They roasted the legendary Orion Samuelson over the weekend in McHenry County. While the event was a scholarship fundraiser for Harvard Milk Days (“A Tribute to Our Farming Heritage”), you might also think of it as the unofficial kickoff of The Big O’s 50th‚ anniversary celebration on Chicago radio.
Here’s a sample of what they said about Samuelson, as delivered by emcee Steve Cochran‚ his friend and former colleague at news/talk WGN-AM (720):
“Orion grew up on a small town farm in Wisconsin and I invited his two best childhood friends to be here. But neither the goat or the pig could get a ride.”
But seriously, folks, what can you say about Orion Samuelson that could possibly do justice to his 50-year legacy as a Radio Hall of Fame broadcaster and the best-known communicator of agricultural and agribusiness news and information in the country?
Sept. 26 will mark Samuelson’s 50th‚ year on WGN, with tributes leading up to that date planned by admirers at the Tribune Co.-owned station and the Farm Progress Show, among others. Samuelson started on WGN the same week as the first presidential debate in Chicago between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in 1960. Three years later, he was on the air as host of “Country Fair” (forerunner of “The Noon Show”) when he delivered WGN’s first bulletin about Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. (Here is the link.)
Nearly five decades later, he continues to present daily agricultural and business reports on WGN — a station that bears little resemblance today to the one he and his listeners knew and loved for so long. Together with Max Armstrong, his colleague for the last 32 years, Samuelson also hosts “The Morning Show” at 5 a.m. Saturdays on WGN, and “This Week in AgriBusiness,” carried on rural channel RFD-TV, Dish Network and DirecTV. A page on WGN’s website includes a link to a wide-ranging, 90-minute interview Cochran conducted with Samuelson, who reflects on his career. (Here is the link.)
As for talk around the station that Samuelson, 76, may be preparing to retire soon after reaching that 50-year milestone, he prefers to sidestep the question for now: “No decision yet on retirement,” he told me Saturday. “After all, my friend Paul Harvey went to 90. I’m 76 and since I’m Norwegian, I’m only half-done!”