TAMPA — Jack Harris, longtime host of the AM Tampa Bay talk radio show for NewsRadio 970 WFLA, says he has been fired.
“After I signed off from my show at 7 a.m. today, iHeartRadio bosses told me that they were cutting back on expenses and had to let me go,” said Harris, 81, who has been with the station off and on since 1970, including the last 29 years. “I didn’t think I was that big of a burden on them. I was making a seventh of what I made three or four years ago.”
Harris was shocked by the decision and wished that they’d given him one more show to say goodbye to his fans.
“Just tell them that they have been great to me over the years,” he said of his fans. “They are what I will miss most.”
His show ran weekdays from 5 to 7 a.m.
On Twitter, Ryan Gorman wrote that his “The Ryan Gorman Show,” which has been airing weekdays from 7 to 10 a.m., will take Harris’ time slot. His show will now run from 5 to 9 a.m. He will address the change at 5:05 a.m. Thursday.
With April Fools’ Day coming up, Harris said his wife, Joy, thought the news was a joke.
Others also thought this was a hoax by the man who calls himself “Wacky Jack.”
“No. Are you pranking us?!? That would be a BIG mistake if they did!!” Melinda Heavenridge posted to Harris’ Facebook page.
“I thought this was a bad April Fool’s joke. Jack, I am so sorry! There are going to be a lot of angry fans!!” Jennifer Streicher posted.
The Times also initially asked if this was an April Fools’ Day trick.
“This is not a joke,” he said. “I’m done.”
Harris’ career has a long list of serious moments.
He’s broadcast through hurricanes.
And Harris and his longtime broadcast partner, the late Tedd Webb, were live when the planes hit the World Trade Center on 9/11. They continued to broadcast until noon that day.
But he has always been proudest of his “Wacky Jack” antics.
His ”Life Of Love” serial soap opera detailed a lovebug’s marriage with bad jokes. “Whatever your mother says, I’m behind her all the way.”
He once held a drawing in which the last pulled entry was declared the loser and was awarded a February trip to Buffalo, New York.
Harris earned national renown in 1973 through his satire of Canadian broadcaster Gordan Sinclair’s “The Americans (A Canadian’s Opinion),” which was a celebration of U.S. willingness to help other nations while facing crises alone.
“The United States dollar took another pounding on German, French and British exchanges this morning, hitting the lowest point ever known in West Germany,” Sinclair’s commentary began.
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Harris’ version, called “The Floridians (A Yankee’s Opinion),” began, “The Florida grapefruit took another pounding in New York, Chicago and Atlanta fruit markets this morning, being squeezed to the lowest point ever known in Waycross, Georgia.”
And he’s never been shy about his political leanings, often targeting the mainstream media, including the Times. Detractors have called his jokes about Democrats tasteless, like when he’d pretend to mix up the names of former President Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden.
Still, former Tampa Mayor and Democrat Bob Buckhorn said on Twitter that he will miss Harris.
“For all that Jack has done for this community and this is how they end his career?” he posted. “What a disservice to a guy who spent his life as Tampa’s biggest cheerleader. Shame on you.”
Harris was just out of high school when he broke into radio through a summer job reading the news at noon for a radio station in Logan, West Virginia. When the evening show host showed up drunk, Harris previously told the Times, he was promoted to that slot and fell in love with the industry.
Since coming to Tampa in the 1970s, he has spun records, covered sports and hosted zany morning shows. He estimates 48 of his 53 years in Tampa have been with NewsRadio 970 WFLA.
He’s also had side gigs — television host, commercial work, master of ceremonies at events and a few years as the recorded voice of the Tampa International Airport.
“I might look for part-time work on the radio somewhere,” Harris said. “Or maybe I will retire. I am an old geezer, after all.”