Don Wade on the air in 2004. | Sun-Times library
Updated: October 10, 2013 6:38AM
For nearly 30 years, the husband-and-wife team of “Don Wade and Roma” entertained and informed WLS-AM (890) listeners with a longevity unique in Chicago radio history.
But on Sunday night, the station’s website shared the sad news from Roma Wade that “my hero, my best friend, my soulmate” had passed away “in my loving arms.’’
By 10 p.m., 10,000 well-wishers had sent emails to Roma Wade via the firstname.lastname@example.org email address on the WLS-AM (890) website, said the station’s program manager, Tracy Slutzkin.
Mr. Wade, 72, died Friday morning in Florida following a nearly yearlong battle with brain cancer. His condition prompted the couple to step down from their popular morning talk radio show in December to focus on his health.
They were among the longest-running husband-and-wife-radio teams in Chicago. Mr. Wade served as the curmudgeon with a heart to Roma’s softer side. The combination became a linchpin of WLS radio’s programming.
“WLS and Chicago lost an exceptional broadcaster on Friday,’’ Slutzkin told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Don Wade was not only a colleague but a mentor and a very close friend. For 27 years he informed Chicagoland with his unique, entertaining and thought-provoking take on the day’s news.’’
Over the years, “Don and Roma” interviewed senators and congressman and even hosted a rally for then-President George W. Bush, Slutzkin said.
It was on the Don and Roma show that former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. said “Bring it on” to then-U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, only to wind up indicted, Slutzkin said.
Mr. Wade usually took the conservative road, but WLS radio host Roe Conn noted that “he was one of the first guys to do conservative talk with a heart.”
“One thing about conservative talk shows is they were always over the top. Don did it with an incredible passion but also an incredible sense of humanity,’’ Conn said.
Conn also recalled that when Mr. Wade and his wife first started as a radio team at WLS, management thought it would be “more edgy” if they didn’t reveal they were married.
But after several years, Conn said, the couple “came out” as married because they “were going to be real.’’
Known as a hard worker, Mr. Wade would rise at midnight to prepare for his 5 a.m. show.
“He understood and loved the medium, and he knew exactly how to set up a discussion, incorporate the callers and make it entertaining for all those loyal Chicago area listeners,’’ said Conn’s WLS radio partner, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper.
“Don Wade was a true giant of morning radio,’’ Roeper said.
Colleagues in the field recognized Mr. Wade’s contributions on Twitter on Sunday night.
Eddie Volkman, longtime former WBBM-FM (96.3) morning co-host said in a tweet: “We lost a Chicago legend and more importantly, a great human.’’
Mr. Wade attended a prep school in New Hampshire and was a graduate of Boston University. He spent 55 years on the radio, with the last 27 at WLS and the first half of his radio life as a disc jockey.
His radio career led him to at least 10 other cities — including one in Canada — before he landed in Chicago in 1982 as a morning personality at country music station WUSN-FM (99.5.)
By 1985, he won a spot at WLS, where his wife joined him as co-host.
When WLS changed from a music format to talk radio in 1989, “Don Wade and Roma were the only air talent asked to remain and try their skill at becoming morning talk show hosts,’’ according to the WLS-AM 890 website.
Mr. Wade “was a natural,’’ the website said. “Agree or disagree, listeners were riveted to his thought-provoking, persuasive, even maddening dissections of the world around him.’’
Added the website: “Don went out as he lived and broadcasted, like a lion.’’
In addition to his wife, Mr. Wade is survived by son Col. Hunter Hobson and daughter Heather Hobson; brothers Tom Wehde, Raynor Reavis and Ralph Reavis and nieces and nephews.
A “private celebration of his life’’ is planned, according to WLS. A Chicago memorial also is being planned.