John Williams returning to WGN weekday lineup; ‘Kathy & Judy’ canceled

John Williams

John Williams

All hail “King John.” So long, Kathy & Judy.

John Williams, a mainstay of WGN AM 720 since 1997, will return to the Monday-through-Friday lineup with a new two-hour afternoon show, the Tribune Broadcasting news/talk station announced Monday.

Starting March 13, Williams will be on from 1 to 3 p.m. weekdays. The Saturday show he has hosted from 1 to 3 p.m. will move to a new time slot — from 10 a.m. to noon — replacing the team of Kathy O’Malley and Judy Markey. Williams also will continue his weekly podcast.

“We’re thrilled to have John back home again every weekday on WGN,” said Todd Manley, vice president of content and programming at WGN. “There’s never been a better time for his brand of inventive and intelligent talk.”

Since 2010, Williams has been hosting afternoons on WCCO in Minneapolis. Since 2012 he has lived in Minneapolis and broadcast remotely on WGN. With his tenure on WCCO coming to an end, Williams and his wife are moving back to Chicago.

To accommodate the addition, WGN will reduce Wendy Snyder and Bill Leff’s midday show to two hours — from 10 a.m. to noon. Snyder and Leff will host a live “bonus hour” airing only on the WGNplus.com stream at noon. Steve Bertrand’s “Wintrust Business Lunch” will continue to air at noon on WGN.

“I’m thrilled about my new adventure on WGN Radio,” Williams said Monday. “I wouldn’t call it a return; I’ve been talking on WGN for all but a couple of the last 20 years. More recently, my Saturday show, weekly podcast and staged president shows have kept me in front of WGN Radio’s listeners.

“And moving back to Chicago will certainly get me closer to the action, to my family and friends. Plus, if you do what I do, you want to do it on WGN. The team in their hallways is now more creative, aggressive and forward thinking than any station in America,” he said.

Judy Markey and Kathy O'Malley

Judy Markey and Kathy O’Malley

With Williams replacing “The Kathy & Judy Show” on Saturdays, his current weekend slot will be filled by two new programs — “The Innovation Hour,” a business show focused on Chicago innovators, at 1 p.m., and “On the Road with Dane Neal,” an automotive show, at 2 p.m.

It’s the second time O’Malley and Markey — beloved by listeners who know them as “The Girlfriends” — have been dropped by the station. Their first run together ended in 2009 after 20 years in middays. They returned as weekend hosts in 2013 and were inducted in the WGN Radio Walk of Fame in 2014.

“We just think it’s pretty funny that we got fired on the same day we got a ratings bonus,” O’Malley said Monday. “But we feel really bad for our girlfriends. It’s just a sadness and we know that and we feel it too.”

With gracious words for their successor, O’Malley said she and Markey had only good wishes for Williams. “If anybody can keep the girlfriends listening on a Saturday morning, it’s John Williams,” she said. “We’re really happy for him that he’s coming home to WGN.”

Manley said in a statement: “We’re excited about the Saturday changes and want to express how incredibly grateful we are to Kathy and Judy for their contributions to the WGN family. We will look for every opportunity to continue their legacy.”

Williams, 57, a Joliet native and Southern Illinois University graduate, once worked as a college intern for WGN morning superstar Wally Phillips. After stops in Plano and Peoria and an initial four-year run at WCCO, he was hired as midday personality at WGN in 1997. He subsequently hosted afternoons and, for a short time — between Spike O’Dell and Greg Jarrett — mornings.

Here is a video posted by WGN Radio in 2014: