Big John Howell health scare alarms WLS listeners

Big John Howell

Chicago radio talk show host Big John Howell said he plans to see a neurologist after a health scare on the air took him by surprise and alarmed many of his co-workers and listeners.

Howell, 58, was nearing the end of Tuesday’s show on Cumulus Media news/talk WLS 890-AM when he suddenly sounded disoriented and distressed. Listeners heard him struggle to connect his thoughts or read the copy in front of him.

“I could not speak,” said Howell, whose show airs from 5 to 7 p.m. weekdays. “I looked down at my copy — we were talking about Alec Baldwin — but I couldn’t read the word ‘actor.’ It was just a mess. I realized I was in trouble, and I thought: ‘Well, I’ve only got 90 seconds to go, two minutes to go, I’ll just kind of get through this [and] we’ll figure it out.’"

Howell initially attributed the problem to a combination of low blood sugar caused by diabetes, a reaction to antibiotics he’s taking for a foot infection, and “a continuing issue with migraines” that affect his vision. He also noted that he hadn’t eaten anything since earlier in the day and was not wearing his reading glasses while under the bright lights of the studio.

After the show ended, Howell said he rested briefly in his office and checked his blood pressure and blood sugar levels, which were normal. Then he drove himself home. 

“Listeners sent me a lot of emails, a lot of text messages, a lot of stuff on Facebook, a lot of Twitter messages. Thank you very much. It’s sweet of you to care. I really appreciate it.” Howell said he also received numerous calls of concern from co-workers and station management.

Back on the air Wednesday, Howell said he was feeling better but promised to make an appointment with a neurologist. “I’ve made it through two hours without a relapse . . . so I think everything’s OK. We shall see. I’ll follow up as warranted.”

A 31-year veteran of Chicago radio, Howell joined WLS as morning personality in 2015. He shifted to early evenings in January.