Home Studios, Near-Empty Stations: How Chicago Radio Hosts Are Staying On-Air


These days, when Omar Ramos gets in front of the mic to host afternoons on Latino Mix 93.5, his setup isn’t quite what he’s used to.

“Right now, my studio is my kitchen,” Ramos said. “The convenience of that is obviously waking up and I just take a couple steps and then I’m in my studio but just learning how to use this equipment … I was like, what in the world?”

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Ramos and many of his fellow DJs around Chicago are working from home in makeshift studios. Just down the dial from Ramos, WXRT’s Lin Brehmer says hosting from home can present distractions.

“‘Oh, maybe I should see what’s in the fridge. Maybe I should …’ There are things I normally wouldn’t do when I’m in the air studio,” Brehmer said. “But it’s also been kind of fun because occasionally I’ll go outside on the front stoop and get a little ambient sound of the birds chirping. People really enjoy that.”

WVON midday host Perri Small is part of the skeleton crew that’s still going into a mostly empty studio.

“It’s like a sci-fi movie! It’s like one of those ‘Twilight Zone’ episodes,” Small laughed. “It’s crazy, but I’ve adjusted.”

Small says WVON’s role in the community has never been more important, especially as African Americans are disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

“I never took for granted what it means to be behind the mic, but this is the time when they need us most,” Small said. “This is when we can allay their fears, they get the real information (and) they know that we’re not going to give them any misinformation.”

  • (Courtesy Omar Ramos)

    (Courtesy Omar Ramos)

  • (Courtesy Omar Ramos)

    (Courtesy Omar Ramos)

  • (Courtesy Omar Ramos)

    (Courtesy Omar Ramos)

  • (Courtesy Omar Ramos)

    (Courtesy Omar Ramos)

  • (Courtesy Omar Ramos)

    (Courtesy Omar Ramos)

  • (Courtesy Lin Brehmer)

    (Courtesy Lin Brehmer)

Ramos feels a similar sense of responsibility and connection. He’s heard from many listeners who’ve lost jobs or had their hours cut — and some, like Ramos, who don’t live in the same home as their children.

“My daughter turned 14 on the 16th of April … and I had to sing happy birthday to her over the phone,” he said. “It’s been stuff like that that I share with my audience so they don’t feel like the only ones out there that are going through all of this.”

Ramos is open with his audience that it’s OK to be honest about how much the pandemic is affecting all of us.

“It’s affected me to the point where I’ve had to reach out and get psychological help because … it is affecting us mentally, at points emotionally,” Ramos said. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

“The Hispanic community is very strong and when it comes to these types of moments of crisis, I notice that we all come together and we help each other out.”

Small says despite the upheaval the pandemic has caused broadcasters, their connection with their audiences is stronger than ever. “I just want to say to all of our radio family that radio is not dead,” she said.

But she does think the coronavirus will prompt some lasting changes.

“Radio stations and television stations are going to realize they don’t need the real estate anymore. Because look what we’re doing right now,” she said, speaking to WTTW News via Zoom.

Whether or not the changes hosts are dealing with are long-term, Brehmer says people are really listening, and they’re paying attention to the words of songwriters like never before.

“Songs that are inspirational like The Call, ‘Let The Day Begin’ – I mean, you listen to the lyrics in those songs, it’s almost as if it was written for the spring of 2020,” Brehmer said.

“There will be a time when this is all over, or the constraints have relaxed enough that we can go out again, and I think when that happens it will be the greatest springtime in Chicago’s history,” Brehmer said. “I have a feeling we are all going to go wild. And that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Us too, Lin.


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