Bill Cochran was drawn to music radio for the same reason most people are. “I just love music,” he admits. “I’m a music fan – almost a music geek. Since childhood discovering new music was always a joy for me. I grew up in Oklahoma, listening to a radio station with a format, as far as I can figure it, that consisted only of playing songs that were six minutes or longer. It’s a format that I fell in love with. It was the 70s. I knew King Crimson, Genesis, Gentle Giant, bands like that. I didn’t know the Rolling Stones or The Who. The passion for music is what drew me into this business. The excitement of sharing that passion with the listeners fan to fan – ‘Hey, have you heard this yet? It’s tremendous!’
If you’re a listener of WXRT or were a listener of WNUA for twenty years (in the ’90s and the ’00s), you know Bill’s voice – even if you might not know his name. He is currently the director of creative content for WXRT radio. “That’s the title that (former WXRT PD) Norm (Winer) conferred on me in 2013 when he brought me back,” Cochran explains. (Bill also worked for WXRT in the ’80s as a disc jockey and production talent.) “It involves really any of the voicing of promos and commercials and video or whatever else they need from me in the creative realm.”
His handiwork can be heard throughout the day, in all dayparts. When an audio element mentions the radio station or a radio station feature, it’s usually accompanied by Bill’s voice.
“I think of it as having a dialog with the audience about the radio station – telling people what we do, without declamatory statements like ‘We are the best this’ or ‘We are the best that’. Engaging them. Coming up with interesting ways to promote features or contests or whatever. I really enjoy being creative with it. Right now there’s a Breakfast with the Beatles promo on Terri Hemmert’s Sunday morning show. I took the Paul McCartney section of “A Day in the Life” and rewrote the words and re-sang that to be about Terri’s show. That’s the sort of thing I love to do.”
Though Bill has hosted his own shows, including a stint as the afternoon man at WNUA, the production studio is where he has made his mark. “I’ve been doing it since the very beginning of my career – since I was brought on board at WXRT on January 1st, 1979. I distinguished myself in production. That’s what my real strength has been in radio, being able to work with sound.”
Bill’s love of sound has also led him in another direction, but it’s in the same arena that drew him to radio in the first place: music. He is the leader of the band Great Moments in Vinyl. It’s been a life-long journey to get to this point. “In high school I was a trombone player and started in music emulating the band Chicago. What was cool was their publishing company put out the sheet music in a slightly different way. It was a full stack of sheet music with each of the different parts of the score. And I started studying that, and that got me excited about music. As a kid I transcribed the song “Thick as a Brick” in the same way. This is what the flute does, this is the guitar. That was my passion – the arrangements.”
But it wasn’t until recently that he encountered the like-minded musicians that could bring his arranging dream to fruition. “I started taking bass classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music and I didn’t know they had classes in things like Van Morrison or Smashing Pumpkins or what have you, and that you’d learn the music of those artists. I worked with these instructors who really knew their stuff, and the subtleties of the music. I got the idea of creating this story telling band (Great Moments in Vinyl) that would tell the stories of the songs, and it’s grown from there. It’s actually more of a project than a band. I have a regular guitarist that I work with (Richard Pettengill), but when we do a show, we also look to see what musicians would best populate that band. It’s often different. When we do The Indigo Girls, or Michael Jackson it’s not the same people as we use for the Rolling Stones.”
A Rolling Stones show is next on the agenda. “Every time we do a show we try to do something different. We take a pair of albums and play them start to finish. We don’t try to emulate the album or capture every nuance. We try to capture the energy, the fun, and the discovery of that music. We also have a wow moment in every show. When we did the Police, Mickey Greenberg got up on stage in a bathrobe and sang ‘Mother’ for us with a phone in his hand. On Friday, February 3rd at Martyrs, we’re doing the Rolling Stones (Beggar’s Banquet and Let it Bleed) and (fellow WXRTer) Frank E. Lee will be out there helping us tell the story.”
If you enjoy a good story and a classic album or two, Great Moments in Vinyl can often be found at Martyr’s (3855 N. Lincoln in Chicago). If you want to hear one of the great radio production voices, Bill’s smooth baritone graces the airwaves of WXRT 93.1FM daily.