River Country’s Ramirez reaches third decade behind the mic

Sam Ramirez works behind the mic at River Country 101.7 FM on Tuesday, July 9, 2024. Ramirez will mark his 30th anniversary with the Dixon radio station with an on-air celebration from 6-10 a.m. Thursday, July 11, 2024.

DIXON — If life had turned out how he thought it would back in 1994, Sam Ramirez would be spending his days teaching lessons in a classroom.

Ramirez, a Sterling native, had just graduated from Newman Central Catholic High School in Sterling and was waiting for the detasseling season to begin that summer so he could make a little money alongside the other job he had at Ponderosa. He also was looking forward to starting school at Sauk Valley Community College.

At the same time, his mother, Kim, saw an employment ad in the Sterling Gazette’s classified section. The local radio station, WRCV/WIXN, was looking to fill a part-time sports announcer position.

His mother thought he should apply for the radio position. While he didn’t want to, he took his mother’s advice and applied; it turned out to be a move that would forever change his life’s path.

And now on Thursday – exactly 30 years to the day that he started his first shift at the radio station – Ramirez will celebrate the three decades he has spent behind the mic at WRCV/WIXN, where he began working July 11, 1994. He has served as the station’s sports director since 1995, with his sports coverage now broadcast on Shaw Local Radio Company’s River Country 101.7 FM, AM 1460 WIXN and WSEY Sky 95.7 FM.

It will be a day of celebration for Ramirez and his listeners.

“On Thursday morning, from 6 to 10, I’m going to share stories from years past,” he said. “We’re going to give away some concert tickets, and some Mississippi Valley Fair tickets and we’re going to spotlight some songs from 1994, because that’s the year I started in.

“I’m really looking forward to sharing stories, some of the stories maybe have never been told,” he said. “That’s the stuff that people love and that’s like the true definition of local radio. So I’m excited for that.”

But 30 years ago, he never imagined how his life would be. Even during his early days of radio work, he had plans to get his college degree and work toward becoming a teacher.

“I graduated in May 1994 from high school and started at the radio station in July 1994,” he said. “I was only 17 when I started at the radio station. The first year I was there, I was part time.”

He started out covering Dixon High School basketball, he remembers. And in August 1995, when he was 18, he was named the station’s sports director.

As for his education, he did start out at Sauk as planned, but ended up dropping out and working full time at the radio station. He went back to Sauk in 2000, graduated, and then went on to Northern Illinois University for two years, still with the intent to become a teacher. It was while taking classes at NIU that he decided that when it came down to it, he could not leave the radio profession.

“I was faced with the decision of ‘Do I give up radio to teach.’ I was like ‘My heart is still in this’,” he said. “The best decision I ever made was to stay in radio... I made the right choice staying in radio because it’s what I love.”

He landed his own morning show in 2007 on River Country 101.7 and has covered decades of school sports programs. Among them, Oregon High School football, which he has reported on for what will be 25 years next month.

He loves watching sports, coaches varsity softball at DHS, golfs, and plays volleyball and softball.

His wife, Carie, is a kindergarten teacher at Dixon’s Washington School, where she has taught for 18 years. His parents, Sam and Kim, live in Sterling and his sister, Jacey, just moved back to Sterling on Monday. She is a teacher and has a 9-month-old son, Dominic.

Ramirez also serves on the Sauk Valley Community College Board of Trustees and the United Way of Whiteside County Board of Directors.

As he looks over his career, he is surprised at how fast the years have passed and where he has landed.

“If you would have asked me in 1994 do you see yourself here in 30 years, I couldn’t have answered that question,” he said. “But now I could still see myself doing this 20 years from now.”

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Charlene Bielema

Charlene Bielema

Charlene Bielema is the editor of Sauk Valley Media.