Eric & Kathy ready for a Hart break?

Eric Ferguson and Kathy Hart

The most popular morning radio show in Chicago is in its third week without co-host Kathy Hart — and without explanation to co-workers or fans for her extended absence.

After 20 years alongside Eric Ferguson on Hubbard Radio hot adult-contemporary WTMX FM 101.9, Hart has insiders guessing if or when she’ll return to “The Eric and Kathy Show.” Even her bosses aren’t sure what’s up.

Reached at home Monday, Hart, 52, declined to comment. Except for an abbreviated appearance May 1, she’s been off the air since April 27. By all accounts, the show has gone on without missing a beat.

The longer Hart is out of The Mix the more questions are raised and rumors are fueled. In response to inquiries about her leave of absence, management released a statement Monday pointedly crediting a “great team effort” for the success of the show. As if to underscore the message, the word “team” appeared three times.

“Kathy Hart, of Eric and Kathy fame, is taking some time off and we are looking forward to her return,” said Jeff England, vice president and market manager of Hubbard Radio Chicago.

“In the meantime, we want to assure our loyal listeners that the goal of ‘The Eric and Kathy Show’ team is to deliver the best in morning entertainment to Chicagoans every morning, as they have for 20 years. The success of the show is the result of great team effort, and we have no doubt that our team will continue to serve our community while entertaining our loyal audience.”

Nielsen Audio figures for April released Monday showed “The Eric and Kathy Show” tied for first place in morning drive with a 6.9 percent share of all listeners. It shared the top spot with CBS Radio all-news WBBM AM 780/WCFS FM 105.9, anchored by Felicia Middlebrooks and Pat Cassidy. Among listeners between 25 and 54 — the so-called money demo advertisers covet — “The Eric and Kathy Show” has been ahead of all others for years.

Like many show business partnerships, Ferguson and Hart’s relationship off the air (and sometimes on the air) has been described as strained. Friends of both marvel that it has endured over two decades — an eternity by broadcasting standards. Friends also acknowledge that nothing lasts forever.

“I continue to wish her the best and hope we have some kind of understanding soon,” Ferguson, 50, said of his co-host. “I look forward to her return.”

Ferguson told listeners at the end of Monday’s show he’s taking a few days off for a previously scheduled vacation and urged them not to read anything into that. “There’s no conspiracy going on,” he added.

The Mix will be airing “Best of Eric and Kathy” tapes in his absence.