CHICAGO — Lin Brehmer, the radio disc jockey known to local listeners as “The Reverend of Rock ‘n’ Roll” before earning the love of a Chicago audience through his 40 years in the Windy City, died on Sunday, Jan 22. He was 68.
He was as personable off the air as he was on, drawing listeners in with a self-effacing humor and warmth that left them feeling like friends. His wife Sara Farr told the Chicago Tribune that she knew she would have to share him before they married in 1997, and that she was okay with that.
“I learned very early on that I would have to share Lin with thousands of others,” she said. The two were college sweethearts who met on the campus of Colgate University. “I understood, and was happy to do so because there really was no difference between the man on the radio and the man I knew.”
By his count, he had attended nearly 1,500 live shows. He told an interviewer in 2013 that he once took in a semi-private Rolling Stone show without a ticket or credentials. He showed up, was recognized, and walked in.
Lin’s career started while flipping rock and roll records for WQBK-FM. He had recently shared a memory from those days, an ill-advised decision to walk the mile down River Road from his Glenmont apartment to the radio station one winter day. He gave up the car to Sara so she could drive to work.
“As I walked down route 144 I determined that if I cut through the woods on my left and I could save some time and distance,” he shared online last summer. A blanket of snow covered his surroundings, including the swamp that he was unaware was beneath him. Snow gave way to thick mud, in which he lost one of his sneakers. “When I reached the station, I limped into the studio with mud-encrusted jeans and only one shoe, the DJ who preceded me said, ‘What the hell happened to you?’”
“I took a shortcut,” he said.
His encounter with nature nearly caused him to miss the start of his shift. If not for an extended play of a Foghat song, he said, he would have missed his mark.
Pete Crozier, his longtime producer at WXRT recalled a more controlled entrance after Lin joined the Chicago radio station in 1984. He shared the story of another rushed dash to the microphone for his morning show. The show had already started when the phone rang.
“Time?” Lin’s voice asked from the other end.
Crozier calculated how long until the mic goes live. “Fifteen seconds. Talking Heads cued up. Ready to roll,” he said.
“Once in a Lifetime?”
“Yep,” I say.
“K. I’m walking to the back.”
Crozier describes Lin in a calm, calculating manner as he walked into the studio with four lattes in his hands and a record tucked under his arm as the two plot out the rest of their show. As they continue to speak in staccato statements, Talking Heads begins to play.
“Sixteen-second intro.” Lin says, a statement not a question.
“Yep,” Crozier responds.
Lin hands him the album and says, “Bill Murray’s birthday. Cart up Mr. Roberts, part one. End with, ‘You should sleep late, much better on your constitution’.”
Lin nudges open the studio door with his hip as Crozier enters a production studio across the hall. He hits a button on the board that brings Lin’s voice into his headphones.
“Goooooooooood morning, everybody!”
Crozier counts out four seconds in his head.
“Take nothing for granted. It’s great to be alive,” he says, hitting the post perfectly as David Byrne starts singing, “And you might find yourself living in a shotgun shack…”
Crozier shared the story online shortly after Lin announced that he was taking a leave from radio last July. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and was walking away from the mic to seek additional radiation and drug therapies.
The radio engineer was already lamenting the end of their interactions in the studio, which included piecing together “Lin’s Bins.” Through this weekly radio essay, Lin would choose a listener’s question and arrange his audio column with music. He could quote Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan, and recite Mickey Mantle’s Triple Crown stats from 1956.
“Lin is the smartest person I’ve ever known,” Crozier said. “Hell, he’s the smartest person YOU’VE ever known and I don’t even know you.”
Greg Bell, who just celebrated 30 years as an influential live music promoter, recalled Brehmer as a “great DJ” and a “really fun guy to hang out with.”
“[Lin] and the rest of the WQBK DJ’s introduced me to so much amazing music and helped to build the local music scene that continues today,” he said. “You were truly the Reverend of Rock and Roll.”