Classical radio host Carl Grapentine announces retirement from “dream job” at WFMT

By Stephen Raskauskas |

WFMT’s longtime Morning Program host Carl Grapentine landed what he describes as his “dream job” by chance. He first heard about WFMT in the early 1970s from his colleagues at WQRS, a classical radio station in Detroit that modeled itself after WFMT.

Years later, while attending the Concert Music Broadcasters Association in Chicago, “I got up the courage to speak to WFMT’s longtime program director Norman Pellegrini and told him about the connection between WQRS and WFMT,” Carl said. “We exchanged pleasantries over the next few years and I also had the chance to meet WFMT’s longtime general manager, Ray Nordstrand.”

“That brings us to the summer of 1985,” he remembers. “I was in Chicago for a few days so I called Norm and asked if I could stop by, say hello, and see the new WFMT studios at 3 Illinois Center. We were sitting in his corner office overlooking the lake when someone popped in and asked me, ‘Did you say you were from the Detroit?  I think your radio station was sold this morning!’”

“Naturally I was shocked. Later in the day I made some phone calls and found the story to be true. But the important detail is what Norm said to the news. ‘Y’know…we have an opening here!’ That was late July 1985. After the exchanges of some taped auditions and an in-person interview, I was invited to join WFMT. My first day on the air was January 9, 1986.”

Carl’s last day as a regular WFMT host will be July 27, 2018. At 69, Grapentine will retire from full-time employment at WFMT, though he will continue to work on special projects including a podcast series.

“It’s time,” said Carl. “46 years in radio, including 42 years of morning shows! I’m grateful that most of my career has been here at WFMT, the world’s best classical station.” He continued, “I’m looking forward to continuing all the best parts of my job: a daily presence on the air, giving pre-concert lectures, and leading listeners on trips (through Travelex International)—but without getting up at 4:15!”

Carl Grapentine in WFMT’s on-air control room

“How bittersweet to bid farewell to someone who has been such an integral member of our WFMT team,” said the station’s program director, David Polk. “All of us who start each day with Carl’s unflagging joie de vivre, sharp wit, and extensive knowledge of classical music will miss him. But we’re thrilled that Carl will continue to have a presence on WFMT through various digital projects.”

As Carl referenced, these will include a daily classical “almanac” feature on weekday mornings, highlighting important classical events and milestones; and a podcast, coming in early 2019, of Carl’s most popular commentaries. Topics include “A Funny Thing Happened at the Opera,” “Sinners and Saints,” and “Classical Music in the Movies.”

After Carl joined WFMT in 1986, he took a break in 1990 to host mornings on the now-defunct classical station WNIB, Carl returned to WFMT in 1996, and has served as host of the Morning Program (weekdays from 6:00-10:00 am) ever since.

In addition to his duties at WFMT, Carl presents pre-concert lectures for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Music of the Baroque, and many other groups. He has also performed as narrator with the Chicago Pro Musica (members of the CSO) and hosts concerts for numerous community orchestras and bands.  He has been the host for the nationally-syndicated broadcast concerts of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra on the WFMT Radio Network, and he hosts the National Concert Band Festival in Indianapolis each spring.

An alumnus of the University of Michigan School of Music, Carl has been the “stadium voice” of the University of Michigan Marching Band for forty-eight seasons – his voice being heard on national telecasts of sixteen Rose Bowls and numerous other bowl games. In 2006, he also assumed the responsibilities of game announcer at Michigan Stadium.

An accomplished conductor and singer, Carl has many years of experience as a church music director.  Currently he sings in the choir of Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest.  He also has sung the national anthem for professional and collegiate sporting events at Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park (now Guaranteed Rate Field), Tiger Stadium, the Pontiac Silverdome, and the University of Michigan’s Crisler Arena.



  • Margaret Laing

    Oh bother! Mornings just won’t be the same! Best wishes, Carl, and best of luck,WFMT, from a faithful listener.

  • candomarty

    Gina and I will miss you, Carl! But you deserve to call it a day. Thanks for countless mornings of wonderful programs!

  • Jan and Tom Kay

    NO, CARL!!!!!! You CANNOT do that!!!! NOW HOW will the 5:58 Club keep going????? No fair in even THINKING about retiring. YIKES!

  • spacedust49

    Sad for me glad for you! Best Wishes from Evergreen Park, birthplace of Carl Grapentine.

  • Debbie Harris

    The man is a genius. Can’t tell you how much knowledge, amusement, color, beauty and just general quality you’ve brought to our mornings since we started listening to you 7 years ago after moving here. Big loss for the Chicago and world listening community, but do savor retirement; you’ve earned it!

  • Mike Meshenberg

    While sad to see you go — at least in the regular rotation — the retirement is well-deserved. You’ve been a mainstay of the classical music scene for virtually all my time in Chicago. From the looks of things, you may be avoiding the early mornings, but not much else. And as a long-time Music of the Baroque subscriber, I’ve particularly enjoyed your pre-concert lectures and hope for many more. Stay healthy. (I wonder who will take over the morning slot?)

  • bobboh

    As a broadcaster who threw in the scripts and disks several years ago I can assure Carl that he will tune in and say many times over, “That is not the way it should be done!” Eventually Carl will get over that…and become simply “a listener.” It is a well-deserved change. Carl has set the standard very high for future announcers. He also set a high standard for being a top-notch human being. One of the legends of the air in Chicago will b e missed…on the air. Fortunately, from my personal viewpoint, I will catch up with him at least once a week at the Sunday services at church. Carl l;eaves the industry having given audiences a lot more than than, I am sure, management expected. He takes away from daily listeners his humor, insights, and personality that was so much mofre than just a voice intro-ing the next offering. Thanks, Carl…thanks for all of it!

  • Gisela Baralt

    I have listened to WFMT since 1952, when we immigrated from Germany. So I have heard Carl since he started here. I will miss waking up to his voice and his choice of music. 5:58 will not be the same without him. I am retired now, jump in Carl, it is good.

  • pinkypink

    Carl, all I can say is THANK YOU for helping me stay sane while raising my two daughters (homeschooling for several years). Now my youngest will be graduating from high school in June so I guess it makes it all the more bittersweet. You were a part of their educational experience. Thanks to your show, they always knew the birthday of a major composer or performer—to the amazement of their music teachers! Our entire family learned so much from listening to you. A major musical education filled with awesome nuggets of interesting lore. All the best on your continuing journey!

  • Joseph C Owens

    Carl, It had to happen one day: but I cannot get over the sense of loss I feel. I know many others feel the same. You were more than an announcer; you were our morning friend. Losing friends is hard to do. We have always shared a love for Der Rosenkavalier and Richard Strauss. I will miss having you end many programs with the great Trio. Be happy, Carl, be happy. Joseph C. Owens

  • Nick Ehrlich

    Growing up in Ann Arbor in the ’70’s I remember well the voice of Carl Grapentine echoing through the warm fall air while listening to U of M football games on my radio in a park about a mile from The Big House. From Junior HS on I’ve heard this man’s voice at some point in my week, first on WQRS in Detroit and then on WFMT when I moved to Chicago. While I will sorely miss him in my morning routine I can only wish him all the best in retirement. No one deserves it more. Congrats Carl.

  • Lilithcat

    But who will I wake up with in the morning!

  • Mike Meisinger

    I first learned to appreciate classical music in early 1993. I was much younger then and was more awake during the LaSalle By Night program than the 5:58 club. Over the years, as my lifestyle changed, the morning program became my way of life. Waking up to both Peter (van de Graaff) and Carl in the morning is such a soothing way to start my day. My morning routine begins with Peter and ends with Carl. I will very much miss the enjoyment Carl brings to the morning program. Carl, I wish you all the best of health and happiness in your retirement.

  • Fed Up

    All I can say right now is WFMT better have one h*** of a retirement party for Carl!