(MCT) — Don Wade, a pillar of Chicago radio, has died of a brain tumor, about a year after the condition forced the morning show host off the air. He was 72.
Mr. Wade spent 55 years in broadcasting, 27 of them at WLS-AM 890, according to a statement Sunday on the station's website confirming his Friday death. In recent years, he worked mornings co-hosting "The Don Wade & Roma Show" with his wife.
Colleagues said Mr. Wade was a relentless researcher who would wake up in the middle of the night to get ready for his 5 a.m. show. The "lovable curmudgeon" became a Chicago institution by knowing the topics he covered inside and out, said former WLS General Manager Michael Damsky.
"I think that Don was probably the most influential local, perspective-based host in Chicago," Damsky said. "This city has a great history of beloved personalities, some of them far more well-known or higher-rated than Don. But when it came to information and perspective, Don really was the gold standard."
Damsky said people trusted Mr. Wade in a deeper way than they did other radio hosts.
"When there were big issues on the line that were of broad-based interest, people turned to Don," Damsky said. "No one else ever commanded that kind of respect."
As word spread Sunday of his passing, fans on social media networks remembered the broadcaster as a comforting presence with a sharp sense of humor.
"He was like a friend," one woman wrote on the WLS Facebook page. "He and Steve Scott helped me get through the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, with their calm and professional reporting."
Tracy Slutzkin started as the Wades' producer in the 1990s and rose to become the WLS program director. She said Mr. Wade was a mentor and friend who was "truly an exceptional man all around."
"He wanted to make sure Chicagoans got the best, thought-provoking, entertaining information every day," she said. "And he worked so hard at it."
John Gehron was the WLS program director who hired Mr. Wade in the 1980s.
"He set such a wonderful example of how to do a radio show the right way," said Gehron, who remained friends with Mr. Wade after leaving the station. "He had tremendous credibility because he worked so hard and he had his facts straight."
In Mr. Wade's first years at WLS, Gehron said, Roma would often stop by the studio and help with the show.
"You could tell when they were on the air together that there was some magic," Gehron said.
Roma Wade could not be reached for comment, but a statement from the family on the WLS site Sunday thanked fans for their support.
"God blessed us with almost an entire year since Don's surgery to embrace life, love, family and adventure, all while knowing that his time on this beautiful earth was drawing to a close," read the letter, apparently written by Roma but signed also by Mr. Wade's children. "I love him more than life itself."
Roma Wade posted periodically on the WLS website after she and her husband left the air, writing last week that they had enjoyed a weeklong Caribbean cruise in July.
"We did every single show and event and restaurant on the entire 18 deck ship," she wrote. "We had a ball!"
Mr. Wade is also survived by his two children, Hunter and Heather; and brothers Ralph Reavis, Raynor Reavis and Tom Wehde, according to the statement.
A public service in Chicago will be announced later, according to Eliot Ephraim, Mr. Wade's agent and lawyer. A family service also will be held.
©2013 the Chicago Tribune
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