For those who may not know, Richard Milne is one of 93XRT’s incredible disc jockeys and host of Local Anesthetic. Local Anesthetic is a weekly program on 93XRT that showcases local Chicago musicians every Sunday at 7:30pm.
I personally first met Richard Milne 10 + years ago when I was working in the music industry helping to promote local artists. Not only is he just a genuinely nice guy, he is, without question, one of the most influential people in the Chicago music scene. So we checked in to talk about Chicago music, Local Anesthetic and his neighborhood - Wicker Park.
Clearly, you’re very supportive of and passionate about music. When and how did your passion for music begin?
I’ve always loved the radio and the music I heard. My great rock and roll memories rarely involve live performances; most involve hearing music on the radio for the first time. Iggy Pop’s “Shake Appeal” on the Big Beat, driving north just outside Joliet and hearing the Rock and Roll Animal version of “Sweet Jane”. Riding in my broth. Hearing Nicker-in-law’s Toronado while “Whipping Post” played on the old WSDM Lowe’s “Switchboard Susan” while stopped at a light and jumping out to tell my buddy Squirrel (who was in the car behind me) to “Turn on XRT!” Dozens of instances like that. Radio moments and music like that just seared themselves into my brain.
I started working in college radio at SIU, got my first real commercial DJ job at the old WDEK in DeKalb and then got hired on for weekends at WXRT in 1986. My 25th anniversary of being an XRT jock was just last year.
How did the idea for Local Anesthetic develop and how has it evolved over time?
I started hearing some out of the ordinary music in Chicago beginning in the late 80’s. Urge Overkill, Eleventh Dream Day, Material Issue, The Jesus Lizard. I’d bring bands by the station, tape interviews and live performances and then play them back on the air at 3am or so. In the spring of 1991, I approached the Program Director, Norm Winer, with the idea of creating a show devoted to Chicago musicians and artists. The first Local Anesthetic aired in April of ‘91 with my guests The Jesus Lizard and Poster Children.
Local Anesthetic is simply an extension of me always trying to turn people on to music, both new and old. In this case, specifically Chicago music.
Are there bands who were unknown before appearing on your show and became known after appearing on Local Anesthetic?
I don’t know that I’ve ever directly helped a band make any significant jump in popularity via exposure on Local Anesthetic. That’s not really the point of the show. If I can help somebody move some records or tickets to a show, that’s somewhat satisfying but Local Anesthetic is on the air to entertain listeners. “Hey, here’s a Chicago band that’s doing good work. Here’s what they sound like and here’s what they have to say for themselves”. Have I been the first DJ to recognize and play good bands that have gone on to create even better work and perhaps get somewhat popular? Certainly. Hundreds.
Photo: Courtesy of Love it Loud- Smashing Pumpkins
I enjoyed talking with the Smashing Pumpkins in 1991 when “Gish” was released. Billy was already very serious and passionate about his work. Actor John Mahoney was a guest DJ a number of times. Always great fun.
Talking to Curtis Mayfield via telephone from his home in Atlanta was a thrill. I’ve never had the whole band in at once but all the guys in Cheap Trick have made individual and memorable appearances. Noted chronic record collector Dante Carfagna’s annual appearance for the ongoing “History of Chicago Soul and Funk” is always great. My favorite show of any given year, though? The annual Holiday Spectacular in which bands (and mostly unknown ones, at that) come up with short Holiday greetings for listeners. The “Best of 20 Years” of submissions aired this Christmas.
Who are the most promising top 3 bands in Chicago today?
Gosh, I’ve no clue. Another distinction of Local Anesthetic that needs to be made is that I’m solely interested in a band’s recorded work. If you stink in live performance, it doesn’t matter to me. (And, believe me, the number of bands that have recorded what I consider to be excellent material and then subsequently horribly disappointed me live, are legion). Conversely, I’ve no interest in bands that put on a great show but make bad records. “I know what I’m about to play isn’t very good but you should really see the band live to appreciate them”? Doesn’t work that way.
Double Door 1572 N. Milwaukee Avenue
We’ve talked in the past about Wicker Park being a focal point for Chicago’s music scene. Do you still feel that way?
The Double Door at 1572 N. Milwaukee Avenue is still an anchor for music in Wicker Park. Having Reckless right on Milwaukee Ave. is important. I can even include Myopic Books and Quimby’s as indirect yet vital bastions of the ‘hoods music vibe. There are a number of booking agencies, music lawyers and publicists up and down the strip, too. Tons of bands even use the UPS store on Milwaukee as their mailing address. Is Wicker Park the center point of Chicago music, though? Perhaps from a public perception but the reality is there are more rehearsal spaces, studios, agents and labels scattered around Pilsen, Humboldt and even Bridgeport than in Wicker Park these days. Cheaper rents will always be a critical factor for musicians.
How do you feel the music industry has changed over the past 20 years you’ve hosted Local Anesthetic? And specifically Chicago music?
When I first started Local Anesthetic there were two hundred bands in town. Now, it seems like 20,000. Frankly, really good bands were out of the ordinary then. Now, being at least good is de rigueur. There seems to be less commercial aspirations among young bands now. There are all sorts of bands for whom just creating music with no eye for commercial success is good enough. That’s cool from a hip standpoint but I’m sure Joe at Metro would like to see more locals strive to fill his room.
Right now I’m sitting here listening to Disappears’ sixteen minute guitar throb called “Revisiting”. Cool Chicago band on a cool Chicago label (Kranky). Cool for Chicago.
Why did you choose to live in Wicker Park and how have you seen the neighborhood change over the years?
I moved to Wicker Park in 1988 because I could afford it. Being close to the Kennedy, Eisenhower and the Blue Line could have been factors but weren’t; it was simply because my rent was cheap. It’s funny to think that now I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life. I loved the Busy Bee, of course, and Dreamerz was an occasional hang (to name just a few of the many classic joints now long gone). I never tire of walking by the stately homes on Hoyne and Pierce and Caton. Even a couple of those beauties that we thought were lost for dead are now being restored to their original grandeur.
How’s it changed? Damen/North/Milwaukee used to be dead after midnight. Dead. Instead of the Rama Mart, I go to 7-11 for a gallon of milk. My closest bank branch was by the Park West in ’88. Now, I walk less than two blocks. I liked the Park itself better without the fence that now surrounds it. At the same time, thank you Mr. Daley for the beautiful library branch. That first $350 apartment I had in 1988 currently rents for $1200. The $850 (with heat) three bedroom I had in ’90 is now a condo. Right? Inevitable, I guess, but it’s a shame to see the ‘hood’s affordability slip away. Yet that artistic spirit and funkiness seems to hang on. Credit the Flat Iron and all the other institutions I’ve already named for keeping that alive.
Wicker Park has been my home for nearly a quarter century. It’s been a good place for my wife and me to own a home, run a business, raise a son, walk the dog and inevitably bump in to a musician or two I know along the way.
Richard also owns Rank Entertainment ; a musical booking agency also based in Wicker Park.
You can catch Richard Milne Sundays starting at 3pm and Local Anesthetic every Sunday night at 7:30pm on 93XRT (93.1 FM).