MCC alum, McHenry County native returns for second season as organist for the Chicago Cubs
McHenry County native John Benedeck knows what it means to make it to the big leagues -- quite literally.
In 2020, Benedeck was hired to take up the time-honored tradition of playing the organ for the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. But before he earned the coveted gig, Benedeck got his start studying broadcast journalism at McHenry County College and Western Illinois University.
"After high school, I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to pursue," Benedeck said of his choice to attend MCC. "But I knew I wanted to receive a college education of some sort. MCC was a natural choice to pursue a higher education while I was still unsure about my ultimate goals."
It was during his time at MCC that he discovered his passion for broadcasting and journalism.
"I started interning for Huntley Community Radio. The experience was really special and integral in my growth in the industry. I still volunteer there now, actually," he said. "My instructors at MCC also played an essential role in my success in this business. The faculty there are extremely passionate about what they teach."
In 2016, Benedeck continued his studies at Western Illinois University, majoring in broadcasting production with a minor in journalism. While he was there, he also worked as the public address announcer for WIU sporting events.
"I called basketball, baseball, and volleyball games. At baseball games, I brought my makeshift organ along and provided some familiar ballpark sounds while I announced. That's actually how I got my feet wet playing organ at ballparks," he said.
After he graduated, Benedeck applied for a producer position at WYLL/WIND in Chicago and was hired shortly thereafter.
"I moved into a full-time position producing on The Common Good show on WYLL. The producer's job involves operating the sound board, booking guests -- basically everything but hosting the show!" he joked. "It was a blessing to be the gatekeeper of the quality, balanced conversations had on that show. The hosts care deeply about their content and practice what they preach. We provided a platform and a voice to countless business owners, church leaders, and people working in urban areas fighting for racial reconciliation. It has been a privilege to work with them."
In addition to his nearly 20 years of experience playing piano, Benedeck's background in broadcast journalism also helped him get started with the Cubs.
"I was producing podcasts for Stu McVicar at Club 400 in Lake in the Hills. He holds charity events out of his "Man Cave" basement, and I recorded the interviews we did with Cubs players, execs, and the like. He happens to have a former Wrigley Field organ in his basement and I would hop on it every now and again for the fun of it," Benedeck said. "One day, a friend of mine threw my hat in the ring for the organist vacancy without my knowledge, and the Cubs contacted me for an audition tape. One thing led to another and they offered me the job!"
As a massive Cubs fan, the honor of playing the legendary Lowrey Organ at Wrigley Field is a bucket-list item in and of itself, he said. "I get to provide the voice of Wrigley Field for thousands of fans who are all there for the same reason: to cheer on the Cubbies. There isn't a more beautiful sight than the panoramic of the Friendly Confines on a summer afternoon."
Benedeck primarily gets to choose his own set during the games, but says fans and co-workers aren't shy about requesting tunes.
"I love to engage on social media with fellow fans as they give me song recommendations. I like to think that other people have a better taste in music than I do, so their contributions are vital!"
In addition to playing for the Cubs, Benedeck continues working as a freelance musician and has performed all over the area.
"From parties, to bars, to charity events at the Merchandise Mart, I play anywhere I can."
You can catch Benedeck playing the famous organ for the Cubs as the 2021 season gets started at home on Wednesday, April 1.