Now that Pat Cassidy is headed back to his old job as morning news anchor at WBBM-AM (780), will his 18-month detour as an opinionated talk show host and foil for the controversial Mancow Muller affect the way listeners perceive him?
"I don't think it's going to have a major impact," Cassidy said just after his return to the CBS-owned all-news station was announced Monday. "I think a percentage of the audience -- if not a large percentage of the audience -- still viewed me as newsman when I was doing the talk show. I never lost that image to a lot of people."
Declaring he was "happy to be back on the best radio news team in America," Cassidy, 59, will officially rejoin longtime anchor partner Felicia Middlebrooks next week -- from 5 to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. "I can hardly wait to feel the energy in that newsroom during the first big breaking news story," he said. "I get a real rush out of it. I can hardly wait for that to happen. . . . I hope to be able to pick up right where I left off."
For Cassidy, it marks the end of an ill-fated venture that began in 2008 when he jumped to Citadel Broadcasting news/talk WLS-AM (890) in hopes of reinventing himself as a politically conservative talk show host. The prominent role he expected at WLS never materialized after ratings for Don and Roma Wade's morning show suddenly sprang back to life under Arbitron's Portable People Meter system. That left Cassidy to make the best of a two-hour midday slot he shared with Muller -- turning them into radio's version of "The Odd Couple" -- until management pulled the plug on their show in February.
Perhaps because he knew that his former bosses were keeping his old job open, the Chicago radio veteran insists it wasn't a mistake to accept the WLS offer. Said Cassidy:
"If I didn't take it, I could see myself down the road during some melancholy moment, thinking: 'Gee, I wonder what would have happened?' I really think that I would have regretted not taking it. So no, I don't think it was a mistake. It was an experience working with Mancow -- but not a bad experience. He is a talented, hard working, fun guy. I learned a few things from him, and I think he probably learned a few things from me."
Muller, who continues to host a syndicated morning show from Chicago, lamented his former partner's return to the regimentation of all-news radio. "It's very depressing to me because I feel we were doing the best radio in Chicago -- and the ratings showed it," Muller said. "I think our show should have gone on for the next 10 or 15 years. For Pat to be back with the albatross of Felicia [Middlebrooks] around his neck makes me sad because he's proven he can do so much more than just read the news."
It was precisely that delicate chemistry between Cassidy and Middlebrooks that prompted Rod Zimmerman, senior vice president and market manager of CBS Radio Chicago, to refrain from hiring a replacement during the nearly two years Cassidy was away. After announcing Cassidy's multiyear deal Monday, Zimmerman said:
"You never say never. In this business, the only thing that's constant is change. Was I hoping that we could work something out down the road? Yes, and fortunately for Pat and for WBBM, it all worked out in the end. You know you can't hold it against someone for trying to fulfill a dream or having an itch. Now we're happy to have him back, and I'm sure the audience will be, too."
Cassidy has been a fixture on morning radio here for nearly four decades. A Chicago native who began his career at the former WEXI in northwest suburban Arlington Heights, he spent 25 years on the former WMAQ before joining Newsradio 780 in 2000.
One big reason Zimmerman was able to wait out Cassidy's comeback was the considerable presence of John Hultman, 72, the 30-year veteran of the station who came out of retirement to fill in alongside Middlebrooks. "John came back, didn't miss a beat, carried the day for us, upheld the audience expectations and delivered a great product," Zimmerman said. "We thank him for all of his efforts, and we're pleased he'll remain with the station, filling in from time to time as needed."
In the latest Arbitron survey, Newsradio 780 ranked third in morning drive (6 to 10 a.m. weekdays) with a 6.4 percent share of listeners age 12 and older, and a 4.7 share of listeners between the ages of 25 and 54.