‘Murphy in the Morning’ turns back clock on Chicago radio

Don’t be surprised if someone you know says they woke up Tuesday morning wondering if they’d fallen into some sort of time warp. It probably just means their clock radio was set to WKQX-FM (101.1).

For the first time since 1993, Robert Murphy is back on 101.1 FM, hosting the morning show that made him a major celebrity and one of the highest-paid radio personalities in Chicago for a decade. To hundreds of thousands of mostly female fans, Murphy in the Morning was the hottest, hippest show in town.

As first reported here Monday, Murphy, 60, is picking up where he left off while WKQX transitions from its former identity as alternative rocker Q101 to FM news, under the new management of Randy Michaels’ Merlin Media. In the interim — with Murphy as the star attraction from 5 to 10am weekdays — the station will vamp with a hot adult-contemporary music format and perhaps a few other surprises along the way.

Michaels and Merlin Media chief operating officer Walter Sabo were on hand Monday at the Merchandise Mart studios of WKQX and classic rock WLUP-FM (97.9), as staffers began their first full week under the new regime. No date has been announced for the launch of the new format at 101.1 FM, but it’s expected sometime in early August.

After a couple of brief radio stints proved less satisfying than he’d hoped, Murphy has spent most of his time enjoying a life of leisure and traveling between homes in Chicago, Michigan and Florida. As he prepared for an on-air homecoming 18 years in the making, he took a few minutes out Monday to chat with me:

Q. How did this come about?
A. Several of my radio buds, including Lise Dominique and JoAnn Genette, were in meetings with [Merlin Media advisory board chairman] John Gehron plotting ways to transition the old Q101 into the new station, and my name was brought up. They called me and begged me to come back to work.

Q. Will you actually be broadcasting from your old studio?
No, the old studio on the 17th floor of the Merchandise Mart now sells $17,000 faucets. Q101 and the Loop moved down to the second floor some years ago. That’s where I will be situated — in the Mancow Memorial Studio.

Q. How do you think you'll feel the first time the mic goes on at Q101?
I expect to start swooning. There’s no way I could ignore the fact that there will be a pleasant nostalgic wave passing over me when that happens.

Q. What are your plans for the show? Bringing back any of your old bits?
For right now, the plan is to play good music and have a great time. I’ll probably leave “Guess the Whoopie” in retirement for the time being.

Q.How do you feel about working with Lise again?
I have worked with so many talented people over the years that it is a thrill to be reunited. I walked into the new station for the first time today and was greeted by at least 10 people with whom I had previously worked.

Q. If this goes well, do you think it could lead to more for you?
I’m no prophet. My mind is entirely focused on helping the new company during their transitional phase.

Q. What’s your fondest memory of your first run at Q101?
Probably when the ratings started heading up toward the top. Q101 took a gamble on me back in 1983, and it paid off. That was a win/win for us.

Q. Can you believe I asked you seven questions without bringing up the straitjacket?
God bless you for that. I just heard that some company has bought the proprietary rights to all things Q101 — including my straitjacket. They can have it.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)