Rich Warren grew up in Evanston, Illinois, fascinated by radio. He even operated a radio station from
his bedroom with a toy transmitter connected to an illegally long antenna, and was ultimately reprimanded
by the FCC. The programming? Classical, folk, and showtunes.
He scanned the radio dial for folk music, which was plentiful in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and
discovered The Midnight Special. Listening to the Special became a passion. Rich asked
Ray Nordstrand to speak to his high school folk song club. Ray generously agreed, and also allowed Rich
to visit WFMT and watch him host the show. Pretty soon, Rich was visiting WFMT frequently, helping Ray
find records, and answering telephones on request nights. At the same time, Rich continued to feed his
abiding interest in electronics and high fidelity. He worked as a salesperson for Midnight Special
sponsor Toad Hall, a stereo shop in Wilmette. He subsequently worked for Audio Consultants, a long time
When Rich left for the University of Illinois in 1968 to major in history, he immediately convinced
the commercial student radio station, WPGU, to allow him to host a folk music program. The show, Changes,
was an unabashed imitation of The Midnight Special. Rich also produced folk music concerts on
campus. When the time came to leave Champaign-Urbana in 1974, Rich asked Ray for a job at WFMT, and joined
the staff that June.
During his tenure at WFMT, Rich has recorded a few hundred folk music concerts, and produced and
co-hosted the City of Chicago/WFMT Folk Music Festival from 1985-89. In November, 1983, Norm Pellegrini
invited Rich to co-host The Midnight Special.
An urge to try country living caused Rich to resign from full-time work at WFMT in 1986 and move to
rural Champaign County. He continues hosting The Midnight Special and recording folk music concerts
for the station and enjoying semi-rural living.
In 1998 a suggestion and donation from an Anonymous Family Foundation, and subsequent support from WFMT
folk music fans launched Folkstage a weekly concert series preceding The Midnight Special.
Folkstage features a live performance from the WFMT Levin Performance Studio about 26 weeks a year
and concerts selected from the archives the remaining weeks.
Producing folk music programming for WFMT requires nearly all of Rich's time, although he occasionally
contributes to newspapers and magazines as a freelance writer. For 15 years he reviewed folk music recordings
for Sing Out! magazine, but retired from that in 2009 to devote more attention to his radio programs.
In 2008 Rich Warren was named Folk DJ of the year by Folk Alliance International and in 2017 he was
inducted into the Folk DJ Hall of Fame.