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Know Your Neighbors: WXRX Morning Hosts Lori Williams & Kevin Wood

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This radio duo bring their sibling-type relationship to the airways each morning on WXRX. Say hello to these radio deejays and find out how early career struggles managed to bring them together.

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Lori Williams and Kevin Wood love to torment each other.

“He’s like a big brother who picks on me,” says Williams. “And I’m like his little sister who can’t figure out life.”

While not related, their sibling-type relationship plays out perfectly for the radio duo, who co-host “The Morning X” on 104.9 WXRX FM weekdays from 5 to 10 a.m.

Just don’t compare them to a husband and wife. “We don’t want to sound like we’re married,” says Wood. “Every guy/girl morning show sounds like that. That’s not us.”

In between playing mainstream rock from the likes of Def Leppard, Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins, Williams and Wood banter back and forth on everything from Williams’ emotions (“I cry about anything”) to Wood’s weight loss (80 pounds and counting). “We’re an open book on the air,” says Wood.

Williams and Wood have been paired up on “The X” for a little more than a year, but this isn’t the first time they’ve worked together. However, the path they took to Rockford was unusual to say the least.

The pair grew up on the south side of Chicago. (Williams is a diehard White Sox fan while Wood roots for the Cubs.) They met 10 years ago at Illinois Center for Broadcasting (now the Illinois Media School), where one of their instructors was Mark Zander, now the program director at The X. Williams and Wood ran the school’s radio station before going their separate ways to pursue other opportunities.

Williams spent five years at 96.7 The Eagle in Rockford before joining The X in January 2017. She started out doing mid-days before moving to the mornings, after the long run of the popular Stone and Double T show came to an end.

As for Wood, he’s a man of many interests. He’s a published horror-fiction writer, a guitar player and a voice actor, whose pipes have been used in a few video games. Before The X, he was working in Joliet as a production director for a four-station radio company, honing his on-air skills as a weekend deejay and hosting a podcast. He was also following his dream doing stand-up comedy on the side. He’s performed all over the Midwest, including Zanies, performing at open mic nights.

Wood’s routine includes self-deprecating humor centered on being a 30-something male. “It’s personal,” he says. “It’s about me, my relationships and my weight. I really beat myself up for being fat until I finally took control.”

When Williams needed a co-host for her new morning show, Zander explored a few potential hosts, but nothing materialized. So he asked Williams for suggestions of someone she’d like to work with.

“I said Kevin Wood,” says Williams, despite not having talked to her former classmate for about five years. “I just remembered how hilarious he was.”

Wood was receptive to the idea; his goal was to work rock mornings and he wasn’t getting that chance in Joliet. But was he ready to give up his dream of comedy? “It was a hard decision to make,” he says. “I was working with people who were getting featured on HBO. But doing comedy is like exercising. You have to keep doing it to stay in shape. I would have to do four or five nights of comedy a week, and that’s hard to do at this point.” Wood put his jokes away and joined The X in October 2017.

While Williams and Wood were familiar with each other, it didn’t immediately translate into on-air success.

“Neither of us had done mornings before or with a partner in an FM format,” Wood says. “It’s always awkward when you first do a show with a new partner. The key to doing mornings is you have to keep things moving.”

The way Williams sees it, however, the biggest challenge was the fact she’s a woman doing a morning rock show in a business that is primarily dominated by men. In fact, Williams is the first female morning show The X has had since Linda Lampert teamed up with Pete McMurray in the 1990s.

Williams fashions herself as a rocker who also likes to cut coupons and crochet blankets.

“I’m like your grandma,” she teases. Her sense of humor came in handy in the beginning. “It was a different ballgame,” says Williams, who endured plenty of pushback from listeners who were resistant to change. “Hey, I like Metallica and Pearl Jam. It’s the music I grew up listening to.

“We were asking listeners to accept us and grow with us,” she adds. “But for every 10 negative comments, there were 100 people who were happy.”

As for Wood, he couldn’t avoid the criticism, either.

“This music is right up my alley,” says Wood, who grew up playing in various rock bands including a ’90s cover band called Mr. Buzzcut. “The bottom line is there were people who weren’t ready for the type of show we do.”

For five hours a morning, Williams and Wood put their relationship on full display. In addition to music, they interview local guests, promoting everything from tourism to IceHogs hockey.

They’ve interviewed a prison nurse. They brought in a paranormal expert to see if the station was haunted. Then there was an interview with Mary Winchenbach, who owns an arts and crafts store in Maine called Tirdy Works, where she makes knickknacks out of moose feces. “Talking to her was the greatest thing that’s ever happened to us,” says Wood. Other bits include Misconnections, a nod to dating stories found on Craigslist, and Tool of the Day, a regular staple of dumb criminal stories. “We’re not trying to impress anyone,” Williams says. “We’re just being ourselves.”

For Williams and Wood, the road to morning radio is a long one. Literally. Williams travels nearly 160 miles round-trip every day from the home in Glen Ellyn that she shares with husband Ryan and their 2-year-old daughter, Harlow. The commute, she says, gives her time to pause before the start of a hectic day.

“I love what I do,” she says. “I love The X and I love the people I work with, so it makes it worth it. It’s definitely a labor of love. That’s why I drive 78 miles one way and don’t ever sleep. People think I’m crazy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Wood’s 30-minute commute from Rochelle is considerably shorter. For now, Wood, who is engaged to his girlfriend, Colleen, has put his comedy dream on hold. But he thinks about it often.

“I miss it,” he says. “Doing comedy is both frightening and exciting at the same time. You’re just looking for that one laugh. If you do a five-minute open mic night and get no laughs, you never want to do it again. But if you get one little chuckle, that’s it. You’re hooked.

That’s what happened to me. My first set I got one little laugh and that was it. I was addicted to that noise. But now I love what we’re doing on the morning show. It’s still about getting a laugh.”

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