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Windy City shows Chiaverini the love

Miles of charm and a winning on-air chemistry with co-host Val Warner have contributed to eight years in the spotlight on “Windy City Live.”

Ryan Chiaverini projects such a warm, affable presence as the co-host of the ABC7 talk show “Windy City Live” that as I waited to talk to him, I wondered whether he acts that way in real life or whether it’s just a persona for TV.

A moment later, he bounded into his office with a big smile, a proffered handshake and a friendly gesture motioning me to sit on a sofa.

During a round of chitchat, this native Californian who moved to Chicago 13 years ago volunteered some of his favorite Italian places in the Windy City — Volare, Ignotz, La Scarola, D’Amato’s for bread and sandwiches — “and that’s just the beginning, I don’t want to leave anybody out.”

As he shifted into talking fondly about his dad, a Renaissance man with family from Abbruzzo who sings beautifully in Italian and scored 96 percent Italian on Ancestry.com, I’d gotten my answer. Ryan Chiaverini brings the same comfortable presence to real life as he does to television.

He laughed when I revealed my conclusion.

“The biggest compliment I could receive is when people say you’re exactly the way you are on TV,” he says, “because some people are not.”

Matt Knutson, Windy City Live’s executive producer, confirms that Chiaverini and dynamic co-host Val Warner show their real selves on TV.

“Ryan is very caring,” Knutson says. “And when he’s passionate about something, you can taste it.”

Chiaverini gets to demonstrate his sense of caring in almost every segment of every show. Considering it runs Monday through Friday and just celebrated its eight-year anniversary, that adds up to a lot. It airs from 1 to 2 p.m. on WLS Channel 7 and features Chiaverini and Warner, who have the kind of on-air chemistry made in TV heaven, conversing about the day’s news with local celebrities, interviewing interesting Chicagoans, viewing cooking demonstrations and more.

“We always try to lead local,” Chiaverini says, explaining that he and Warner study up on big local stories, viral videos and things people are talking about. “But if we have a chance to get an A-list actor, we certainly will book them.”

Chance the Rapper debuted on Windy City Live, and it was one of the first American television shows for a British singing sensation Americans hadn’t heard of at the time, Ed Sheeran.

“No more than six weeks after he did our show, he was on the Grammys performing,” Chiaverini recalls. “That’s the fun part of the show, to see people who haven’t made it yet, and you’re giving them their first TV opportunity.”

It’s not all about celebrities, though. The show welcomes plenty of ordinary people doing extraordinary good in the Chicago region.

“Those segments are about making a difference in communities,” Chiaverini says. “We will never stray away from that. People seem to love that about the show the most.”

He jokes that friends tell him he’s gotten smarter from the show. When he was a sports reporter, they asked him for fantasy football picks; now they pick his brain on news and politics.

“It opens your world view a lot more broadly because you learn something from just about every guest,” he observes.

He does have sports bona fides, though. Chiaverini and his twin brother, Darrin, played football in high school and at the University of Colorado. Darrin went on to play in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons and now coaches football at the University of Colorado. Ryan still plays hockey in a men’s league and started his television career as a sports reporter, moving from the Denver market to ABC7 in Chicago in 2006.

The first week he arrived, he received a welcome letter from the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans and late Italian-American community leader Dominic DiFrisco.

“They welcomed me into the family just because of my last name. It was a surreal feeling I had never experienced before,” says Chiaverini, who had lived in the less-ethnic West until then. So, it was only a matter of time before he was asked to take a major role in the Columbus Day Parade and queen contest, which he has done.

With a name like Ryan, however, one might guess he’s a child of mixed heritage. His mother, a homemaker who suffered through two bouts of cancer before she passed away from pneumonia two years ago, was Irish. He and the rest of the family are still coping with her loss.

It’s compounded by another profound grief — Ryan and Darrin’s younger brother took his life 10 years ago. Ryan couldn’t talk about it for a long time but broke his silence several years into the show.

In 2017, the issue of gun violence also affected his family. His former brother-in-law and a family friend were killed in the mass shooting at the country music concert in Las Vegas. Chiaverini talked about it on the show and expressed frustration with the lack of common-sense gun laws.

“These issues have affected him personally,” Knutson says. “He’s very open about everything.”

One of the ways Chiaverini, who is also a rock and country musician, coped was to write songs. By 2014, he was finally able to write one that was upbeat in tribute to his brother. He produced a music video, which featured him singing his original song, “Chicago,” and playing guitar along with cameos of other media personalities. It raised money for suicide prevention.

Chiaverini maintains he gets the musical gene from his father, who performs and sings at lounges, used to play guitar in a band called the Lively Ones, and has a song on the soundtrack of the movie “Pulp Fiction.” Eddie Chiaverini, who uses the stage name Eddie Day, is an athlete, too, having played semi-pro hockey. According to his son, he can also build a house.

“I’m a watered-down version of my Pops, just not as handy,” Ryan Chiaverini says, smiling.

Knutson says the Windy City Live staff has also bonded into a sort of family, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the very close relationship between Chiaverini and Warner.

“We have an open and honest relationship, and that’s a big reason why this has worked,” Chiaverini says.

Warner’s daughter and son, now 16 and 11, have grown up calling him “Uncle Ry-Ry” and they still do.

“Val is the sister I never had,” Chiaverini says, joking that she calls him from the salon each time she tries a new hairstyle to get his opinion.

He calls her “the gatekeeper of my dating life,” along with his sister-in-law. “They both want to find Ms. Right for me,” says the 41-year-old co-host, who has focused on his career up until now but wants to spend this decade settling down.

His career is certainly soaring. When the show started, he thought he’d be happy if it ran five years. Eight years later, it is still going strong.

“I feel really blessed that I have a great team, a great co-host and I honestly love coming to work,” Chiaverini says. “It’s different every day, and the variety of the show is so nice.”

The above appears in the August 2019 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.

About Pam DeFiglio

A lifelong writer. Pam DeFiglio works as an editor at the Chicago Tribune Media Group/Pioneer Press. She has won two Chicago Headline Club awards for previous work as an editorial writer and features writer at the Daily Herald. She also won National Federation of Press Women awards for Chicago Tribune news features on immigrants, and has worked in public relations at a university. She loves Italy and all things Italian, thanks to Nanna and a magnificent college year in Rome. She's grateful for all the people working to celebrate Italian culture in Chicago. Contact her at https://www.linkedin.com/in/pamdefiglio/