The Midnight Special Frequently Asked Questions
- What is The Midnight Special?
- Click HERE for an expanded answer.
- Can you tell me the history of the show?
- Click HERE for the history page.
- Did The Midnight Special ever begin at midnight?
- To the best of our knowledge, the program never began at midnight, just
like the train. The train called "The Midnight Special" ran on the Gulf,
Mobile & Ohio (GM&O) Railroad, and it departed Chicago at 11:00 PM. However,
we doubt this was on Mike Nichols' mind when he named the program. WFMT
kept very short hours back in 1953, and would have normally signed off
by 11 on Saturday evenings. The program eventually moved to 10:15, where
it stayed for almost 40 years, and more recently to its current time of
9:00 PM. Incidentally, the train about which Lead Belly sings in our theme
song was a mythical train that supposedly ran past Sugarland Prison in
Texas. Rumor had it that if "The Midnight Special" shone its ever-lovin'
light on you, you would be a free man within the year.
- How do I find out more about the concerts mentioned
on The Midnight Special?
- Does The Midnight Special take requests?
- Our only formal request program is New Year's Eve, a tradition we've
enjoyed for about 40 years. We do not take requests at any other time.
Listeners always are welcome to make suggestions with the understanding
we make no commitment to play them.
- How come you post The Midnight Special playlist the day after the
- First, and most important, I don't know what I'll be playing until
shortly before broadcast. Even if I did, our webmaster has a life, and
doesn't sit perched at her computer awaiting The Midnight Special playlist.
Once she gets the list, she needs to reformat it and add the links to
artists and labels, which takes time. Finally, my goal is to continually
surprise you on The Midnight Special. Seeing the playlist in advance
ruins the surprise, and a good portion of the fun.
- What happened to Norm and Ray?
- Norm Pellegrini, who remained active in the Chicago classical music scene, especially Lyric Opera of Chicago, died July 2, 2009.
Ray Nordstrand retired from the program after a heart attack in 1993, and after a long illness, passed away, August 27, 2005.
- How come you don't offer taped or CD copies of the program, or some of the
selections that you play? I'd be willing to pay.
- Our licensing agreement with ASCAP and BMI allows us to broadcast music,
not to sell copies of it. To make copies of the program would violate
the composers' and artists' copyrights, not to mention their livelihoods.
We sympathize that some of what we play is no longer available for purchase,
but it is still copyrighted. Even if these legalities did not exist, WFMT
lacks the staff and facilities to oblige. We strongly urge you to purchase
the selections you enjoy.
- You post two different playlists, a Chicago playlist and a national playlist.
Which show do I hear?
- If you listen to the three-hour Midnight Special on WFMT, either over-the-air,
or on our Internet streaming or archive service, you are hearing the Chicago program and
should reference the Chicago playlists. If you hear the two-hour program on a radio station
outside of the Chicago area, the national playlist is for you.
- How do I attend your New Year's Eve festivities?
- First, you have to be listening to The Midnight Special in the fall, most likely
during our fundraiser in November. There are two ways to receive an invitation to our gala New
Year's Eve party. If you want two confirmed seats, you can pledge $200 per seat during The
Midnight Special on our fall Fine Arts Circle membership drive. Or you can enter a free
drawing for New Year's Eve tickets. For details on that, you need to listen to the program during
November. If you miss the fundraiser, tickets may be purchased on a space available basis by
- The WFMT Website mentions program hosts blogging and tweeting. How come you don't do either?
- The music and comedy played on The Midnight Special convey my thoughts, observations and convictions.
(I also play selections with which I don't necessarily agree.) Anything I would write in a blog would be superfluous.
If you wish to respond to what you hear on the program, please use the contact Rich
As far as Twitter and tweeting, I find it one of the more inane developments of the Internet age. It is a great time
waster and some studies suggest that many people who sign up for Twitter quickly lose interest. My daily activities are
of little interest and I assume that listeners would rather I invest my time in the program rather than on Twitter.
I am not a Luddite. The Midnight Special was one of the first radio programs with a Website back in 1996. I am happy to
promptly respond to your E-mail. If you have ever E-mailed a question to me you know that about 98 percent of the time I respond
within an hour.
- How long does it take to produce and present Folkstage and The Midnight Special?
- Each one-hour live Folkstage concert requires about 14-15 hours of my time. Since I live a long way from WFMT, it is a
minimum 2.5 hour commute each way. I leave home at noon and arrive home at midnight. If I lived next door to WFMT, it would still
require about 5.5 hours for each live concert. Aside from the time on Saturday, it can take anywhere from one-hour to five-hours to
negotiate with, book and process the paperwork for an artist performing on Folkstage. After each live Folkstage concert
I spend 2-4 hours editing and preparing the performance for the WFMT on-line archive, as well as archiving
it for the WFMT library. Pre-recorded Folkstage concerts taken from the archives for broadcast require 1-3 hours to produce depending
upon how recently the recording was made. Many older recordings were never edited and may require noise reduction and/or level adjustments
to make them appropriate for broadcast.
The Midnight Special requires 16-hours per program of planning and execution. This does not include auditioning new CDs and
- Do you ever repeat Midnight Specials?
- No. I have rebroadcast only one program, by listener request, the "Spoon River" show. Otherwise, neither Norm, Ray nor I ever repeated
a program. I believe listeners always deserve a fresh, new program. Barring unforeseen calamity, I have no intention of programming re-runs.
If you have any questions of general interest we will post the answers here.