Classical morning host Carl Grapentine to retire from WFMT

Carl Grapentine (Photo: WFMT/Ken Carl)

Carl Grapentine, Chicago’s premier classical music radio personality, has announced plans to retire this summer after more than three decades as the golden-voiced morning host at WFMT FM 98.7.

His last day on the morning show will be July 27. After that, he will work on special projects for the station, according to Window to the World Communications, parent company of WFMT.

“It’s time,” Grapentine, 69, said in a statement Tuesday. “Forty-six 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. My very first program director in Detroit was a WFMT fan and used to tell me ‘how things were done’ at WFMT, so coming here in 1986 was a dream come true.

“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 . . . but without getting up at 4:15!”

Except for a six-year detour at the former WNIB, Grapentine has hosted mornings on WFMT since 1986. The Michigan native and University of Michigan School of Music graduate previously hosted mornings at classical WQRS in Detroit. He has doubled as the stadium voice of the Michigan Wolverines for 46 seasons.

“How bittersweet to bid farewell to someone who has been such an integral member of our WFMT team,” David Polk, program director of WFMT, said in a statement. “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.”

Those projects will include a daily classical “almanac” feature highlighting important classical events and milestones, Polk said. In 2019 WFMT will launch a podcast of Grapentine's commentaries on such topics as “A Funny Thing Happened at the Opera,” “Sinners and Saints,” and “Classical Music in the Movies.”

In the Nielsen Audio survey released Tuesday, WFMT tied for 23th in mornings with a 1.6 percent audience share. No word yet on Grapentine’s successor.

Here is the text of Polk’s memo to staff:

Dear colleagues,

It’s with mixed emotions that I announce that Carl Grapentine has decided to retire from WFMT effective Friday, July 27th. He will remain Chairman Emeritus of the 5:58 club.

To our listeners, Carl is an old friend they’re excited to spend time with every morning. His daily joie de vivre is infectious and his stories about the classical world are addictive and a delight to hear. He’s also introduced myriad new Morning Program traditions in his decades at WFMT. Have you heard about the couple that, until the advent of internet streaming, drove down from Wisconsin to just within our signal range just to hear Carl’s Wagner birthday program every year? And who else could mix baseball and classical music on each baseball opening day with as much verve and finesse?

While we will miss him, we’ll also be happy for him that he won’t have to set his alarm to 4:15 am anymore.

Thankfully, Carl will continue to be a presence on WFMT through a daily classical almanac feature that will air weekday mornings. And we look forward to a podcast scheduled to release in early 2019 based on Carl’s most popular lectures.

Please join me in congratulating Carl on his upcoming retirement and in wishing him all the best for what comes next.


Monday’s best comment: Bruce Beckman: As a lifelong Cubs fan, WGN doing the Sox games makes me want to vomit.