoying it thoroughly. “I’m having enormous amounts of fun because it’s an intellectual challenge — I’m a music lover but not a music expert,” he says, “and a physical challenge because I have to get up at 3am in order to drive 26 miles from our little country house in Green County to Madison.”
Even so, he admits he’d rather back on the beat — especially as Chicago’s mayoral race moves into high gear. “Would I rather be covering Gery Chico, Carol Moseley Braun and Rahm Emanuel? Of course. But I’m a realist, and if the Chicago television market can’t accommodate journalists of the caliber of [former Fox Chicago reporters] Lilia Chacon and Jack Conaty, it’s probably a good thing that I’m pursuing ‘other interests’ or, as Garrison Keillor once said, have ‘moved up to radio.’ ”
Samuels traces his love of classical music to childhood when his father would tune in every weekday morning to The 400 Hour, a show featuring light classics hosted by Norman Ross Sr. on WMAQ Radio. “Ross was an NBC staff announcer who had no knowledge of classical music but an incredible ability to engage his audience,” Samuels recalls. “ ‘Classical music is not as bad as it sounds,’ he used to say. The show had close to a million listeners when he died — and when Time magazine noted his passing in its Milestones section.”
Whatever dreams Samuels had as a boy of becoming a great composer long since gave way to other pursuits. One of those is his latest mission: “Now I’m at a point in my life where I’m trying to pay back the debts I’ve accrued in the two communities my wife and I call home. My goal is to hook people on a genre of music they otherwise might not encounter, in somewhat the same manner Norman Ross Sr. did years ago.”
Think somewhere there’s another Rich Samuels listening intently with his dad — and taking notes?
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Tags: Carol Moseley Braun, Chicago Tonight, Fox Chicago, Garrison Keillor, Gery Chico, Jack Conaty, Jim Schwall, Lilia Chacon, Norman Ross Sr., Rahm Emanuel, Rich Samuels, Window to the World Communications, WMAQ, WORT, WTTW-Channel 11
January 20, 2011 at 1:53 am
Product Placement brought to you by Starbucks.(!)
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