From Viewer to Host: Ashley Berry Talks the Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade

One 417-lander has gone from enthusiastic viewer to host to now street reporter at one of the country's largest Thanksgiving Day Parades. We spoke with Ashley Berry just days before her big return to this Chi-Town Turkey Day tradition.

by Colin Shea Denniston

Nov 23 2022 at 8 a.m.

Ashley Berry at the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade
Photo courtesy Ashley Berry

417 Magazine: What is your role with the Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade?
Ashley Berry:
This year I'm the on the street reporter or roving reporter—I'll be part of the three person broadcast team. The two main co-hosts are stars of the upcoming film, B&B Merry on Great American Family Network. They'll be the main hosts and I'll be supporting them [by] talking to parade participants and people attending the parade. I'll also be handling all the live, day-of social media for the parade.

417: How many years have you been doing this?
  This is my second year. Last year myself and a co-host were the two anchors. It was the first year after the COVID break. It was kind of a hurried, hastily put together effort to get last year's parade to happen. This year [there] was a lot more planning and foresight to get the parade back to its original scale.

417: How did you get started with the parade?
I have always watched the Chicago Thanksgiving parade while I'm home cooking Thanksgiving dinner… Last year there was a post made on their social media accounts that unfortunately, due to contract negotiations, the parade would not be streamed on television… I sent a message to the parade creators and said, ‘Hey, I think there's a space for you in online streaming. I love the parade—we love watching from Missouri [and] I hope that you'll be able to find a way to make this happen. And if we can help, let us know.’ By we, I mean my husband and I. He owns a streaming company that streams dirt track racing events called Race and Dirt. We were really familiar with live streaming of events and I just thought it was sad that this parade wouldn't be broadcast.

And oddly enough, they messaged me back, asked some questions and we connected them with some friends in the Chicago area that work in production. [We] started piecing things together and before I knew it, I was helping plan the parade.

And then about 10 days ahead of last year's parade I asked if there were any other needs and they said, ‘Actually, we need someone to host. Would you be interested?’ And so I did! I said yes, and I went, and that's how it all kind of happened. It was crazy and sporadic. I just genuinely wanted to help them make sure that the parade was broadcast for people to watch.

Ashley Berry reporting at the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade
Photos courtesy Ashley Berry
Ashley Berry working at the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade
Photos courtesy Ashley Berry
Ashley Berry with family at the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade
Photos courtesy Ashley Berry

417: What is your favorite part about the parade?
A.B.:  In general, I love the community it brings together… Everyone coming together on a holiday in the cold, in the rain, whatever the weather is to see the parade.

417: Are there any interesting behind the scenes secrets?
A.B.: One of the things in Chicago—other than the weather being always a little crazy—is that for the balloons to make it down State Street, they actually have to lower them underneath the L Train platform when they make the turn onto State. So the thought of having a ton of large helium filled balloons floating down State is a little bit more challenging because of the subway system—the subway goes above the road there.

The team of balloon handlers would have to lower the balloons beneath the L and then raise them back up. This year there are three balloons slated to appear in the Chicago parade, and over 19 different countries are represented, which is the most fascinating and the most challenging part of my job. There's a lot of very specific pronunciations of cultural groups—it's definitely one of the most diverse parades in the country.

417: Is there a way that people can follow along and watch the parade from 417-land?
A.B.: It will be streamed live on the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade’s YouTube and Facebook pages, and their Instagram will have some live interaction that I'll be hosting.