Marj Halperin is the newest regular member of the rotating Mincing Rascals podcast panel. This autobiographical essay is based on an interview I conducted with her in June 2024.

My first real media job was at WKAR, Michigan State University’s public radio station. I started as weekend news anchor, expanding to host public affairs and even music programs.

The more I did at WKAR, the more I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life. I sent resumes to public radio stations all over the country and landed as the public affairs director at WNIU-FM in DeKalb.   

Within a year, I was blanketing Chicago radio stations with resumes. I talked my way into an informational meeting with the news director at WXRT-FM. The meeting went so well he fired his current news reporter and hired me. I was a general assignment reporter based in City Hall. I actually had to take a pay cut moving to Chicago but it sure was a great career move and XRT gave me many life-long friends. 

We’d never had much money when I was growing up in what was then-rural Famington, Michigan, outside of Detroit. I’m one of eight kids in a twice-blended family.

My father was a lawyer but didn’t work steadily so my mother, sisters and I took on a lot of part time jobs – right through high school and college. My first political cause came in high school. I helped lead the fight for girls to wear both miniskirts and maxiskirts, because neither was allowed. And we won!

At the University of Michigan, I joined a month-long strike in support of under-paid graduate teaching assistants. I was a communications major there but transferred to Michigan State for a broader, more contemporary curriculum. That’s where I met my husband, Alan Robinson, through an early form of (pre-internet) computer dating.

He was studying sociology and went on to become a writer and then a teacher with Chicago Public Schools.

I had six great years at WXRT. I won a few awards and had become a very solid reporter, but the pay was crummy and a 40% raise drew me to Q101 (WKQX-FM). I focused on restaurant reviews and feature reporting. 

That included a news conference where I managed to enrage Paul McCartney.  He came to town in 1985 to promote his semi-autobiographical movie,“Give My Regards to Broad Street.” 

He went off on an emotional tirade because Michael Jackson had just purchased the publishing rights to the majority of the Beatles’ catalog. He moaned, “These are my babies!” 

I noted he owned a catalog that included the rights to “On, Wisconsin” and the University of Wisconsin had to pay him royalties. Seemed like the same thing to me, so I pushed the point. Somewhere, I have a photo of Paul glaring at me with one of those eyebrows up. Finally, he said, “Speak to me later, darling.”

I was on maternity leave from Q-101 after the birth of our second daughter when the station fired me. That’s how it was in radio. 

I turned to freelancing, reporting for NPR, Crain’s Chicago Business, and the Chicago Sun-Times. I continued my activism as a co-founder of the parents’ rights group Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE), where I was one of the drafters of the bill creating Local School Councils. 

I was recruited to be Deputy Press Secretary for Richard M. Daley’s 1989 mayoral campaign, persuaded that I’d have more influence working on the inside than reporting from the outside.

After Daley won, I was his deputy press secretary for about a year, leaving City Hall for a series of communications jobs focused on government reform at Chicago Public Schools; with then-State Treasurer Pat Quinn; and at the Park District, where I developed the “Come Out and Play” campaign and supervised all neighborhood and citywide arts programs. 

I left government to run the League of Chicago Theaters for nearly ten years, combining my marketing skills with a love of the arts and interest in politics. From there, I set up shop as a communications consultant, with my favorite project being The 606 rails-to-trails development. 

More recently, I’ve been ramping up on political work, including grassroots campaigning, commentary, and punditry. For nearly ten years, Republican operative Chris Robling and I did a point-counterpoint segment on WGN-TV. During the early Trump years, I started doing commentary for Canadian TV, which is still an occasional gig.

I think I was drawn to progressive politics because of my family’s struggles growing up. I know what that’s like. And as a reporter I was exposed to a lot of causes, had a front row seat to so much of the race-based injustice in this city. As a longtime Chicagoan – first in Ravenswood and most recently in the South Loop – I’m committed to making Chicago a more equitable and just place.  

I was an early organizer with Indivisible Chicago, part of a national network of progressive activists, and I’m founder of One Community Near South, a grassroots organization which aims to give residents a voice on major municipal projects and policies that impact our community. 

I’m proud that our children share this commitment. Older daughter Madeline is a communications specialist like her mom. She’s in Washington, DC with her husband and our three grandchildren, working for an NGO that provides access to women’s reproductive health care, mainly in Africa and Asia. 

Abby is a certified pastry cook who switched careers to follow her dad into Chicago Public Schools. She’s a bilingual preschool teacher at Jahn Elementary.

I fill my spare time with family and friends, music, theater, travel and crafting cocktails. You really should try my refreshing Bitter End Malort cocktail!