By Mike Scipioni |

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CHICAGO – May 15, 2023 – On Saturday, May 20 at 9:00 pm, WFMT classical radio will celebrate the 70th anniversary of THE MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, Chicago’s longest running radio program, with a live special recorded in front of an audience in WFMT’s Fay and Daniel Levin Performance Studio.

Each Saturday night, host Marilyn Rea Beyer shares an eclectic mix of folk songs, ballads and blues, show tunes, spoken word, and hilarious novelty routines. This has been the format of the show from its beginning in May 1953 when station co-owner Rita Jacobs Willens – with input from banjoist Fleming Brown – conceived a show to fill an open Saturday evening slot in WFMT’s schedule. She invited young University of Chicago graduate and comedian (and future producer-director) Mike Nichols to host it, and the result was The Midnight Special, named for the famous Lead Belly tune that still serves as the series theme song.

The May 20 anniversary special will feature vintage audio from WFMT’s archives – including the voices of past hosts, Norm Pellegrini and Ray Nordstrand. And former longtime host Rich Warren, Old Town School of Folk Music co-founder Frank Hamilton, and singer/songwriters Bonnie Koloc and Susan Werner will share their memories from over the years.

In addition, the program will feature a special presentation of “In Old Chicago” – songs, stories, and poetry created by local artist Jamie O’Reilly. The piece will cover significant Chicago events from the early 20th century through the lens of O’Reilly’s family history, and will include character portrayals, readings, and narration by Victor Holstein, Judi Cogan Heikes, and Christopher O’Reilly.

“Having grown up listening to The Midnight Special, I never dreamed I’d have the honor to host this iconic WFMT program, let alone create a 70th anniversary episode,” said current host of The Midnight Special Marilyn Rea Beyer. “So many people love and revere The Midnight Special, and we are looking forward to celebrating its past, present, and future on May 20.”

WFMT is one of the world’s most respected classical music radio stations, accessible via broadcast at 98.7FM, streaming live at, and on the WFMT app. Recognized for trusted hosted programming, immersive live performances and concerts, strong partnerships with community organizations and championing young, local musicians and access to the arts, WFMT spotlights inspiring music, musicians, and musical performances from Chicago and around the world including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Sinfonietta, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the New York Philharmonic, and many more. Connect with WFMT on Facebook and Twitter.

The Midnight Special is made possible by the generous support of Nancy Podraza Dadigan and WFMT members.