Sixty years ago this week legendary radio broadcaster and farm reporter Orion Samuelson had his first appearance behind the famed WGN studio microphones. In his autobiography Orion writes it was September 26, 1960 when he first stated, “This is WGN radio, clear channel radio serving the nation from Chicago.”
It was a great leap to WGN from Green Bay television and even further from his farm days as a boy in Ontario, Wisconsin. At the end of this year Orion will retire at the age of 87.
The reason I write about him is two-fold. First Orion has been a many-decades part of my radio listening. WGN has always been my main station for information and talk radio since a teenager. Orion’s voice–that deep baritone that commands listening attention while at the same time being conversational and friendly has been a touchstone on the radio dial. Throw in his clear and precise enunciation—the only voice equal to that professionalism was Paul Harvey–and it was just comfortable to hear him–even when talking about pork bellies.
The other reason he is one to honor is his working with the famed announcers such as Wally Phillips, a man I so admired and respected, and when a young man wanted to emulate. Orion rubbed shoulders with Bob Collins, Spike O’Dell, Paul Harvey, Milt Rosenberg, Steve and Johnnie, and Roy Leonard. These were heavy-hitters that drove the ratings and were of the type of radio personalities listeners wanted to invite into their home or car when the radio was on. I was thrilled when the famed studio where Uncle Bobby and others worked at was made part of broadcasting history in a museum.
So with the news that Orion will retire–and yes, we all knew the day was coming–we experience an uneasy sensation. Part of that is due to never wanting to part with someone we may have never met, yet who is ‘a friend’. The second reason is that with so much which has happened this year it seems essential that some tried and true connections to normal times remain.
We throw out the term “illustrious career” and it is often used for too many people when less over-reaching words would be more precise. But in the case of Orion the term is most apt. When radio at times on other stations can be low-brow, nasty, petty, and crude Orion maintained a high standard of broadcast integrity that I write about on CP, and require from those I listen to on radio.
Now we wish Orion the best as he will retire at the end of the year, but first, a heartfelt THANKS for the time he spent with us.