An Other-Wordly Talent
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say Terri Hemmert was the first lesbian I ever met.
It was back in 1970 and ’71 and I had my first radio gig — unpaid, of course — as the co-host of “Oak Park Schools at Work” on WOPA-AM atop the mighty Oak Park Arms Hotel. Mighty, I should say, in the sense that it was all of five stories tall, at the time the tallest structure in the Village of O.P.
WGLD was our sister station on the FM dial and shared the penthouse office space with WOPA. The FM-er was populated by a bunch of hippies who handled engineering, office work, on-air duties, and mopping up the occasional spilled Coke. Terri Hemmert, a solidly-packed woman with short hair who wore overalls and, if memory serves me correctly, Earth shoes, was the outlier in the office. An outlier, that is, among outliers. She wasn’t exactly a hippie chick but she certainly was from another world to the eyes of this 14-going-on-15-year-old. She served as the the station’s programming director, an impressive post in the radio universe.
(As an aside, remember Earth shoes? If you do, it means you’re of a certain age. Earth shoes knocked footwear design on its ear. They were lower at the heel and higher at the ball of the foot. The toe of the shoe was wide, not pointed. And they were groovy, Earth-y tan, not shiny red or black. I recall people raving about them, saying they mimicked the position of your feet when you walked in sand, which was supposed to be oh-so-healthy for your dogs. Some people even claimed they forced you to walk the way Indians did — the Indians from south of the Himalayas, that is. Back in the early 1970s, anything from the sub-continent was viewed as de rigueur for the with-it Whole Earth Catalog-reading citizenry. Of course, the hipsters of that era conveniently ignored mass starvation, overpopulation, the befouling of the Ganges River, and the nascent nuclear arms race between that nation and Pakistan. Otherwise, India was the coolest.)
Anyway, Terri Hemmert may or may not have worn Earth shoes but if she did, it would have completely been in character with her and station WGLD. My show was on the AM dial but I longed to cross over one day to the FM where they played Beatles’ deep tracks, David Bowie, King Crimson, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the Allman Brothers, Mott the Hoople, T. Rex, some Firesign Theater cuts, a little Lenny Bruce, and a lot of the Stones. It was my first aural glimpse into what would become known as AOR, or Album-Oriented Rock. Man, I ditched listening to top-40 WLS and WCFL in a heartbeat, along with their sappy, sugary Dawn, Anne Murray, and the Carpenters.
Terri Hemmert (center) With The Ramones
It was good to see a woman in a position of authority at a radio station, especially a woman who wasn’t girly, as Terri Hemmert never in this life or the next could be described. Watching her, I learned it wasn’t only guys who did cool things. And a woman didn’t have to wear miniskirts and kicky high heels to be a success.
Terri Hemmert became a huge success in Chicago radio, working the last 42 years at WXRT. She was the first female drive-time jock in the market, at the time the second biggest in the nation. She became a world-renowned authority on the Beatles. She’s been inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame.
A More Recent Vintage Hemmert
Chicago media reporter Rob Feder tells us Terri’s taking a leave of absence to fight cancer. Gosh damn, we’re all getting to be a certain age, aren’t we?
A Space — And Terrestrial — Oddity
I woke up early this AM, about four o’clock, and so checked the news. What a shock it was to learn David Bowie had died.
One of my five fave albums of all time is Low, produced by Brian Eno. One of my fave songs of all time is Station to Station from the eponymous album. The tune starts slowly, like a steam engine train rolling out of the station, then it progresses to a charging, pulsing, Carlos Alomar guitar-driven rocker, the train speeding down the tracks. Listen here:
Bowie — born David Jones; he changed his name so as not to be confused with the Monkees’ Davy Jones — lived a good long life. He was 69. It’s no tragedy when someone kicks the bucket after a good, long life but it is a terrible loss. I’ve heard bits and pieces of his latest disc, Blackstar, and it sounds as good as anything he’s done to date. Had he lived, he certainly would have put out tons more good music. Still and all, we have enough Bowie to keep us happy for years to come.
Suffice it to say the death of Bowie affected me more than any other celebrity passing since that of Carl Sagan. Funny, isn’t it? They both brought me, vicariously, into outer space.
Hey, my pal David Brent Johnson’ll be playing tracks from Blackstar on his WFIU Just You & Me showgram this afternoon and tomorrow as well. Make sure you tune in, hear?