‘Eric & Kathy’ still No. 1 — even with Kathy out of The Mix

Melissa McGurren, Brian Paruch, Eric Ferguson, Kathy Hart, John Swanson and Cynthia DeNicolo

Chicago radio ratings released Monday raised new questions about whether Kathy Hart will return to the immensely popular morning show she has co-hosted for more than 20 years.

Hart is in the seventh week of her absence from “The Eric & Kathy Show” on Hubbard Radio hot adult-contemporary WTMX FM 101.9 — with no explanation to her partner, Eric Ferguson, their co-workers, or their vast audience of faithful listeners. Repeated requests for comment from Hart have been turned down.

The latest Nielsen Audio figures covering April 27 to May 24 (coinciding with the first four weeks of Hart’s absence) showed The Mix up in morning drive from the previous month. From 6 to 10 a.m. weekdays, the station was a solid No. 1 with a 7.0 percent share of all listeners and a cumulative weekly audience of 686,000. Among adults between 25 and 54 it led the market with a commanding 8.9 share.

Hart’s contract is up in December, according to insiders, who point out that the show hasn’t skipped a beat without her. They say there doesn't appear to be any urgency from advertisers or clamor from listeners for her to return. The show has always revolved around Ferguson, who leads an ensemble cast that also includes Melissa McGurren, Brian “Whip” Paruch, John Swanson and Cynthia DeNicolo.

It’s not clear who’s advising Hart these days. Her longtime agent, Chicago attorney Todd Musburger, said Hart recently severed her agreement with him. He declined further comment.

Hart’s bosses aren't much more helpful either. Jeff England, vice president and market manager of Hubbard Radio Chicago, would confirm only that Hart is “out on a leave of absence.” He would not say whether she had invoked the Family and Medical Leave Act, which permits employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for family and medical reasons.

Adding to the mystery, Hart recently deactivated, restored and then again deactivated her Facebook account. It’s currently inaccessible.

Billboards promoting “Eric & Kathy” are still up all over town, and Ferguson still refers to his missing co-host on the air respectfully. Ferguson has said he has not heard from Hart since she’s been gone, but he wishes her well.

Discerning what’s going on is complicated by the icy relationship Ferguson and Hart are rumored to have had for years. As much as he professes hoping she'll return, there’s a palpable lessening of tension on the show with her away.

“The show is much better without her,” Tammy Stoyanovski Puralewski, a listener from Woodridge, wrote. “I have listened for years and have always thought she is condescending towards everyone. Eric, Melissa and Whip are so much more at ease without her.”

Eric Ferguson and Kathy Hart