Chicago radio host Lin Brehmer of WXRT dies at 68

The beloved host died Sunday morning, more than six months after taking a leave of absence for chemotherapy to fight prostate cancer.

WXRT’s Lin Brehmer in the studio. Brehmer was best known for his “Lin’s Bin” segments, where he interwove prose and his vast knowledge of music and pop culture.
WXRT’s Lin Brehmer in the studio. Brehmer was best known for his “Lin’s Bin” segments, where he interwove prose and his vast knowledge of music and pop culture. Rich Hein / Chicago Sun-Times
WXRT’s Lin Brehmer in the studio. Brehmer was best known for his “Lin’s Bin” segments, where he interwove prose and his vast knowledge of music and pop culture.
WXRT’s Lin Brehmer in the studio. Brehmer was best known for his “Lin’s Bin” segments, where he interwove prose and his vast knowledge of music and pop culture. Rich Hein / Chicago Sun-Times

Chicago radio host Lin Brehmer of WXRT dies at 68

The beloved host died Sunday morning, more than six months after taking a leave of absence for chemotherapy to fight prostate cancer.

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Lin Brehmer often ended his radio essay segment “Lin’s Bin” by saying, “Take nothing for granted. It’s great to be alive.”

It was the mantra for years of the longtime WXRT (93.1) host — who became a household name in Chicago, known for his wit and sense of humor.

Brehmer died Sunday at age 68.

“It is with a heavy heart that we must inform you that we all lost our best friend. Lin Brehmer fought cancer as long as he could,” fellow host Terri Hemmert wrote in a post Sunday morning. “He passed early this morning, peacefully, 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. He said he had been undergoing various treatments, including radiation and drug therapies, for “several years.” He briefly returned to air in November, telling CBS2-Chicago “radio has been my life.”

Brehmer was with WXRT for more than three decades, most of them as morning DJ until he slid to middays in 2020. He’s perhaps best known for his radio essays called “Lin’s Bin.”

The segment consisted of his response 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.

Those radio essays satisfied a creative yearning for Brehmer, who developed a love for literature in high school. “It’s a creative outlet. There is nobody looking over my shoulder,” Brehmer told the Sun-Times in 2018.

Mary Dixon, who worked alongside Brehmer as a host for 28 years, said, “I think in another life he would’ve been an English professor. He was a nerdy, philosophy and English student at Colgate. But he came up in a time when rock-and-roll was the new poetry.”

Brehmer connected with countless Chicagoans — even though they never met him in person.

“There’s a reason that I’ve heard from a few people who have been crying today, saying they feel silly because they didn’t even know him — but they did,” WXRT host Emma Mac said. Brehmer’s “connection to you was genuine, and positive, and authentic and kind.”

Messages honoring Brehmer flooded social media in the hours after his death.

“Lin Brehmer was the voice of Chicago. His voice was unique and a perfect way to start the day,” former mayor and current U.S. ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel wrote on Twitter.

“Chicago has lost its best friend,” U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley posted.

Brehmer, a die-hard Cubs fan, has his name displayed on the marquee at Wrigley Field Sunday afternoon.

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 “Within You Without You” by The Beatles because “I’ve always felt that life flows within you, but most of all without you,” Brehmer said in 2017.

At that station, he was nicknamed “the Reverend” because he would recite poetry over song introductions. “I would slip into Dylan Thomas or William Wordsworth,” he once told Sun-Times.

Asked who he would want to meet in heaven, Brehmer said: “Here’s the thing, 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 be the music director at ‘XRT. 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 found out the owner of my radio station was bankrupt. So it made things very dicey,” Brehmer said.

He came back to ‘XRT the next year and took Hemmert’s spot as the 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 come to shock jock is standing up for civil rights or religious freedom. That’s very shocking these days.”

Brehmer was a serious Cubs fan and loved to play catch with his son in his front yard, he said in an interview on ‘XRT in 2017.

He also had a lifelong affinity for sailing on Lake Michigan. “There’s something about that moment when you get the sails up and turn the engine off and it’s nothing but the sound of the wind. It’s one of the greatest moments you can have,” he said in the interview.

He also loved Chicago’s theater, music and dinings scene. “I love dining out in Chicago,” Brehmer said. “Whether it’s an Italian beef with hot peppers or it’s a 12-course menu at Acadia, I love the culinary scene here.

“And of course the biggest thing is the music: from the Chicago Blues, from going to Buddy Guy’s Legends, to seeing all the artists that choose Chicago as one of their main stops on their tours,” he said.

WXRT will celebrate Brehmer’s life Monday at 10 a.m., Hemmert wrote.

“We’ll hold each other up through this heart-breaking time. Lin would want that. Take nothing for granted,” Hemmert wrote.

David Struett is a wire reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times.