Behind the Mic with Peter Oprisko
Peter Oprisko is the host of our new “Saturday Soiree” program.
It’s an hour of classic singers & swingers, airing every Saturday on WDCB from 5-6pm, starting May 7.
Q) You're known to many music fans across Chicagoland as a vocalist and entertainer, but you also have substantial experience in the radio business. Where might local listeners have heard you on the radio before?
Oprisko: While still in college, I started my broadcasting career in 1990 as an occasional Sunday night guest/host on WWJY-FM 103.9 in Crown Point, Indiana. In 1992, I began hosting and producing a nationally-syndicated program called "Exclusively Sinatra" at WFIU-FM at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. Upon graduation in 1993, I moved back to the Chicago area. Valparaiso's WAKE-AM 1500 and Chicago's WNUA-FM 95.5 were nice enough to let me use their facilities overnight to produce my show even though they didn't air it. That's where I first met legendary jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis. In 1997, I accepted an opportunity to air my show live on Saturday mornings at WCBR-FM 92.7 in Arlington Heights and then moved to WAIT-AM 850 in Crystal Lake in 1998, where I continued for another 3 years hosting/producing "Exclusively Sinatra" and "Remember When" for local and national audiences. During the 1990s, my voice was also frequently heard on cable television as I provided voice-overs for local commercials on AT&T and other cable firms prior to industry consolidation.
Q) What attracted you to the idea of hosting a show on WDCB?
Oprisko: As a longtime fan of WDCB, I have a great appreciation for the fact they are the only station in the Chicago area championing the music I love - jazz, blues, standards. So, after my longtime friend John "Radio" Russell retired from WDCB, I felt compelled to offer my services to help continue his legacy and to keep this great music on the air!
Q) Growing up in the rock era, how did you develop such a deep appreciation for the singers of the Great American Songbook and classic American pop?
Oprisko: My father owned one of the world's top collections of Frank Sinatra recordings. So, that's the music that played at home when I was growing up in Whiting, Indiana during the 1970s and 1980s. Other fabulous artists like Doris Day, Tony Bennett, The Platters, Mario Lanza and their contemporaries were also played abundantly at our house!
Q) Why does the music of the artists like Frank Sinatra still matter?
Oprisko: In 1998, award-winning journalist Peter Hamill authored a book entitled "Why Sinatra Matters" in which he laid out a scholarly explanation in about 200 pages! To put it more succinctly, I believe Sinatra, Ella, Tony, Judy, Dean, and their contemporaries still matter because of one word: RELEVANCE. These awesome artists are great because they were incredible communicators whose works convey the emotions all humans experience such as love, joy, anger, and despair. Consequently, these universally relatable works by these empathic artists will always be relevant and timeless.
Q) Tell us about your extensive Sinatra collection. Is there a "Sinatra Room" in the Oprisko home?
Oprisko: Ha ha! Not in my home. I do have a modest "Sinatra closet." I've known collectors who had a "Sinatra Room" or shrine in their homes and most wound up divorced with their collections liquidated! I was never that crazy…I love my wife and family more than I love Sinatra! My father, whose collection I inherited, taught me to focus on what was most important when it comes to collecting: The motivating factor for building the collection. For both of us, it was Sinatra's appealing voice and music. Consequently, 95% of my collection is comprised of recordings, some of which even Sinatra's children didn't know he made! The most valuable recordings are kept off-site in a secure, atmosphere-controlled facility. The remaining 5% of the collection encompasses select pieces of memorabilia, like rare sheet music and unreleased album cover artwork. I learned in my youth that attempting to collect everything would be a mistake because the careers of such extraordinarily popular artists like Sinatra (or the Beatles or Elvis) generated so much memorabilia that it's impossible to collect it all…and you could go broke trying! Suffice it to say, among my most cherished items are the unreleased studio session recordings that document Sinatra's fascinating and evolving creative process.
Q) Who are some of the artists, songs and musical styles we will hear during a typical edition of the "Saturday Soiree"?
Oprisko: Each "Saturday Soiree" will spotlight artists like Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Doris Day, Henry Mancini and many more legendary favorites in prime performances that encompass virtually all musical styles from swing, fox trots, waltzes, rhumbas and more spanning genres from Big Big Band and Jazz to Blues, Latin and even occasional Country. These are the STARS of the show!
Q) Your first program on May 7th will feature a "Mother's Day" theme. Is it a challenge to put together a good thematic radio program?
Oprisko: Yes! Playing selections without any rhyme or reason is easier, but it's not nearly as gratifying as a thematic show, because much more thought and preparation is required to create an intriguing sustainable theme. An extensive knowledge of available music and its backstory is necessary to fashion a presentation that is well-paced, appealing and interesting enough to transform a normally casual, passive listener into an attentive, engaged listener. Ear-catching, seductive selections interspersed with trivia-laden segues sprinkled with quirky humor help facilitate this.
Q) Even for listeners who will be spending a quiet evening at home most Saturdays, is there a special feeling about anticipating the excitement of Saturday night that you hope to share with the audience during the "Saturday Soiree" program?
Oprisko: "Saturday Soiree" is designed to be a fun, welcoming musical sanctuary for listeners of all ages and backgrounds. Indeed, like a visit from an old friend, Saturday Soiree's passionate, enthusiastic presentation is meant to yield a special, memorable experience that listeners will want to enjoy each week!
Q) Tell us about your work as a professional singer. Have you always been a singer and what are a few of the career highlights you can share?
Oprisko: I can't read music and I've never had a voice lesson, which makes my singing career all the more improbable! I started singing for fun in the mid-1990s. By 2001, I was doing 100 engagements annually and my income was exceeding that of my broadcasting vocation. So, I left the radio business to pursue a full-time music career. I have recorded 10 albums and I am a member of ASCAP and the NARAS. I have been fortunate to become a National Anthem singer for the Chicago White Sox home games and to open for the Beach Boys and other top drawer acts as well as to perform nationally for myriad corporate and private events such as fundraising galas, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and other special functions. In 2015, I was gratified to win the Chicago Music Award for Best Jazz Entertainer. Grammy-winning pianist and WDCB “Legends of Jazz” host Ramsey Lewis has called me "The Rolls Royce" of singers.
Q) Now that you are back on the radio, will you continue to perform as a singer? Where can we see you in action?
Oprisko: Despite my return to radio after a 20-year absence, my busy singing schedule will continue unabated! In fact, I am thrilled to have this opportunity to be a musical ambassador on two fronts again! The majority of my engagements are private and closed to the public. However, I have numerous ongoing public performances at various venues throughout the Chicagoland area such as the Drake Hotel and Tavern on LaGrange. For the current list of my upcoming public performances, please visit the SCHEDULE page of my website peteroprisko.com