Bill Turck’s road to his current location, co-hosting Playtime with Bill Turck and Kerri Kendall on Sunday afternoons (1-3pm) on WGCO is one of the most interesting non-traditional radio roads ever traveled. Twenty plus years ago, he was literally in the most dangerous place in the world.
“I arrived in Sarajevo just after Susan Sontag did Waiting for Godot there,” he explains. “And I spent much of the Bosnian War there as an artist and witness. The people I stayed with were art professors in a little place overlooking sniper’s alley. My bed was basically on the front line. I saw myself as a chronicler of the destruction.”
That experience led to a book. “My first book Broken was recommended by the National Association of Mental Health Institutes for the treatment of PTSD.” That led to four more books. He also worked as a war photographer and did relief work in Rwanda. Typical radio story, right? Just your usual start in a small market and work your way up to the big-time tale.
After his experiences overseas, Turck focused his political activism domestically and became a part of the Occupy movement. He wrote two critically acclaimed plays for the movement (Occupy My Heart and The People’s Republican of Edward Snowden). It was then, during his politically active days, that the idea of doing political talk radio began to appeal to him.
“I started bugging a local radio show that seemed to be working for the Occupy movement. He said ‘why don’t you come on the show?’ I said ‘Sure.’ In the interim, unbeknownst to me, the radio station was looking to fire him. The first day I was on the air, we did a good show, and when we walked out the studio door, the station manager and the program manager were there to tell us the show’s been canceled. Welcome to broadcasting!”
After doing a show called Revolution and Beer for a while (a program that discussed politics over craft beer), Turck decided to get off the political train. “I decided I didn’t want to do politics anymore. It had become boring to me. Everything had been done. Everyone had been parceled off into their own little partisan trenches, and it just wasn’t fun or interesting anymore. Besides, I always had a bigger passion. I thought the arts were underrepresented in the media. I thought that through the arts we could make a positive change in the community, and maybe reach people beyond our partisan trenches without antipathy and bitterness.”
Turck found a potential on-air partner through a friend, and he and Kerri Kendall have become one of the most unique radio teams you’ll ever hear. What’s the perfect pairing with a political activist/writer/art lover? Naturally, a Playboy Playmate who does energy healing and intuitive spiritual readings. Just like every other show, right?
The two have discovered one of the great secrets of this town. There’s an unlimited well of creative talent: musicians, authors, writers, actors, and artists. By focusing on that community, Playtime will never run out of potential guests. “It’s a vibrant group doing some amazing things, especially here in Chicago and Chicagoland,” he agrees.
“Artists are doing fantastic work. One of the sore spots for me, I suppose, is that the brilliance of the work coming out of Chicagoland whether it’s music or theater or literature or visual arts is so outstanding, that in an earlier era these artists would have been nationally or internationally recognized. The rise of the digital era has refocused everyone nationally, but it also has sort of cut opportunities for artists to branch out. I’ll give you an example. Brandon James from Englewood, a local kid we’ve had on the show a couple of times, has a beautiful flawless tenor voice. He should be national. People should know his name. We want to do what we can to give talented artists like Brandon a platform.”
It may sound like Turck takes a bit of a serious approach to the subject matter, and there are certainly times when he does, but maybe the most surprising thing about the show is its free-wheeling format in which nearly everything goes. “It’s a little bit of a magazine,” he says, taking a bit of an issue with my characterization. “But we know it can’t be dry, so we don’t let it be. We have a big mission here. We’re trying to bring the arts to a new audience. The people that listen to this radio station might not be that familiar with the arts, and we’re opening doors for them. We’re showing them what is out there. We’ve had a lot of political candidates on, and we’ve tried to show them the return on investment in the arts community, whether it’s breaking down arts therapy programs, or showing the importance of things like murals and public art. We show them that art like that can actually help to stop gang graffiti. Kids learn work skills and work ethic, and the arts are perfectly suited to deliver that message.”
It may be one of the most unlikely stops on your radio dial, but Playtime with Bill Turck and Kerri Kendall can be heard every Sunday afternoon on WGCO-Evanston, 1590 AM.
– Rick Kaempfer
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