It's official: After spending two years down the dial -- and two weeks in radio limbo -- Jake Hartford is bringing his splendid Saturday morning talk show back to where it began on news/talk WLS-AM (890).
Starting this weekend, "Awake with Jake" will air from 5 to 7 a.m. Saturdays on the Citadel Broadcasting station. "Steve Dale's Pet World," which aired during the 6 a.m. hour, will continue to be heard at 2 p.m. Saturdays on WLS.
Hartford's show attracted a large and loyal following on WLS for more than 10 years before he was abruptly fired in a cost-cutting binge in 2008. He's the latest exile to be brought back by Drew Hayes, who launched the station's original talk format and recently returned as operations director."
"Jake really is a WLS guy through and through," Hayes said. "I only wish we could have gotten him back on in time for his legendary time change show," referring to Hartford's twice-a-year bit in which he instructed listeners to set their clocks back in spring and set them forward in fall. (Speaking of hours, Hayes said the show likely would expand beyond its 5-to-7 a.m. slot at some point.)
For the last two years, Hartford has hosted Saturday mornings on Newsweb Radio's WCPT-AM (820), a progressive talk station plagued by a weak signal and scant local programming or promotion. "Awake with Jake" was pulled off the air two weeks ago -- immediately after news appeared here that WLS was courting Hartford to return.
Jake Hartford is the nom de air of Jim Edwards, a lifelong Chicagoan and former producer at CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2, where he won 12 Chicago Emmy Awards for his work with Walter Jacobson and others. Forced to use the pseudonym while still employed at Channel 2, he began working at WLS in 1991 and launched his Saturday show in 1997.
On Tuesday, Hartford shared a few thoughts on his comeback and his plans for the show:
Q. Are you returning to achieve a sense of vindication?
A. I hope so because it certainly is not for the money.
Q. So it is for vindication?
A. Actually no. I'm going back for the "triumphant return." I am working on a book entitled Behind Enemy Lines -- Talking with the Enemy? It is a simple story. After many years at right-of-center WLS, I fall from grace in the space of a one-minute phone call, then immediately begin my redemption at a progressive station where for two years I achieve relative success. Now I go back to WLS for the "triumphant return." Such returns are short lived, maybe a few months. Don't expect to hear time change in the fall. It will be a race to see who is done first this summer -- me or the Cubs.
Q. What will you be thinking when the show starts Saturday?
A. I'll be thinking of [producer] Greg Alexander and our two years together. He was a vital part of my 'CPT experience, both on air and behind the scenes. I'll be thinking about how I screwed him over. Because of my leaving, he's out of a job.
Q. Any other thoughts?
A. I'll be thinking of [news/traffic anchor] Linda Mitry. People have been asking whether she'll make another comeback with me. I doubt it. She has this peculiar character trait -- she likes to get paid for working. She will work for almost nothing, but she wants that almost nothing.
Q. So what will the show be like?
A. I will interact with the weather person during the show. I'm told the weather reports are taped, so I should hold my own pretty well.
Q. What about being reunited with Don and Roma, Roe Conn, the old gang?
A. They never much cared for me the first time around. Unless they come down early Saturday morning, I never expect to see them. Besides, Don is a hugger. I don't trust huggers.
Q. What about your friendship with Paul Brian? You and he did that "Drive Chicago" show at 8 a.m. together for about 10 years.
A. We will continue that friendship, but not the show. I'll be home by the time he starts.
Q. Then why are you really going back?
A. Drew [Hayes] called and said they were putting the old band back together. He was so enthusiastic, how could I say no? Then I remembered I was the tambourine player. We'll see . . .