Samuelson Marks 60-Year On-Air Career at WGN Radio

As Orion Samuelson (WGN, Chicago, Illinois) retires at the end of December, he will set a record for the longest on-air tenure of a broadcaster at the same station.

“In 1960, I arrived at WGN, where I have been ever since, doing daily radio and adding the weekly television show syndicated on TV stations across the country,” Samuelson said.

“During my career, I have interviewed 23 Secretaries of Agriculture, four of them were ‘acting’ Secretaries. I traveled with several of them, both internationally and domestically. My travels took me to 44 countries, including 10 times to China and four times to Russia. I traveled with Secretary Dan Glickman in my only trip around-the world. Don’t ask me to name my favorite Agriculture Secretary because I respected and enjoyed them all.

“I also had the opportunity to interview eight Presidents, and I would share this story about my experience with John F. Kennedy. While I was working in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 1960, prior to moving to Chicago, then-Senator John F. Kennedy was running against Richard Nixon. Senator Kennedy made a campaign stop in Green Bay. I attended his briefing at a news conference. During the conference, I asked two questions about dairy policy.

“As the conference ended, one of his aides approached me and asked if I would have a few minutes to talk to the Senator about dairy legislation. So, I sat with Senator Kennedy at the hotel bar, sipping a Scotch, and we discussed dairy farming, because they did little of that in Massachusetts.

“A follow up to that story: I was doing my noon radio show on WGN in November 1963 and, sadly, broadcast the bulletin that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.”

“The only President that invited me into the White House for an extended interview was President George H.W. Bush,” Samuelson said.

“In my travels, I had the opportunity to meet and shake hands with Fidel Castro and Mikhail Gorbachev, as well as the Prime Minister of India and the President of Taiwan,” he added. 

Samuelson and Pam Minick also co-hosted live TV coverage of the Tournament of Roses Parade.

At the beginning of his career, Samuelson said he dropped out of the University of Wisconsin after three months because they were not teaching him how to be a radio announcer.

“Then, I enrolled at the American Institute of the Air in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Six months later, I was working at my first radio job at WKLJ in Sparta, Wisconsin, a 1,000-watt day-timer, where I was a polka disc jockey. It was the summer of 1952. The station was 17 miles from the farm where I grew up, so I would milk cows at 5 a.m., and then drive to the station. Before going to WGN, I worked at three Wisconsin radio stations.  

“When I wrote my book, I titled it, You Can’t Dream Big Enough because I preface my background remarks at speaking appearances with the opening line: ‘Who could ever imagine that a cow milker from Wisconsin could have a street in Chicago named after him, travel as I have, met so many interesting people, and worked with so many gifted broadcasters, especially my partner and friend of 42 years, Max Armstrong?”

“When they speak about Orion and his career, most people focus on his great voice, his signature delivery, and his knowledge of agriculture. But I would tell you, as the person who has worked with him longer than anyone, Orion’s tremendous work ethic has also been key to his success. “He is tireless in his pursuit of making that connection with farmers and ranchers and their consumers. His drive to do the job, and to do it right, has guided him throughout his career,” Armstrong said.

“As his partner for more than four decades, I would also tell you that Orion is one of the most even-tempered individuals you could ever work with. In a rapid-pace business with hourly deadlines, this guy has been unflappable. Orion has set the bar so high for the rest of us. And, for that we owe him our eternal gratitude,” Armstrong concluded.