WDRV disc jockey Byrd is a rock jock out of central casting. He looks and sounds the part so much that you get the feeling if there was ever an injury to a band member of any group he was introducing on stage any given night, Byrd could fill in at the drop of a hat. “Yeah, Joe Perry snapped a hammy during ‘Sweet Emotion.’ Tell Byrd to grab a guitar and follow the set list.”
“Well… what can I say?” Byrd responds with a laugh. “It’s authentic. I love rock & roll! I usually wear my hair pulled back nice and proper-like, but when I do wear it down for rock shows and whatnot, moments like that have indeed occurred over the years. People will ask if I’m in a band, or sometimes assume (if they don’t know who I am) that I’m in the band playing that night. That can lead to some highly amusing conversations! I do play guitar and get along quite well with musicians (many of whom I’ve become friends with over the years – they tell me I ‘get it’), but I generally demur on taking people up on the invitations to get up and play. I have agreed to sing backup vocals on stage and in the recording studio on numerous occasions, though… baritone naturally. I had the distinct honor of having super-producer Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, KISS, Peter Gabriel, Deep Purple, Aerosmith, etc.) inform me I was singing flat.”
For the first decade-plus of Byrd’s time in Chicago, he was a mainstay at the Loop (97.9 FM), doing virtually every shift on the air there. A few years ago he moved just slightly down the dial to the Drive, and his approach and on-air demeanor seem like they were tailor-made for the classic rocker.
“I absolutely love it here!” Byrd admits. “In addition to the fantastic culture and facilities at Hubbard, many of the people I work with at the Drive I’ve had the great pleasure of working with previously, so it’s like ‘old home week’ – very familiar and comfortable. My boss, Program Director Rob Cressman and I joke about how often we seem to ‘mind-meld’ when it comes to creative ideas and approaches. It’s rather uncanny actually! Besides the terrific staff and management team, the newly constructed Drive studios in the Hubbard complex at Prudential Plaza are simply astounding. It’s akin to sliding into a fighter jet cockpit. The very latest and best of everything and very user-friendly and intuitive. And then there’s the music – precisely [geared] to my personal tastes and what I listen to when I’m not on the air myself. A dream gig!”
Are there songs today that – after essentially playing them over and over for so many years – still make Byrd reach over and crank the in-studio speakers?
“I’m a big Beatles fan, so virtually anything from them. So much so that the organizers of the annual “Beatlefest” convention have asked me to guest host now every year. Pretty much anything from Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Doors, AC/DC, Queen, Who, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, Def Leppard, Rolling Stones and loads more get an extra little nudge of the volume knob from me as well. If it’s got a guitar in it, I generally like it. In other words, everything The Drive plays [I like]. No wonder I’m so happy here!”
And yet, despite his rock and roll persona, Byrd hasn’t always been a rock jock. Before arriving in Chicago, he hosted full-blown personality shows in other markets.
“That’s true,” he says. “I did the morning show at legendary rock stations like KSHE 95 (KSHE-FM) St. Louis, 98 ROCK (WIYY-FM) Baltimore/Washington DC, KOMP 92.3 (KOMP-FM) Las Vegas, nights at Q107 (CILQ-FM) Toronto among numerous others. I even had my own TV show.”
Were there any memorable moments from those days?
“Tons of crazy, fun stuff, like sitting in the President’s car (and then going to lunch with his Secret Service guys!), partying with Van Halen and appearing on MTV – enough to fill a book. Even saved the iconic ‘Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas’ sign from being torn down. Seriously.”
Despite his pedigree and trophy case (including being named one of America’s sexiest DJs by Playgirl Magazine, and his many ‘Keys to the City’ from mayors around the country), Byrd works at a radio station loaded with talent. So much so that he is doing mainly weekend shifts–although he routinely fills in during the week when the regulars go on vacation. He sees the upside of his current situation. It allows him to pursue other things as well.
“I can also be heard on rock stations across the country via LRN (‘Local Radio Networks’) affiliates, commercial voiceovers, guesting on various other radio and television shows, guest hosting at the annual ‘Beatlefest’, appearing in some rock videos… and a few other very exciting things in the works that I can’t talk about quite yet. Stay tuned, as they say!”
For someone who has worked all over the country, does he see himself ever leaving Chicago to pursue other opportunities outside of Chicago?
“I firmly believe Chicago is the World’s Greatest City,” he says. “The music, culture, sports, food, beaches, etc. here (and so much more) are all top-notch. It’s literally got everything! Best of all? The people.”
Byrd can be heard on the Drive (WDRV, 97.1FM) every weekend. You can also follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/ByrdRadio) and Twitter (Byrd@thebyrdrocks).
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