Wendy Snyder has always been a talker. When she was in kindergarten at Hollywood School in 1968, she was constantly being sent to the quiet chair for taking too much in class.
It continued throughout elementary school. She typically got good grades but was often given a D in deportment, because she was so chatty.
So perhaps it is only fitting that Snyder now is paid to talk on the radio. She has worked on various Chicago radio stations, first as a rock DJ, for the past 34 years. Snyder currently cohosts the 10 a.m. to noon slot on WGN Radio with her longtime radio partner, Bill Leff.
On Sept. 21, Snyder and four other Riverside-Brookfield High School graduates will receive the school’s Alumni Achievement Medal and be honored by Riverside-Brookfield Educational Foundation at a dinner at the school.
At RBHS, Snyder was a class president and varsity basketball player. She graduated in 1981.
Snyder, who grew up in Hollywood section of Brookfield and now lives in LaGrange, has spent her entire life in the Chicago area. She said that she loved her time at RBHS.
“I had the best high school experience ever, I really did” Snyder said in a telephone interview. “I had friends who smoked in the bathrooms, I had friends who were cheerleaders, I had friends who were science geeks.”
She had many memorable teachers including Jan Goldberg, who taught history.
“She really was cool and hip and made learning fun,” Snyder said.
It was in high school when Snyder first realized her passion for radio. She was a hardcore classic rock fan, listening to bands such as ZZ Top, Super Tramp, REO Speedwagon, the Marshall Tucker Band and Bob Seeger.
At the suggestion of her friend, Gail Jage, the two girls entered an Everyone Can be a DJ contest put on by the Triton College radio station WRRG.
They won and got to host an hour on the radio station a few times. From then on, she knew what she wanted to do with her life.
“I was just kind of bitten by the bug,” Snyder said. “That’s all I wanted to do and that’s kind of what I set my sights on.”
After graduating from RBHS she went to Illinois State University. But she quickly found out that on air radio spots at the campus radio station were reserved for upperclassmen.
“I felt kind of deflated and wanted to find a quicker way to get experience, because how do you get a job in radio without experience?” Snyder said. “So I came home and enrolled at Triton and got involved in their radio station right away.”
She was quickly given a slot on WRRG and played music there a couple times a week until she earned an Associate of Arts Degree in mass communication.
Her first paid job in radio was at small Christian radio station in Northbrook where she played Christian rock music and engineered a polka show and an hour-long show devoted to Croatian music.
After about a year, her former station manager at Triton told her that FM rock powerhouse WLUP/The Loop was looking for a weekend overnight host. She had her on air audition from 4 to 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning plus two more hours running the board for a syndicated jazz show. That afternoon she got the call telling her that she was hired.
Like many others in radio she spent her early years working the overnight shift.
“You have a very loyal audience, because these are people who are also working the night shift,” Snyder said. “A lot of times you were their link to entertainment while they were working at 7-Elevens or gas stations and they’d call and want to hear a song.”
She was only part time and had to supplement her income, so she worked at Brookfield Zoo during the week in the summer, narrating on the railroad train and the motor safari.
During the rest of the year, she worked in food service at Loyola Hospital preparing patient food trays.
In 1992 the Howard Stern show came to Chicago and Snyder was given the assignment to do hourly news inserts. That was her introduction to talk radio.
Soon she was doing news and riffing with powerhouse Loop DJ Kevin Matthews.
“That changed my life,” Snyder said. “I got bitten by the talk radio bug and there was no looking back.”
She worked with first Garry Meier and, later, Steve Dahl after that radio duo broke up. She was paired with current partner Bill Leff, a former standup comedian, at the Loop and together they moved to WKQX (Q101) in 1996.
“It kind of clicked pretty instantly,” Snyder said. “I love working with a partner now, because it is just so much easier to have someone to just play something off of.”
After their time at WKQX ended they couldn’t get a job together so they went their separate ways piecing together work. For a time, Snyder did traffic for the Don Wade and Roma show on WLS Radio.
When her former boss at the Loop, Jimmy DeCastro, became program director at WGN he reunited Snyder and Leff at the iconic AM radio powerhouse. In the 1980s Snyder and other personalities at the Loop used to mock WGN for its dowdy ways, but both Snyder and WGN have changed since then.
“We made fun of WGN,” Snyder said. “That was our parents’ station or our grandparents’ station. Now we’re parents.”
Snyder and Leff do a topical show that focuses on what Snyder calls “water cooler talk.” The show is pretty freeform and including news, entertainment and just everyday life. They do interviews and stream an extra hour of the show on the internet.
Perhaps not surprisingly for someone who has spent her life in radio, Snyder married a radio guy. She met her husband Jimmy “Mac” McInerney in 1991 at the Loop when he was a producer for the Jonathan Brandmeier show. They got married in 1997 and have two sons, one a freshman at College of DuPage and the other a freshman at Lyons Township High School.
“We are quite the radio family,” Snyder said.