Legendary agribusiness broadcaster Orion Samuelson on 60 years

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CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — One of the most famous voices in radio will end a remarkable 60-year career later this month.

WGN Radio’s Orion Samuelson has graced airwaves throughout the heartland — in places across the Midwest and beyond.

WGN Radio personality Bob Sirott sat down with Samuelson for a trip down memory lane.

Samuelson: It took me and I still can’t believe this, but it took me two weeks to make the decision that I would leave Green Bay and go to Chicago, because I’m a country boy. I start speeches generally by saying, who would have thought that a cow milker from Wisconsin would meet nine presidents and any number of secretaries of agriculture and would write a book and would be a broadcaster for all of these years?

Sirott: When you were growing up in Wisconsin, did you have ambitions to be a broadcaster?

Samuelson: No, I didn’t, but, circumstances, leg disease that made it impossible to do heavy work. The disease told my father who probably would have passed the farm on to me, but it told him that I couldn’t do the heavy work of farming so I better find something else.

Sirott: I imagine you still milking cows while you’re in broadcasting.

Samuelson: And I did! So I’d get up in the morning and I’d help dad milk cows. And then I’d drive 17 miles to the radio station, I’d get home in time to help milk cows at night.

Sirott: Anyone living in the Midwest over the past six decades knows that great, big, booming voice of yours. You’ve educated a lot of people though, haven’t you?

Samuelson: That’s probably one of the biggest compliments I get from city listeners in Chicago or suburbs or other cities who say, ‘I didn’t know what soybeans were. I didn’t know what cattle dairy and beef were.’

Sirott: Why have agriculture news and farm reports survived on WGN Radio in Chicago here long after that kind of broadcasting ended on other stations?

Samuelson: Well, because we were able to talk more than planting corn or soybeans. We would talk about trade with China. We would talk about the European Community and the blocks that were put up against our products. And it, I think, became pretty well known to most people that agriculture was indeed a contributor to the nation’s income.

I think that a lot of people recognize that without agricultural trade, we would be in far worse condition because our farmers produce so much more than we can consume.

Orion Samuelson

Samuelson: The biggest change, besides technology, it would be the fact that agriculture is international because when I started in the business, South America, Brazil, wasn’t even in the soybean situation. And today they’re the biggest producer and the biggest exporter of soybeans. I’ve gone to 44 countries to cover the agricultural story.
I was in Cuba and I shook hands with Fidel Castro, who had a tough handshake, and I thought, if we’re going to wait for him to go away, we’re going to wait a long time. And then I shook hands with Mikhail Gorbachev, you know, two of the world leaders and went to England to broadcast live from their Royal Agriculture Show and when you say, who are the most important people: the farmers, the ranchers and the food producers are, and then all the others came after that.

Sirott: You had to be pinching yourself at times along the way?

Samuelson: Yeah, without a doubt. Particularly when I, on a Sunday, went with the Secretary of Agriculture and the Prime Minister of India to see the Taj Mahal. And I’m looking at that building, this monument that the man built for his wife. And I think, what am I doing standing here? I read about this in the encyclopedia, but now I’m standing here looking at it.

Sirott: What would you like the first sentence in your Wikipedia entry to say about you?

That I could explain the strange business of agriculture and food production in a way that was understandable, and that I was a good guy and a good listener. I would, I would like that a lot.

Sirott: Orion, judging by all the listeners who’ve been calling us in the morning, people don’t care how old you are. They don’t want you to retire. There are tens of thousands of folks who are really going to miss you. What’s been your reaction to this outpouring of love for you?

Samuelson: Well, I’ve been pleased obviously, but by the same token, I’ve been stunned. Cause I didn’t think I was very important and then somebody said 60 years. Even farmers don’t work that long in a lot of cases and here you are still getting up early and doing what you’ve done for the last well, since 1952.

Sirott: Well, Orion congratulations. And for all of the listeners and for all of us who have had the great fortune to work with you here, we thank you. Enjoy the next phase of your life. Good health and happiness to you and to Gloria. Thank you.