I wasn’t lucky enough to be friends with Lin Brehmer (the beloved WXRT disc jockey who died yesterday), but I was a fan of his for more than three decades. I once made him laugh at a holiday party.
I was with my wife at her friend’s party at a high-rise condo in Streeterville. Many local radio and television folks were attending, and in walked Lin Brehmer, who seemed to immediately supercharge the already-fun-party’s mood and energy. We were introduced to Lin. Short, balding me said—while gesturing to my beautiful wife—“It’s nice to meet you, Lin. I love your show. I’m the ‘arm candy’ for this stunning lady.” Lin paused to make sure he’d heard me correctly, and then smiled and let out a hearty laugh. A small moment, but it was fun to make someone smile who’d often made me smile or laugh during his decades on the air.
I’m very sad to hear of the passing of Brehmer, who was one of the Mount Rushmore-like DJs of WXRT—along with Terri Hemmert, Richard Milne, Frank E. Lee, Marty Lennartz, Wendy Rice, Barry Winograd, Tom Marker, and Johnny Mars. Brehmer was funny, positive (his mantra was “Take nothing for granted. It’s great to be alive”), energetic (he seemed to be everywhere…concerts, fundraisers, sports event, street fests), offbeat, supportive (his other mantra was “Hello, from your best friend in the whole world!”), and the world’s biggest Cubs’ fan after Harry Caray and Ernie Banks. He loved music, but he also loved ideas. One of my favorite segments on his radio show was “Lin’s Bin,” a regular series of radio essays that answered listener questions on topics ranging from philosophy to sports and other pop culture topics. And musicians loved him for his support of them. One of my favorite YouTube videos is of Michael McDermott and Heather Horton playing for Brehmer in studio on his last day as morning drive host.
Brehmer started his WXRT career on December 30, 1991. The first record he played was “This Must Be the Place,” by Talking Heads, according to his SoundCloud.com page. I was 22 at the time and loved the Talking Heads, Scrawl, Smithereens, Ministry, Steve Earle, Replacements, Hüsker Dü, Yo La Tengo, Jayhawks, Flaming Lips, Wilco, Pixies, Television, Naked Raygun, Lowen & Navarro, Minutemen, and countless other indie or otherwise underappreciated bands and artists that he and the other XRT DJs played and championed.
I just heard Brehmer on the radio last week (or was it the week before?). His voice sounded a little tired and raspy, but his enthusiasm and wit were still there. Given Brehmer’s ongoing struggle with prostate cancer, I remember feeling happy that he was back on the air. That was the last time I would hear him. I took it for granted that he’d overcome his cancer and be there when I turned on the radio in the future. His death makes me realize that we should take the time to appreciate the simple things in life (such as a friendly voice on the radio) that make us happy and give us a feeling of continuity in this constantly changing world.
Radio is still popular today, but I don’t think most young people realize the more significant role it played back in the 1980s through the early 2000s in introducing alternative music (that phrase has lost most of its true meaning) to the world. Let’s also credit the local college radio stations at the end of the dial, the fanzine makers, and the indie record stores such as Wax Trax, Dr. Wax, Pravda Records, and Secondhand Tunes. WXRT and these other sources were like cultural airdrops from another planet. A planet that was more creative, risk-taking, and interesting than the regular world. In addition to listening to Brehmer, I loved Johnny Mars’ weekly Big Beat show, a midnight exploration of even wilder and more experimental music than WXRT would play during the day; Barry Winograd’s Jazz Transfusion show; and Tom Marker’s Blues Breakers show. And Terri Hemmert’s love for the Beatles matched (no, exceeded) my own. WXRT truly served as the soundtrack to my life—especially in the days before streaming, satellite radio, and all of the other ways to discover music emerged.
Today, our radio and television stations are filled with monochromatic non-personalities with audience-surveyed perfect hair, modulated voices, and overall middle-of-the-road presentations. The world of corporate radio and TV (and, yes, I know that XRT is now corporate-owned, too) is safe and bland. Most of these people pass through Chicago without ever leaving much of an impression. Thank God that Lin Brehmer was never any of these things. Thank God that he was goofy, funny, positive, authentic, and a “real character,” as my South Side dad used to call out-of-the-ordinary people. Thank God that he was a presence in our Chicago lives for more than 30 years, and that he has left us with many great memories. Rest in peace, Lin. Thanks for the years of entertainment and for laughing at my hokey joke.
Copyright (text) Andrew Morkes
“Lin Brehmer & Joel Murray” by TheSnapCat is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
“File:Lin Brehmer.jpg” by Tim O’Brien is licensed under CC BY 1.0.
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ABOUT ANDREW MORKES
I have been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job Openings; Nontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDs; They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titles. They Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school. Stories about my work have been published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Southtown, Beverly Review, and Practical Homeschooling.
In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering Careers, What Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).
My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.
3 thoughts on “Remembering Lin Brehmer and the Time I Made Him Laugh”
Really nice post, Andy – and love your joke!
I didn’t listen to Lin, but I can relate to everything you say about radio, etc. I have NPR on whenever I’m in the kitchen and I feel like the hosts/reporters are part of my extended family. 🙂 …..………………… Maureen Glasoe Virgo Words Helping Organizations Look and Sound Their Best Writing • Editing • Graphic Design 847.475.9927 (office) 847.903.6836 (cell) firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.virgowords.com » NEWLY UPDATED!
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Thanks, Maureen. I’m the same with NPR, as well as with the WGN Morning News. Hope to see you and Ted in 2023!