Iconic ag broadcaster Orion Samuelson is known for his work in Chicago radio, but his roots are in Wisconsin 4-H. Samuelson was recently named a National 4-H Council Luminary. These spokespersons for 4-H work to increase engagement, connection and investment for the nation’s largest youth development organization.
Growing up on a dairy farm in Vernon County, near Ontario, Samuelson was an active member of the O’Connell Rustlers 4-H Club, taking part in projects including corn, poultry and dairy, “with my year-old Guernsey heifer being my favorite,” Samuelson said recently in support of the Wisconsin 4-H Foundation’s Livestock Endowment.
“I’m sorry to report that despite all my hard work with my 4-H dairy leader and my calf, I didn’t even place at the Vernon County Fair,” he says. “But I learned a lot.”
Samuelson did, however, use his 4-H public speaking experience and agriculture knowledge to become one of the most trusted radio broadcasters in U.S. farming. After working getting his start at Wisconsin radio stations WKLJ in Sparta, WHBY in Appleton, and WBAY-TV/AM in Green Bay, Samuelson ascended to the head ag broadcaster spot at WGN Radio in Chicago, beginning in 1960. He was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2003.
“Being a farm broadcaster opened up my world in ways I never could have imagined,” Samuelson says in his autobiography. Among other noteworthy events, he recounts “traveling to 43 countries, having dinner at the White House, meeting seven presidents and witnessing first-hand the high lights and the low lights that our farmers and ranchers have faced over the years.”
From 1975-2005, Samuelson hosted the weekly U.S. Farm Report television news magazine. Since retiring from the show, he now hosts “This Week in Agribusiness” on RFD-TV.
Samuelson credits 4-H with preparing him for success in the spotlight.
”What I learned from competing in 4-H public speaking contests helped me become an effective communicator. Each time I stood before the judge and gave my speeches, I was graded on things like stage presence, enunciation, poise, posture and how to express myself in ways that would hold the audience’s attention. Each time, I learned and each time, I got better.”
Samuelson encourage youth to reach for — and even beyond — the stars when making plans for their future.
“Watching young people grow and make their way through college, it struck me that the best advice I can give any of them is to dream big and not to worry about dreaming too big, because it isn’t possible. There is a world out there they can’t begin to imagine. Many will work in a job or an industry that hasn’t even been invented yet, so I tell them to get prepared with education and have big dreams. That doesn’t mean all of their dreams will come true, but why limit opportunities with small, safe dreams?”