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 WFMT sponsor.
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.