Lin Brehmer often ended his radio essay segment ‘Lin’s Bin’ by saying, ‘Don’t take anything for granted. It’s great to be alive.”
It was the mantra of the longtime WXRT-FM (93.1) host for years – who became a Chicago household name, known for his wit and sense of humour. Countless listeners who never met Brehmer considered him a friend.
Brehmer passed away on Sunday at the age of 68.
“It is with a heavy heart that we must inform you that we have all lost our best friend. Lin Brehmer fought cancer as long as he could,” fellow host Terri Hemmert wrote in a post on Sunday morning. “He passed away peacefully early this morning, with his wife and son by his side.”
Brehmer announced last July that he was taking a break from the station to undergo chemotherapy for prostate cancer. Brehmer briefly returned to the air in November, telling television station WBBM that “radio has been my life”.
Brehmer worked at WXRT for over three decades, most of it as a morning DJ, until moving to afternoon in 2020.
He is perhaps best known for his “Lin’s Bin” segments, which consisted of his answer to a listener’s question, interweaving prose with his encyclopedic knowledge of music and popular culture.
“Lin’s Bin” was often funny and sometimes serious.
“‘Lin’s Bin’ was so well made, it was a work of art,” said Norm Winer, who was WXRT’s program director when he hired Brehmer in 1984. “It was a return to the Golden Age of radio. He would make you laugh out loud. He would make you cry.”
Those radio essays answered a creative desire of Brehmer, who developed a love of literature in high school. “It is a creative outlet. No one is looking over my shoulder,” Brehmer told the Sun-Times in 2018.
Mary Dixon, who worked alongside Brehmer as host for 28 years, said, “I think in another life he would have been an English professor. He was a nerdy, philosophy and English student at Colgate. But he emerged at a time when rock ‘n’ roll was the new poetry.”
Brehmer interacted with countless Chicago residents – even though they never met him in person.
“There’s a reason I’ve heard of a few people who cried today saying they feel stupid for not even knowing him — but they did,” said WXRT host Emma Mac. Brehmer’s “connection with you was sincere, and positive, and authentic, and kind.”
Messages in Brehmer’s honor flooded social media after his death.
“Lin Brehmer was the voice of Chicago. His voice was unique and a perfect way to start the day,” said former mayor and current US ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel wrote on Twitter.
“Chicago has lost its best friend,” said US Representative Mike Quigley Posted.
Brehmer, a season ticket holder for the Cubs, displayed his name on the marquee at Wrigley Field on Sunday.
Born in Queens, New York, Brehmer began his radio career as a Sunday morning DJ in Albany. The first song he ever played as a professional DJ was The Beatles’ “Within You Without You,” because “I’ve always felt life flowing into you, but especially without you,” Brehmer said in 2017.
At that station he was nicknamed ‘the Reverend’ because he recited poetry while introducing songs. “I would run into Dylan Thomas or William Wordsworth,” he once told the Sun-Times.
Asked who he would like to meet in heaven, Brehmer said, “Here’s the point, most of my musical heroes may not be in heaven, they may be in the third ring of the Inferno.”
Brehmer moved to Chicago in 1984 to become the music director at WXRT. He worked behind the scenes until 1990, then took a short-lived radio job in Minneapolis. “I was there for 12 months, had a great time… then I found out my radio station owner was out of business. So it made things very unpredictable,” Brehmer said.
He came back to WXRT the following year and took Hemmert’s spot as morning DJ.
Brehmer once described himself as an “anti-shock jock.”
“It’s just not who I am,” he told the Sun-Times. “The closest I get to shock jock is standing up for civil rights or religious freedom. That is very shocking these days.”
Brehmer loved Chicago’s theater, music and food culture, he said in an interview on WXRT in 2017. “I love eating out in Chicago,” he said. “Whether it’s Italian beef with hot peppers or a 12-course meal at Acadia, I love the culinary scene here.
“And most importantly, of course, is the music: from the Chicago blues, from going to Buddy Guy’s Legends, to seeing all the artists who choose Chicago as one of their main stops on their tours,” he said.
Brehmer also had an affinity for sailing on Lake Michigan. “There’s something about that moment when you hoist the sails and turn off the engine and it’s nothing but the sound of the wind. It’s one of the most beautiful moments you can have,” he said in the interview.
Brehmer was also a supporter of the ALS community, serving as a spokesperson for events and fundraisers for nearly three decades. “Lin’s dedication to the ALS community as a spokesperson for the Les Turner ALS Foundation was legendary.” Andrea Pauls Backman, the foundation’s CEO, said in a statement.
WXRT will be celebrating Brehmer’s life on air Monday at 10 a.m
“We will support each other during this heartbreaking time,” Hemmert wrote. “Lin would like that. Don’t take anything for granted.”
I just heard about Lin Brehmer. Wonderful such a nice man. Loved his music, loved his pizza, loved his baseball. I always saw him around Wrigley. Always so nice. Terrible news. Rest in peace Lin. You were all the good in the world. ❤️🥲 pic.twitter.com/xKPViGHDft
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) January 22, 2023