By CHRISTIAN BELANGER
Samantha Chatman was 10 when she got her first break on television. Her father and namesake, the longtime Chicago stepping DJ Sam Chatman, worked on the public-access show “Elma and Company.” For their back-to-school special one year, he recommended his daughter as MC. “He had me host the show. He was the first person to put a microphone in my hand,” she said.
Now, she’s returning to local airwaves—starting Sept. 30, Chatman, a Hyde Park native, will join the crew of ABC 7’s morning newscast, where she’ll cover consumer issues. The move caps off a string of short-term gigs near the city and around the country: from Peoria, where Chatman got her start as a reporter and weather anchor, to Dallas, where she earned a reputation as the “Judge Judy of Texas” for her investigative work.
Chatman was born and raised in Hyde Park, and attended Ray Elementary and the Kenwood Academic Center before heading to Lincoln Park for high school. She took ballet lessons and performed in beauty pageants, but was most serious about singing; one year, she performed at the reception ahead of the Bud Billiken Parade, where she met the younger Mayor Daley. She also sang in Kenwood Academy’s concert choir.
Growing up, her mom would make Chatman read the newspaper every day. “I hated it at the time,” she said. “But it led me to where I am.”
At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she studied broadcast journalism. (She also spent a summer interning at ABC 7, the station that just hired her.) After graduation, she went to work in Peoria; a year later, she left for a business reporting position at a Fox affiliate in Louisville, Kentucky. In 2016, she was hired as a reporter on consumer issues in Dallas.
It was in north Texas that Chatman cultivated a reputation as a journalist with serious investigative chops. The Judge Judy moniker came for her work exposing fraudulent contractors. “Someone would pay a contractor a deposit or down payment, and they’d never come back,” she said. “Our reporting led to the prosecution and conviction of at least three contractors in the area.”
Chatman also won an Emmy for her work on a gas station that put water in its fuel, costing car owners hundreds of dollars in repairs. “There was what the [agricultural] commissioner would call a flawed law that allowed gas stations to avoid testing,” she said. “It hasn’t changed yet, but it definitely raised a lot of awareness.”
Her new job will involve more of the same. “I always thought the consumer issue would be huge for people in the morning because it’s one of the things we can always relate to—our dollar protecting and stretching,” said Chatman. “It adds to everyone’s preparation.” She said she plans to look into issues surrounding parking and towing, noting that it’s a particular problem in Hyde Park.