It’s a slightly rainy late November evening and the lights are all on at Pilsen Community Books. I’ve come here to attend a live recording of Eye 94, a weekly program on Lumpen Radio 105.5 FM that dives deep into the culture of publishing, authors, and books. It’s the only terrestrial radio show currently airing in the midwest that is completely devoted to books and writers, and possibly the first Chicago radio show to do so since Milt Rosenberg’s Extension 720 on WGN AM ended in 2012.
On this night writer and teacher Jac Jemc is due to be interviewed about False Bingo, her most recent collection of short stories. I pass Jamie Trecker and Jeremy Kitchen (two-thirds of Eye 94‘s weekly on-air hosts) at the front and make my way to the fiction shelves. I’m not as familiar as I’d like to be with Jemc’s work, so I pick up a copy of her 2017 novel, The Grip of It. I realize that Jemc is standing nearby, waiting for the event to start. She points at her book in my hand, and I tell her I’m looking forward to reading it as we share a chuckle.
Eye 94 doesn’t manage to physically deliver writers into your living room each week (man, that could be amazing or terrible depending on the writer), but the program creates a fun and respectful atmosphere where the spotlight is on the author. The show is led by voracious readers: Trecker (a writer and also the station manager at WLPN), Kitchen (the head librarian at the Bridgeport branch of the Chicago Public Library), and their cohost Mike Sack are all friends who bonded over a love of books. Eye 94‘s fourth member, Shanna van Volt, contributes voice-over for each show in the form of readings from the books being discussed, which allows the author and the audience to hear the work in someone else’s voice, leading to deeper conversation. The readings are taped pre-show, and music from the International Anthem’s roster of recording artists (the record company’s office is a neighbor of Lumpen Radio) provides evocative atmosphere.
The hosts’ tag-team interviewing style makes the program feel like a weekly casual discussion between informed and curious readers, rather than three people interrogating a nervous writer trying to sell some books. Jemc’s interview covered the horror/thriller aspect of some of her stories, but also touched on writerly issues, like the lack of outlets in the world for short stories to be published and her process for working through character arcs. The conversation between Jemc and the hosts was easygoing and had light moments with some tangents into the problems of Wikipedia, The Twilight Zone, and taxidermy.
In January Eye 94 will celebrate its third anniversary, and the hosts are committed to continue making their favorite authors accessible to the listening audience. Past shows have featured some luminaries: Reader favorite Eve Ewing was featured for a February 2018 show (also taped live before an audience at Pilsen Community Books), and Gary Indiana phoned it in from New York later in 2018 for a fun and long-ranging interview that covered Three Month Fever, his move to the east coast, and an unusual look at the killer Andrew Cunanan. Trecker says that the Indiana interview is one of the most popular downloads in the Lumpen archives, and the show itself pulls some of the most listeners of any program on the radio station. This isn’t surprising given the care that writers receive on Eye 94: a full hour of talk devoted to not only the author’s words and ideas but also to examining the world of writing itself. v