Windy City Live’s Ryan Chiaverini on social distancing, music, and his Italian heritage

What is a typical day on “Windy City Live” while social distancing?

Before COVID-19, “Windy City Live” would have a lot of in person meetings with the staff in the morning before the show, and then another meeting after the show. Now, we’re doing of all our meetings on Zoom. We do a quick meeting in the morning with the producers and that’s the only time we are face-to-face with them. We do all of our prep at home. We’re in the studio for a very limited amount of time and we all wear masks in the building. All of our guests are virtual. It’s definitely strange not having an audience. We have all of our guests come in via Zoom. These are all things we never thought would happen.

How does it feel different?

It definitely feels weird. It doesn’t have the energy that it used to have. But, we’re getting used to it. When we have guests come in via Zoom, it makes the studio less quiet.

Do you think the show will go completely remote again like it was in the spring?

We hope not. Right now with the COVID-19 numbers rising, it’s a concern. We want everyone to stay safe and healthy. Even though we’re social distancing, I think the station and ABC is going to take every precaution to make sure everyone stays safe.

Right now, the journalism and TV field is suffering due to COVID-19. What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in that field?

My advice would be to look outside the box to monetize your skills. When I was just starting in TV, people became an on-air journalist in a traditional way. We started in a small market, and then we worked our way up. That was the road map to getting [a job in a big city]. On our [Nov. 5] show, we had a whole segment about YouTube stars. I always tell the younger generation to look at ways that are unconventional. You may have a better shot at getting a gig or becoming a guest on a show by taking a different route. That’s the advice I would give because the field is so tough right now. Traditional television is changing so fast.

The next generation is very creative!

They are. Our parents worked for the same company for 40 years. My generation might be the last generation that stays with the same company until they retire. This next generation thinks outside the box and they don’t want to be structured.

What has been your best interview so far?

Mike Tyson is one of my favorite people to interview. You can ask him anything and he will give you an honest answer. As an interviewer, that’s all you can ask for. He’s lived a hard life growing up, and then he became really rich and famous. Then, he lost it all. He’s been forgiven by society and he’s this fun-loving guy. He’s got a great sense of humor and he’s incredibly humble. I ran into him at a restaurant in L.A. and he recognized me. Another great interview was Al Pacino. Of course as an Italian, it was amazing interviewing Al Pacino. He was so kind. 

Do you ever get star struck?

I always try to act cool. I’ve met Michael Jordan about five times in my life. No matter what, every time you see Michael Jordan, it brings you back to your childhood. He’s the greatest basketball player of all time.

Do you plan your conversations with Val before filming a show?

Everything is off the cuff. Sometimes we want to tell each other something, and we say, “let’s save it for the air.” We want it to come off as natural as possible.

Can it be difficult?

Over the past 10 years, our chemistry is really good. We’ve been doing it so long now, we don’t think about the cameras. We just think of it as if Val and I are in a restaurant or at someone’s house. It comes pretty naturally. 

Do you see yourself doing something on a national scale interviewing A-list celebrities?

If you would’ve asked me that question five years ago, I would have said yes. But, this is my 15th year with ABC and my 10th year on “WCL.” I’m incredibly happy here. I think Chicago has treated me so well. After years of being here, this is really home.

How do you block out mean or negative comments on social media or in general?

I just tune it out. We all need to tune out negative comments on social media. You have to ignore the trolls. If you make a mistake on air, you just apologize and move on.

How do you feel about the Italian community in Chicago?

The Italian community has embraced me so much. On the West Coast, we don’t have the Italian community as strong as the one we have here.

What are your favorite Italian events and restaurants in the Chicago area?

I love La Scarola (721 W Grand Ave, Chicago); Volare (201 E Grand Ave, Chicago); and Ignotz (2421 S Oakley Ave, Chicago). As for events, I like working the Columbus Day Parade because I love seeing the sports cars and being able to connect with the Italian community. I’m usually the street reporter for the ABC 7 broadcast. 

I know your dad, Eddie Chiaverini, is Italian. What are his Italian roots?

My pops grew up on the East Coast. He’s a singer, and he sings in Italian. He understands the lyrics that he’s singing. My dad is an expert in knowing all of the Italian swear words. (laughs) My dad’s family is from Abruzzo. I went to Italy a few years ago. I didn’t get the chance to go to Abruzzo. It would be a dream to go there with my pops one day.

Does your family have any cool Italian traditions for Christmas?

No matter what the holiday, my aunt will bring over her homemade meatballs. And, we’ll always have lasagna with any meal, no matter the holiday.

What kind of Italian traditions do you have with your dad?

My pops lives in Southern California, so when I go home to visit him, his girlfriend Patty and I always make pasta fazool (pasta e fagioli). It’s our thing. That’s the one thing my pops wants me to make when I’m home.

2020 has been such a crazy year! What have you been doing during quarantine?

Music is so therapeutic for me. One of the best things I ever did was learn to play guitar 20 years ago. For me, I try to unplug from my social media and I use music to escape.

Tell me about your music career.

I grew up watching my pops play and sing. He’s made his living being a musician for 50 years. He had a band called The Lively Ones. One of their songs was in the movie “Pulp Fiction.”

I grew up in a musical family. It’s fun to get on stage and play music. It’s definitely exceeded where I wanted it to go, and it’s been really fun. During COVID-19, I’ve been writing a lot.

You’re good at so many things!

Thank you! I always say my dad is the last Renaissance man. He works on cars, he’s a good wood worker, he’s athletic, he can sing, and he’s musical. He’s good at so many things.

What are your plans for the future?

If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s to be thankful. I’m so thankful we’ve been on the air for 10 years. It makes me not stress about the things I don’t have, and to be grateful for the things I do have. I’m in a really great place right now with “Windy City Live.” When I was young, I always thought about what was next. Maybe I’m getting old, but I don’t think about that stuff as much. I wake up with gratitude. I’m still hopeful we will be kinder to each other as humans.

However, I’ve always wanted to make a documentary. That’s something I always think about for the future.

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