Harold Lee Rush recalls Bob Wall's 'special time' at WGCI

Harold Lee Rush and Bob Wall (1986 photo)

To a generation of students at City Colleges of Chicago, Harold Lee Rush is known as a legendary broadcast instructor and a pillar of WKKC 89.3-FM, the radio station at Kennedy-King College.

But to thousands of older Chicagoans, Rush is remembered fondly for his key role in one of the most remarkable — and ultimately tragic — chapters in local radio history.

The news that Rush, 69, was retiring today after 15 years at City Colleges brought back memories of an earlier era when the Englewood native worked alongside the late Bob Wall at urban contemporary powerhouse WGCI 107.5-FM.

Harold Lee Rush

At the peak of his popularity in the 1980s, Wall was one of the hottest radio personalities in town. His success was all the more extraordinary because he was a white personality on the city's No. 1 black-oriented station. And Rush was there as his executive producer, co-host and social conscience.

Rush told me Thursday that his most lasting memory of working with Wall was persuading him to support Harold Washington for mayor in 1983.

Although Wall initially leaned toward the incumbent, Jane Byrne, Rush said Wall's support for Chicago's first black mayor solidified his standing with his audience.

Among the reasons for Wall's unlikely success, according to Rush, were his respect for the music and the knowledge of black artists (many of whom they interviewed) and his genuine desire to win.

Rush also cited Wall's "willingness to highlight black culture and people who represented arts, sports and other areas who were ignored by mainstream media," adding: "I know this because I knew many of the people who got their first recognition on major market radio on our show."

Ed Curran

Wall's newsman at the time also was white — a young Ed Curran in his first radio job in Chicago.

“Bob, Harold and I made a great team," recalled Curran, 64, now a meteorologist at CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2. "We had a lot of fun during those early morning hours. I believe we became the No. 1-rated FM morning show. Harold Lee Rush, besides having a big personality, sharp sense of humor and a great laugh, gave us an understanding of the community the two of us could never have."

It all came to an ugly end in 1986 when Wall, whose real name was Robert Harrison, pleaded guilty to sexual abuse charges involving his 15-year-old baby-sitter in Naperville. Harrison and his wife were given four years probation.

Apologizing publicly and begging for redemption, Wall later said: "I think people like to forgive, and I think they're ready to forgive if somebody stands up and admits they made a mistake." A comeback attempt on urban adult-contemporary WVAZ 102.7-FM in 2001 was cut short by community protests.

The following year Wall committed suicide at his home in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was 49.

"Bob was a consummate professional who truly enjoyed bringing laughs and information to thousands of morning listeners," Rush said at the time. "He had a giving spirit, and I witnessed a thousand kindnesses Bob did from his heart — both on and off the air."

Rush said he often spoke of his 10-year run at WGCI with his students at Chicago City Colleges. "In fact, quite a few had parents who were either fans of Bob and me or Doug Banks and me," he said. "I was very blessed to have been a part of that special time."

Thursday’s comment of the day: Michaela M. Gillogly Nelson: I believe it's true that instead of seeking success . . . success comes to you when you live your life passionately and give your best! Scott Childers is a gem to Chicago's broadcast radio community and preserving its history. And, as it was said already, a truly kind man. Congratulations, Scott.