Chicago Drive-In

Media: October 2020

| September 30, 2020 | 1 Comment
Richard Milne

When Richard Milne was told he was replacing Lin Brehmer as the WXRT morning host in February, he knew the implications.

“I’m the 5th ever XRT morning man in 48 years,” he says, ticking off the others: Scott McConnell, Garry Lee Wright, Terri Hemmert, and Lin Brehmer. “I’ve admired all of those people, but I said to (WXRT Program Director) Greg Solk, should I be nervous about this? Because I really wasn’t. It’s surprising and a place I’d never thought I find myself, but I was not daunted.”

The listeners knew him because he had been on staff for more than 30 years (mostly as a part-timer), so that certainly helped smooth the transition.

“If I had come in as this outsider,” he admits, “the backlash probably would have been extraordinary. But I have been a part of the team here for a long time, and I credit my years with (his Sunday night local music show) Local Anesthetic. That gave me the feeling of playing a larger role at WXRT. It had my heart, but it also allowed me to expand my skillset. For instance, my interview skills improved dramatically. And ultimately, it is still paying off for me. It led me to this job.”

His lifestyle didn’t even change that much. He owned his own business during his part-time years at WXRT, and he has always been an early riser.

“I had been getting up without an alarm at 4:50 am for years,” he says. “It took about a month to make the adjustment to the pre-4:00 AM wake up, but I was getting up to go play records, and I really looked forward to it.”

But just as he was getting used to the new schedule, the whole world shut down.

“There were pros and cons with the timing of the pandemic, no question about it,” Milne admits. “It would have been easier to keep going into work, but the company made the correct call to shut down the studio, and it wasn’t as much fun doing it at home.”

But Milne had paid his dues during his 30+ years at the station, so he told himself not to forget the opportunity that was now his.

“If you want to be a full-time on-air music personality, with the ability to choose not all, but a significant amount of what you play, WXRT is the pinnacle of this business. To have been granted permission to turn on that microphone and say those call letters is a great honor. All that time I was waiting in the wings, I would have given an eye-tooth to be given a full-time slot, and yes I felt I deserved it, but I realized how great that full-time lineup was, and I understood the situation perfectly.”

He had been a heavy XRT listener for years, and he credits some of the greats for influencing his own style on the air.

“All of them had an impact on me,” he says, “but I don’t think I’ve ever given proper credit or attribution to Bobby Skafish. He created the most marvelous radio in the late ’70s/early ’80s, which was an impressionable time for me. I was a hardcore WXRT listener beginning in ’78 or ’79, and Bobby Skafish was on fire in those days. His personality leaped through the speakers. Those Skafish years at WXRT are as responsible for me getting into radio as anything.”

Since arriving at the 93.1 dial position himself, Milne has had some of his own shining moments.

“I remember talking to Curtis Mayfield in 1996. He had just released his first LP since an on-stage lighting accident in 1991. You have to admire all that Curtis brought to music, but for the majority of his life—by this time, he was living in Atlanta—he was a Chicago guy. I have always taken great pride in that. When I left the studio that day, having just interviewed Curtis Mayfield, albeit it that he was literally lying on his back talking into a telephone, I felt like I was walking on air. Surviving an interview with Lou Reed live, with his personality, while witnessing his on-stage performance, was another highlight. He played songs four feet away from me that I was engineering.  It’s hard to top that.”

Milne isn’t the same disc jockey he was when he first cracked the microphone in the 80s. His on-air style has evolved over time, and he credits his attention to detail.

“I have a path I follow every break,” he says. “That’s the way I do my best work. I have to know what my ‘in’ is and what my ‘out’ is, and what my content is. I don’t just whip these things out. I have given thought to everything I say and everything I play. It is important to me. I don’t have a problem with other people who can crack a mike and let the stream of consciousness flow, but I’m not that guy.”

He is, he admits, a very lucky guy.

“I wish everyone in radio had the kind of outlet and the kind of freedom we have on WXRT. That’s why listeners respond to it. As far as I’m concerned, the future remains bright for Chicago’s Finest Rock, and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Richard Milne can be heard every weekday morning from 5:30am—10am.

– Rick Kaempfer

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Category: Columns, Media, Monthly

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