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A personal remembrance and appreciation of Lin Brehmer

The longtime morning host at WXRT was also a huge Cubs fan.

I don’t often post photos of myself here but, after we all received the sad news of the passing of WXRT’s Lin Brehmer Sunday, far too young at 68, I wanted to share this one with you.

It’s of Lin, and me, and my friend Jessica Lee, taken March 14, 2019 at a game at Sloan Park in Mesa. In case you care, the Cubs won the game that afternoon over the Rangers 2-1. And of course you care. And of course Lin cared; the guy who was born and raised in New York City was as diehard a Cubs fan as anyone on this site. How did that happen? Lin explained in this interview in The Heckler in 2004:

I was born in Queens and I was a Yankees fan. My best friend had moved to Queens from Oak Park, so when we’d play stickball, we’d take turns being the Cubs and Yankees. We even had the Cleo James fan club. With guys like Fergie Jenkins, Ron Santo, and Ernie Banks, the Cubs were one of the coolest teams in the 1960s. No matter where you lived, you knew the Cubs.

In 1984, I was promised tickets to see the Cubs in the World Series if I came to work at WXRT. My first night out on Rush Street was the night that the Cubs clinched the pennant. My first apartment was on Wayne between Grace and Waveland. Living in Wrigleyville messed me up bad because that was way too close to Wrigley Field. I averaged about 50 games a year sitting in the right center bleachers with Marty Lennartz, Wendy Rice, Johnny Mars, and other assorted people without real jobs.

So Lin came by his Cubs fandom honestly and long before he moved to Chicago, and suffered the same heartbreaks we all did, from 1969 to 1984 to 2003. The Cubs acknowledged his passing late Sunday:

How do you sum up a life like Lin’s? You can’t, really, there was so much of it lived.

But here are some of the highlights, and I’ve called him a friend since we were both attending Colgate University in the 1970s. He was two years ahead of me; we met when we were both DJs at the school radio station, WRCU-FM, and chatted often when our radio shows were back-to-back.

After Lin graduated, he became a DJ and music director at WQBK-FM in Albany, New York. Those of us who were still at ‘RCU were proud of this — we all followed Lin’s career — and thought maybe, just maybe, we could also make a career out of being a radio DJ. I did work in that capacity at two radio stations briefly: WOUR in Utica, New York in 1978 and WJKL in Elgin, Illinois in 1980, then went on to work in TV for many years at ABC7 Chicago.

Lin, though, not only made a career in radio, he became everyone’s “best friend in the whole world” — and he always made you feel that way, whether you had ever met him or not — when he came to WXRT as music director in 1984. Leaving for a year to work at KTCZ in Minneapolis in 1990, he returned in 1991 to become WXRT’s morning man, a position he held until 2020, when he moved to middays.

It was on Lin’s morning show where he became famous, and made friends, and I mean real friends. “It’s great to be alive” was his catchphrase, except it wasn’t just a catchphrase, he really did feel that way. I connected with him briefly when he came to Chicago in 1984, but then with him working mornings in radio and me working mornings in TV, we lost touch until a serendipitous re-connecting — our sons played baseball on the same high school team for a couple of years, Lin and his wife Sara always sitting in their folding chairs at the games. I enjoyed hanging with him there and also at games of the sport Ultimate (which you might know as “Ultimate Frisbee”), which our sons also played together.

Lin also connected his love of the Cubs and his love of music by co-hosting Theo Epstein’s “Hot Stove Cool Music” benefit concerts at the Metro for several years.

His Cubs fandom? Well, if you listened to his shows you know all about it. Paul Sullivan wrote about it in this tribute column in the Tribune:

Lin remarked that Cubs fans “mark our generations by the abject failures that defined our youth: 1945 and the goat, 1969 and the black cat, 1984 and the Bull.

“Will my son or my wife or you ever forget the details of Inning 8, Game 6 of the National League Championship Series of 2003? With all due respect to the science of psychology, there is not enough winning in the world to take those crucial moments away. They are a part of who we are.

“These Cub plunges into the abyss are as permanent as the mark left by a branding iron. Cub fans have passed through a narrowing chute where we have been marked for life.”

In the end, Lin decided a World Series victory would not spoil the essence of being a Cubs fan: “And if we end the season with the Cubs in seven, I promise we will breathe again because we will no longer be holding our breath.”

You know that feeling, right? It took someone with the poetry of Lin Brehmer to put into words what we all felt after Game 7.

Last summer, WRCU-FM, the college radio station where Lin and I both worked, put together a reunion of all school alumni who worked there. It was originally supposed to be a 70th anniversary reunion in 2020, because the station had gone on the air in 1950, but two pandemic years pushed it back to June 2022.

I asked Lin whether he was going to go to the reunion and whether, perhaps, he and I could share the airwaves in upstate New York. Unfortunately, the cancer that took his life was already present, and as you know, Lin left WXRT in July, returning briefly in November. He couldn’t make it back to Colgate.

But I did. And I made a point of giving Lin a shout-out at the end of my 30-minute show, which you can listen to here, and played Steve Goodman’s “Go Cubs Go” to wrap up my half hour on the air. It seems likely that might be the only time that song was ever played on that radio station. I did that for myself, but also for Lin, as I wanted to make him part of the reunion he couldn’t attend, since his time at WRCU-FM was the beginning of the long radio career that settled him in Chicago, and as a diehard Cubs fan, for four decades.

In about an hour after the posting time of this article, at 10 a.m. CT, WXRT is going to air a tribute show for Lin, and if you’re not in Chicago you can listen to it online here.

You might be sad at Lin’s passing. I know I was when this news broke Sunday morning. But Lin wouldn’t want you to be. And I know this because even now I can hear him saying, “It’s great to be alive!” … and know that he meant it, and he’d absolutely want all of us to live by those words. Every day.

And so I shall. We all have just a finite time on this planet, just one go-around, and in his memory I’m going to try to live my life to the fullest.

Rest in peace, Lin Brehmer. For a guy who wasn’t from Chicago, he really became Chicago and brought so much happiness to so many people, a life well lived. I’m honored to have called him my friend.