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Media: September 2023 • More Stories From The Heartland

| August 31, 2023

Max Armstrong

Max Armstrong spent a lifetime in broadcasting, both in radio and television, but he is also an author. In fact, now he’s an author for the second time. His first book was called Stories from the Heartland.

Can you guess what the second one is called?

“It’s called More Stories from the Heartland,” Armstrong says with a laugh. “Yes, it’s a follow-up to the first book, from the standpoint that it’s about people I’ve worked with or people that I’ve been around or covered or ran into who were remarkable in their own way. Some of them really left quite an impression on me.”

To find people and stories from the heartland, you couldn’t have a more perfect background. Max grew up on a farm in southern Indiana, became an agriculture reporter at WGN, and has spent the last 14 years hosting a television show about Agribusiness.

“I was at WGN full time for 31 years,” Max explains, “and about nine of those years, I also did television. I was the weatherman of last resort. Not to age myself, but back in those days, (WGN weatherman Tom) Skilling was just getting into computer graphics. The first few times I filled in, we still had an artist drawing the map on the wall.”

That television career continued for 14 years after leaving WGN, but Max has finally called it quits. At the end of June, he called it a career. He now lives in North Carolina.

“Our show has just been bought by Farm Progress,” he says, “which is the parent company of Prairie Farmer, which is kind of an interesting full-circle thing. Prairie Farmer is the oldest continually published magazine in the United States. And, of course, they owned WLS for 40 years, from the 1920s until the spring of 1960. The other interesting thing about that is when they sold it; it opened the door for WGN to start doing farm programming. That was the same year that Ward Quall brought (Max’s mentor and fellow ag reporter) Orion Samuelson down from Green Bay to work at WGN. So, there are a lot of cross-currents here.”

As you can imagine, the stories are memorable.

“There’s a story in this book about a guy who posed for Richard Avedon, the famed photographer. He posed totally nude from the waist up and covered with bees all over his torso. Ron Fischer worked for an investment banking firm in Chicago back in 1981 when Avedon photographed him. We referred to him on WGN often, and he would answer questions for us about bees and hornets. For this book, I got the story from him about the day that he posed for Richard Avedon, who had photographed people like Marilyn Monroe, Dwight Eisenhower, and a whole bunch of other famous people.”

The problem with having a background as interesting and varied as Armstrong’s is that once the stories started flowing, they didn’t stop.

“Totally true. I started thinking of other stories after I finished the book. For example, my afternoon with Jesse Jackson. It was during the campaign of 1988.  I was brought in to emcee an event in Washington at the Marriott Hotel. This was July of ‘88. Not many weeks ahead of the presidential election. And Reverend Jackson was late for his appearance. He was upstairs interviewing potential vice presidential candidates. I had to continue to try to entertain for 21 television cameras. There was a secret service agent over to the side of the stage, and he was giving me time cues. He gave me a 15-minute cue. A little bit later, he gave me another one. Finally, when I looked at him the third time, he just threw up his hands and shrugged, like, ‘You’re on your own, pal.’ The other thing I remember about that day is that as I finally introduced Jesse, I put my hand on his back. And my immediate reaction was this guy’s been pumping iron. But that wasn’t the case. He had been fitted for a bulletproof vest just days before because of a threat against him by some kook down in Decatur.”

I kidded Max that he is like the Taylor Swift of the heartland.

“It’s a little bit of an overstatement to say I’m a star in the farm world,” he demurs, “but, you know, just by, I guess, hanging around long enough, people do seem to know me. And I guess that’s the way I look at this book. It’s my book of Thanksgiving; I’ve really been so fortunate, so blessed to be around some great people and to be in this industry as long as I have. And just by osmosis, I think some of that has rubbed off on me.”

Max and Orion Samuelson have provided a valuable service for America’s heartland all these years, although Max notes a difference between the two men.

“They used to call Orion ‘One-Take-Charlie’ when he was doing the old US farm report show because he wouldn’t ever need a second take. He could stand there, having just digested the information, and somehow be able to spew it immediately into the camera. I was never quite that talented.”

The book, *More Stories from the Heartland is available at
or on Amazon for Kindle, Apple for your iPhone, and an audiobook is coming out soon.

-Rick Kaempfer

Category: Featured, Media, Monthly

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