An Ode to Lin Brehmer
At the very beginning of the widely praised seventh episode of the breakout 2022 hit TV show The Bear, a voice cuts through the static and emanates out from the purely black screen. “Thank God you found us,” the voice says before introducing itself: “I’m Lin Brehmer, your best friend in the whole world.” As the strains of “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens play over a robust collection of the sights and sounds of a morning in the city we call home, it’s impossible not to think about the thousands of mornings that have started that same way for thousands of people, breathing in the crisp Lake Michigan air with that familiar warm and booming voice guiding you on through the dawn. There are many things, small winks and nods, in The Bear that make it such a heartfelt and true depiction of life in Chicago. Things that only locals would ever truly know or understand, but the choice of Lin Brehmer to open the show’s most direct and explicit love letter to its setting might be the best of them—if any one person was the voice of Chicago, it was Lin.
It’s difficult to overstate the impact Lin Brehmer had on not just the worlds of radio and music, but on the very DNA and cultural fabric of Chicago over his many years on the airwaves of 93.1 FM, WXRT. Generations of Chicagoans have been raised, formed, and molded by the sounds of the radio station that he helped turn into a local institution over the last 50 years, as both the music director and a longtime on-air personality. Hearing Lin at the helm was always a balm for weary ears, his selections refreshing, his affect comforting and intimate, and his enthusiasm for discovery always at the forefront. Lin was a tastemaker, a relentless champion of local music, and someone whose curiosity and desire to share his passion with the world seemed unending. There was no greater treat than catching an episode of Lin’s Bin, his series of radio essays, which aired on Mondays and Fridays every week. Lin would wax poetic about a topic of his choosing, sometimes a little bit rambling but never pontificating, always erudite and profound. More than a DJ, Lin was an accomplished writer in an auditory medium, gifted with a distinct flair for the philosophical, his vocabulary vivid and evocative, always finding the most interesting way to arrive at his illuminating conclusions.
In a world with an increasingly global culture driven by the Internet and social media, people like Lin Brehmer feel like the last vestiges of an era fading away. A man who was a truly revered, iconic figure in just one community and veritably unknown everywhere else, a treasured secret kept by an entire city. As a self-styled radio personality myself both on UIC Radio and now on CHIRP Radio in Chicago, I’ve spent a lot of time with other local DJs, and without fail the name I hear mentioned most often as an inspiration to all of us is Lin’s. So much of what he represented is hard-coded into my own understanding of what a great DJ should be, and so much of what I do on the air is informed by years of listening to his morning show every day. When I was growing up, I had an FM radio in my room that I would listen to as I fell asleep, and I couldn’t even tell you how many times I woke up in the morning and slowly came back to consciousness with Lin’s voice in the room reminding me that “It’s great to be alive.” I got the chance to meet and talk to Lin Brehmer on a couple of occasions; this isn’t really a flex, but it was difficult to attend concerts in Chicago with any sort of regularity without running into him. What always struck me about speaking with him, even just briefly, is that he really was exactly the same person on the street as he was on the radio—none of what he did was an act or designed as a presentation to an audience; he was having a conversation with you, even if he couldn’t see you. When he called himself your best friend in the whole world, he really meant it, and whenever I got the chance to listen to him, he was my best friend too. I’ll miss him terribly.