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Mike Lorber

Mike Lorber

Helicopter reporter | NBC 5 Chicago | Class of 1989

You name it, Mike Lorber did it at Trito’s Uptown — drink, dance, decompress and, most important of all, DJ.

The late, great Champaign watering hole — perhaps been known for hosting shows by Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins in the late '80s — was also where a struggling student discovered his career calling.

We’ll let him tell it.

“After two years at U of I, I was kind of a lost student. I had taken time off from school since I wasn’t being the most diligent student and I also had some financial issues. I didn’t want to move back home so I stayed on campus at U of I.

“My roommates, Jeff Weingard and Tim Conrath, and I moved in an apartment above the old Redwood & Ross men’s store at Sixth and Green. After moving in, we went across the street to Trito’s Uptown with the two girls who lived next door.

“The bartender there was very friendly. He was alone at Trito’s, and we wanted to hear music. I told him that I had DJ’d a few times and asked if I could spin some tunes so that the girls could dance. He showed me the DJ booth and let me at it.

“Conveniently, he liked the music that I played, and I was looking for a job. The bartender told me to come back and apply for a DJ job.

“Later that week, after an interview with manager Mike Hall, I was given the DJ gig. It turns out that the original ‘bartender’ who recommended me was Lee Barnes, the owner of Trito’s Uptown.

“I ended up DJ’ing at Trito’s for more than three years. If became the place where I learned confidence on a microphone, and the courage to let myself go a bit in front of a crowd of people.

“If I could get the townies and Chanute Air Force Base guys to groove and have a great time, maybe I could be an actual broadcaster for larger amounts of people on the radio and TV.

“Lee Barnes always pumped up my ego. He once told me that I was ‘destined for great things’ and that I was meant to ‘be on a microphone in front of people.’ Confidence means everything in the broadcasting business, and Lee gave it to me.

“After leaving Champaign, I got a job producing traffic for Metro Networks. Six years later, I started as the NBCSky5 helicopter reporter for NBC Chicago TV. Twenty-plus years later, I’ve been fortunate enough to still hold this gig.

“None of it would have happened had we not walked into Trito’s Uptown that day.  Lee Barnes gave me a shot at broadcasting and a larger shot of confidence.

"So many of us have fantastic memories of working, jamming and dancing at Trito’s Uptown during the last half of the ’80s.”