Professor, radio veteran gets her due

By Samuel Charles

Terri Hemmert, a longtime Chicago radio personality, Columbia adjunct faculty member and music advocate was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame on Nov. 6 in Chicago.

Hemmert has worked at 93.1 WXRT-FM for more than three decades and has taught at Columbia for nearly as long. Currently, she teaches “Rock and Soul on the Radio: Roots” in the Radio Department.

The National Radio Hall of Fame’s goal is to recognize and showcase contemporary talent from current programming formats and the pioneers who have helped shape the industry.

The induction ceremony recognized Hemmert for her contributions and dedication to the radio industry. She was introduced by Billy Corgan, lead singer and guitarist of the Smashing Pumpkins.

“I appear before you tonight to usher in a unique, charismatic and occasionally messianic disc jockey,” Corgan said. “Terri is simply one of the best in the world at what she does because she remains a believer in art and the ability of rock ’n’ roll to change the world.”

Students across campus can look to Hemmert as an example that with hard work, their goals are attainable, said Barbara Calabrese, chair of the Radio Department.

“So many of the fields we have at Columbia are very competitive and hard to get in to,” Calabrese said. “It’s an inspiration to have an instructor who’s worked in the field, been successful and has also achieved recognition.”

A clip of author and Radio Hall of Fame member Studs Terkel describing Hemmert played during Corgan’s introduction.

“Terri is a rare bird,” Terkel said in the film. “She is someone who knows the music of her time and of her contemporaries. She knows her music and has a sense of life as well.”

In her acceptance speech, Hemmert paid tribute to those who have come before her and the students she teaches now.

“[Columbia] has given me the opportunity to get out of the studio and into a room with real human beings, to communicate and share what I’ve learned and to learn from my students,” Hemmert said.

Calabrese acknowledged Hemmert’s impressive career in the radio industry but did not downplay other faculty members’ contributions to the field.

“It’s a wonderful honor to be able to say one of our faculty members is in the National Radio Hall of Fame,” Calabrese said. “But we consider all of our full-time and adjunct faculty members to be valuable to the department.”

Hemmert attended Elmhurst College in Chicago’s west suburbs where she received a bachelor’s degree in speech.

Hemmert made Chicago radio history as the first female DJ to be featured on a morning drive show. Currently, she hosts “Breakfast with The Beatles,” a show that features the group’s music every Sunday from 8 – 10 a.m. She is widely known for her knowledge of The Beatles and has spoken at many conventions celebrating the band.

Megan Buckley, a senior in the Radio Department who is currently in Hemmert’s class, was surprised at how humble the radio veteran is about her career.

“She’s really down to earth,” Buckley said. “You wouldn’t even know she’s met all these famous people. She’s a really great teacher.”

Hemmert is knowledgeable and has an abundance of first-hand experiences with musical artists and insight into the industry to share with her students, Buckley said.

“Not a lot of people are talking about meeting Mavis Staples,” Buckley said.

In her class, Hemmert discusses how blues, jazz, soul and doo-wop helped push the evolution of rock ‘n’ roll, injecting her own experiences meeting different bands in person and seeing them perform live.

As she accepted her induction and award, Hemmert spoke about how fortunate she is and the opportunities she’s been afforded as a DJ.

“I went to see Paul McCartney in the East Room with Barack Obama,” Hemmert said. “I’m living the life.”