Thirty-four years after Richard Milne joined WXRT 93.1-FM as weekend overnight host, he's about to become the face and the voice of morning drive at "Chicago's Finest Rock."
As dawn breaks on Monday, he'll follow Chicago radio icons Lin Brehmer and Terri Hemmert as only the third morning personality at the Entercom adult album alternative station since 1981.
"We are blessed to have someone of Richard’s character, charm, music knowledge and wit to take over for Lin," said Greg Solk, operations manager and program director of WXRT. "It’s Richard’s turn to get in early and rock Chicago.”
It was Solk who promoted Milne from part-time status to afternoon drive in 2018, then to middays in place of Hemmert last July, and now to the station's top job in mornings. (Brehmer is moving to middays — from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. — effective Monday.)
For Milne, 60, a lifelong Chicagoan and music aficionado who "fell head over heels" for WXRT as a kid, this all must seem like a proverbial dream come true.
The Addison Trail High School alum, who started in college radio at Southern Illinois University and worked at the former WDEK in DeKalb, joined WXRT in 1986. For 26 years, Milne hosted and produced “Local Anesthetic,” a weekly new music showcase. On the side, he and his wife, Charlene, have operated Rank Entertainment, a booking agency for corporate and private events, since 1999.
On the eve of his morning debut, Milne shared his thoughts on the two legends he is succeeding, the music he treasures, and his vision for the show:
Q. So let me get this straight: It took three decades for you to go from part-time to full-time at XRT, and in the last two years you’ve been in afternoon drive, middays and now morning drive. That’s quite a career trajectory, wouldn’t you say?
A. When Greg Solk joined us, he heard in me what I always had heard in me — that I might be able to play a bigger role within these hallowed halls. So in 2018, I rejoined the air staff as a full-time jock for the first time since 1991. From there it was a matter of re-finding my “voice” and building upon the foundation that had been left dormant for a quarter century. Here’s a tip for budding radio personalities: Focus on the raps you do right instead of dwelling on what might have gone awry. The former will clear up the latter.
Q. What inspired you to get into radio?
A. I’ve long loved radio. I grew up at the tail end of the WLS vs. WCFL wars. I had an WMET lightning bolt on the bumper of my ’72 Nova, and hip sisters that turned the volume up when WSDM played “Whipping Post” from Fillmore East. In the late '70s, though, I fell head over heels for the music and personalities of WXRT. Man, it was love at first listen. I enrolled in Radio and Television at SIU-Carbondale, worked at WIDB and WSIU, interned at XRT twice, and eventually got hired for weekend overnights in 1986. Just like Greg, [former program director] Norm Winer heard something that others didn’t, and I’m eternally grateful for that.
Q. Which do you consider more intimidating: Following Terri Hemmert or following Lin Brehmer?
A. Terri is the great communicator with an unmatched ability to connect with listeners one-to-one. There’s a presidential exploratory committee getting ready to knock on her door. I just know it. Then there’s Brehmer. Smart, affable, wise. Able to transmit those traits to an audience with such apparent ease. I sat in with Terri a few years back and saw how she was better prepared for one break than I was for my entire show at the time. That was a valuable lesson. Lin, meanwhile, just turns on the mic and out flows all this stuff I wish I had said first. Let me call it a tie. I remain in awe of both their peerless acumen.
Q. How are you preparing for your new morning show?
A. All those skills I just attributed to Terri and Lin? I’ve got none of those! I’m still just crazy for all this music we play on XRT. It’s all about the music for me. Look, I’m an XRT DJ through and through. My particular skill set doesn’t translate to any other point on the dial. I show up for work to spin great music and I go after it. Every day, every show, every break. It’s what’s expected of me and it’s what I expect from myself. Passionate? You bet. I simply love WXRT and everything it stands for and everything it has meant to me and countless others over the years. It’s TBD whether I’ll add anything to the enduring mystique of this radio institution, but I guarantee I’ll do nothing to diminish it.
What was the question? Oh. I’ve been an early riser for years. Getting up at an ungodly hour won’t be a problem.
Q. What makes XRT listeners unique?
A. Jocks at WXRT are empowered to string together sets of music spanning decades and then deliver it with an intelligence that for the last 48 years we’ve conditioned listeners to expect. We’ve got a hard-won trust with our audience that has crossed over generations. You listen to WXRT and it’s easy to tell what you’re hearing is from the heart. That’s a heck of a bond and one that none of us takes lightly.
Q. I’m sure a lot of people think of you as the “Local Anesthetic” guy. Do you miss doing that show?
A. I just can’t find it within myself to half-ass anything. The time required to keep "Anesthetic" at the level I had originally committed to and felt obligated to provide just wasn’t there anymore. After giving thousands of bands their first and often only radio exposure and having interviewed everybody from Curtis Mayfield to the Jesus Lizard, I was OK with letting go.
Q. Are you and your wife still running Rank Entertainment? Does that help keep you in the loop on the Chicago music scene and local bands?
A. Rank Entertainment is still doing fine although I’ve strategically scaled back the last few years. I’ve got clients I like and who like me. I’m good with that. My priorities now are my immediate family, first and foremost, with my XRT family close behind.
Q. Greatest album of all time? Greatest concert you ever attended? Greatest musician you ever met?
A. Brian Eno’s “Before and After Science,” any show I’ve seen of Jeff Beck’s, and the above-mentioned Curtis Mayfield.
Q. If you hadn’t joined XRT in 1986, what do you think you’d be doing now?
A. I’d be working with musicians in some capacity Even the sanest among them is still somewhat bent. Whether I identify with that or it’s my utmost respect for the art they bring to this world, we connect.
Q. A parting thought?
A. Radio remains a magical medium. When I hear it done right, when I do it right, when the music and the vibe and the delivery all connect, it’s mighty powerful. If anybody reading this is still interested in that sort of thing they might want to wander over to 93.1-FM in Chicago. It’s not always possible to hit that kind of high, but please know we’re always trying. From the heart.
Thursday’s comment of the day: Eric Lorenz: Robert, thank you for giving the upcoming WMTH 60th anniversary celebration [at Maine Township High Schools] space in your column. Looking forward to looking back on 60 years of "Maine's Exclusive FM Radio" as well as many others. Even though I ended up *not* going into broadcast (although I really wanted to) the four years I spent working at the station I wouldn't have traded for anything. A lot of valuable lessons were learned.