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Byrd - Interview

  by Lisa Torem

published: 30 / 9 / 2016

Byrd - Interview


Chicago radio personality, Byrd, speaks with Lisa Torem about his programming choices, on air and in-person fan rapport and how he nabbed his dream job

This radio personality can consolidate a rowdy roomful of strangers in a downtown arena and command immediate attention in an intimate concert hall. He might be spotted at a holiday charity event or annual outdoor festival, mingling with people from all walks of life and of every generation. You don’t have to ask him if he loves what he does, Byrd exudes enthusiasm. His tools of the trade appear to include a sonorous voice, friendly disposition and an uncompromising sense of style - With long blonde hair, pressed denims and a fitted, leather jacket, Chicago-based Byrd brightens up the most backlit room. America could probably exist without fast food, croaking trains and even super highways, but could it have sustained itself without our beloved DJ? Byrd grew up listening to America’s on-air professionals and caught on to the contagious concept at a tender age. On his popular program, 'The Drive', he drums up excitement and spouts fun facts about the songs his audiences crave, and that he also cherishes. And when it comes to his faithful flock, Byrd is always eager to converse in person or via social networking. After all, he’s unquestionably well-versed about the sonic nuances and behind-the-scenes personalities that cut those golden tracks. America has, of course, faced many transitions in the broadcasting industry over the years. Some disc jockeys have rested their reputation on humour, sarcasm, volume or outlandish vocal effects. Think Moondog or Wolfman Jack. Don Cornelius made his mark on Chicago radio before hosting ‘Soul Train’. Media may be ever-changing in terms of technology and trends, but one thing hasn’t changed - we still expect our radio personalities to get us through unrequited love affairs, graveyard shifts and traffic jams. Byrd is certainly not the noisiest, nor the most flamboyant player in America’s cultural history, but his appeal is unarguable, as he continues to attract and inform his intelligent group of listeners. Hopefully, he is ours to keep. And although his broadcasts may not be accessible internationally, he has graciously agreed to answer a few questions about his riveting career. PB: You have worked as a radio personality in Canada as well as in Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, Las Vegas and Chicago. Have you had to adjust your performance style and material selection for each separate audience? Byrd: Absolutely. Each city (and country) has its own distinct “personality” and tastes that one needs to take into consideration and adjust to your presentation. Just as each person has their own individual “flavour”, so do audiences. Some things are pretty universal; iconic classic rock artists like Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, etc. are beloved pretty much elsewhere, but the smaller details and nuances are where the adjustments come in. Being the eternally curious sort, I find discovering and determining the finer details of their tastes stimulating and very exciting. PB: What inspired you to launch your radio career at only fifteen years old? Was there a particular person in broadcasting, or song/band that inspired you? When did you discover that you had an influential voice? Byrd: Radio is my calling/vocation. My earliest memories are all tied to the radio. I was always entranced by radio’s “theatre of the mind” and intimate companionship. That special emotional bond between the audience and the performer appealed to me enormously. It can be a magical sort of combination when there are great performances paired with great music. Growing up, I was especially fond of the personalities that I heard on Chicago radio. When I was about fourteen and hitting puberty, my voice changed and I realised that I might have a shot at making my dreams of working in radio come true. So, the first thing I did was march down to the local radio station and begin pestering them for a job! And much to my surprise, they put me on the air at the tender age of fifteen! PB: How much creative control do you have over the course of a typical work week? How often do you attend live events? What’s the coolest part of your job? Byrd: I have quite a bit of control, actually, especially when it concerns what topics to talk about on the air. I attend live events pretty much every week. I never tire of them. The coolest parts of the job are numerous. The creative aspect, meeting and interacting with the listeners, playing music that the listeners and I love, conversing with and getting to know the musicians, athletes, newsmakers, public figures, etc. This occupation is perfect for me and fits me like a glove. PB: The films ‘Pirate Radio’, ‘The Coal Miner’s Daughter’ and ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ have roots in the radio industry. Have you seen them? If Loretta Lynn walked into the studio, would you be able to spin her record? Byrd: I’m always keen to catch flicks that are related to radio somehow, so yes, I’ve seen most of them, although I have not seen ‘The Coal Miner’s Daughter’ yet. If Loretta Lynn walked into the studio, I’d like to talk music with her, and find out what rock songs she likes and play them! PB: Do you tailor The Drive to a specific demographic? Byrd: Yes, The Drive is targeted mostly at (although not exclusively) 25-54 year old adults. That demographic is A) likely to like classic rock music and B) a highly prized demographic for advertisers – how radio pays its bills. PB: On your Facebook page (facebook.com/ByrdRadio), you interact a lot with fans by honouring their song requests, allowing them to participate in programming ideas or by responding to their views about various artists. They clearly have a lot of faith in your judgement and feel comfortable reaching out. What is your philosophy about establishing and maintaining a fan base? Byrd: One of my favourite activities is interacting with the audience. I’m a big fan of this music just as they are. My overriding philosophy is “Give the people what they want!” It’s not necessarily about me and my personal tastes, but it’s about them and theirs. It’s my job to curate all the available information and music and present to them daily what would most interest them. Fortunately, we have much of the same tastes and interests, so it’s fairly easy to narrow things down. And by constantly interacting with them, they continue to inform me in that regard. Plus, it’s just the type of person I am, a friendly sort you could have a beer and chat with. PB: You have interviewed former presidents, athletes and legends over the span of your career. Who has made the biggest impression? Who is still on the list? Who is forever off? Byrd: I’ve been extremely fortunate. I’ve had a load of great experiences, enough stories to fill a book! Being a Beatles fan, getting to know Paul McCartney and having him sing to me was a definite highlight. Other highlights off the top of my head: Robert Plant, of Led Zeppelin, confiding in me that he often wonders if Led Zeppelin should have stayed together, and telling me how much he enjoyed our conversation; partying with people like Van Halen, ZZ Top and AC/DC; the surviving members of the Doors inviting me down to hang with them at their private rehearsals; Metallica thanking me for being their first supporter in radio; Beatles’ and Rolling Stones promoter Sid Bernstein wanting to be my manager and having then-President Clinton tell me he was a listener and a fan was another. You never know who’s listening! PB: At a recent Chicago summer fest, fans put on head sets and randomly switched back and forth between music played by two disc jockeys. Is this a fad or the wave of the future? Byrd: Hey, as long as they’re listening to some sort of rock music, I’m all for it! PB: What songs or bands are most requested during your slot? Are you able to anticipate request trends? Byrd: Everything you hear me play on the air is what the audience has indicated in some way that that’s what and who they would like to hear. Bands like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, AC/DC, the Rolling Stones, Van Halen, the Who, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, etc. are among their favourites. As far as anticipating trends, if a song or artist has been featured in a movie, commercial or is in the news, etc., those types of events can lead to a surge in desire to hear them. PB: Is there anything else we should know about your career? Byrd: I've been fortunate to work at some really legendary rock radio stations (mostly anchoring morning drive time shows) over the course of my now 36-year career, places like Q107 (CILQ-FM) Toronto, KSHE 95 (KSHE-FM) St. Louis, KOMP 92.3 (KOMP-FM) Las Vegas, 98 Rock(WlYY-FM) Baltimore/Washington D.C., 97.9 The Loop (WLUP-FM) Chicago and now 97.1FM The Drive (WDRV-FM) Chicago. I've always hosted my own TV show in Las Vegas and received lots of coverage of my radio shows from local and national TV, as well as newspapers, magazines and industry trades. I’ve been inducted into the Nevada Broadcasters Hall of Fame and been voted 'Best Morning Show' in the nation by my industry peers. I've done lots for various charities as well (especially food banks) around the continent. PB: Last question. Nightingale? Whip-poor-will? Blackbird? Kingfisher? Kookaburra? These exceptionally musical birds have found success in the pop and folk genres. Tomorrow you get to be 'Bird for the Day'. Which one will you choose to become and why? Byrd: Great question. Hmmmm… I think an eagle, actually. It’s an impressive creature and the national symbol. The band is pretty good, too. PB: Thank you, Byrd.

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