Wades away: Don & Roma won’t be back on WLS

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Legendary morning star Don Wade, the 30-year veteran of Chicago radio who has been battling brain cancer for the past three months, won’t be returning to WLS-AM (890).


Wade, 71, and his wife and radio partner, Roma Wade, who’ve been off the air since early September, announced Thursday that they’re stepping down from the Cumulus Media news/talk station to focus on his health and medical treatment. Their contract expires at the end of the year.


“The daily stress of rising each day at midnight to prep for our 5am show does not help the healing process,” the Wades said in a statement released through their agent, Eliot Ephraim. “So we are choosing a different path and focusing on what's really important for us right now.”


Donna Baker, vice president and market manager of Cumulus Media in Chicago, called the Wades “among the most genuine and caring people on the planet,” adding: “They are an inspiration as a couple, and will always be a part of the WLS family.” 


John Dickey, executive vice president and co-chief operating officer of Cumulus Media, came to Chicago last week to meet with Ephraim about the Wades. Sources said Dickey was hopeful the couple would retain ties to WLS. Their show has been enormously profitable for the station, largely because of the commercial endorsements and advertiser loyalty the Wades commanded.


“Don and Roma are Chicago, and 27 years waking Chicago up is an amazing feat,” Dickey said in a statement. “The focus and strength it takes to do live radio every day on one of the world's biggest stages will serve Don well as he continues to heal. We wish Don and Roma the best and will always keep a mic open for them.”


Ephraim said the Wades would consider future roles with the station.


Bruce Wolf and Dan Proft, who have been filling in as morning hosts, were officially named to the positions Thursday. While they have been on from 5 to 9am weekdays, weekend host Jake Hartford and Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass, in turn, have been subbing for Wolf and Proft in their regular slot from 9 to 11am weekdays. Hartford and Kass also will continue. Ratings for both shows have remained consistently strong, according to Arbitron.


In their statement, the Wades said: “We are pleased to pass the morning show gauntlet to two of our favorite WLS hosts: Dan Proft, who was a regular feature on our show (‘Pundit’ and ‘Fundit’) long before he ran for governor; and crazy Bruce Wolf, who brings the perfect balance to start your day on WLS. We like to think we handpicked our great replacements. They are terrific!”


In September, doctors discovered a growth on Don Wade’s brain after he suffered a seizure in New York. The couple was there to attend the wedding of their daughter, Heather. Back in Chicago, neurosurgeons removed the growth that turned out to be malignant. In October, he began a six-week course of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.


Although they haven’t appeared on the air since the ordeal began, the Wades have issued several “positive and optimistic” statements and posted photos of Don, appearing healthy with his head shaved, on the station’s website.


After logging some 15 radio jobs in nine states, New York native Don Wade arrived in Chicago in 1982 as morning personality at country music WUSN-FM (99.5). In 1985, he shifted to WLS, where Roma joined him as co-host the following year. They’ve hosted mornings since 1989. (Though married since 1979, they didn’t tell listeners they were husband and wife until 1998.) Before Thursday’s announcement, they were the longest running morning team in Chicago radio.


 


Here is the complete text of Don and Roma’s statement:


“In 1985 the Bears won the Super Bowl and we did our first Don Wade and Roma show on WLS. That's 27 years ago. To us, it's been like winning the Super Bowl everyday!


“Daily brainstorms were Don’s MO. Then suddenly, a real brainstorm comes along.


“Even with successful surgery, recovery is long.  Attitude is key. Your encouraging, loving cards, letters, and emails helped us maintain what Don’s doctors described as ‘the most positive optimistic attitude in the universe!’ Thank you for every single prayer and good wish.


“The daily stress of rising each day at midnight to prep for our 5am show does not help the healing process. So we are choosing a different path and focusing on what's really important for us right now.


“We are pleased to pass the morning show gauntlet to two of our favorite WLS hosts: Dan Proft, who was a regular feature on our show (‘Pundit’ and ‘Fundit’) long before he ran for governor; and crazy Bruce Wolf, who brings the perfect balance to start your day on WLS. We like to think we handpicked our great replacements. They are terrific!”


 



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