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Radio host, publicist Denise Jordan Walker dies at 61

Denise Jordan Walker was an on-air personality at numerous Chicago radio stations, including WNUA-FM at the outset of its launch in the late 1980s as a “smooth jazz” station.

“She had an effervescent personality not only on the air, where she just sparkled, but also within the radio station, where she was just such a positive person and she was a delight to have around,” said John Gehron, who was WNUA’s general manager from 1989 until 1994. “I think the people at the station recognized that and certainly the listeners gravitated to her because of the way she sounded on the air and the way she connected with them.”

Jordan Walker later became a south suburban-based publicist who represented a variety of clients, including the late actor Bernie Mac.

Jordan Walker, 61, died of pulmonary hypertension triggered by an autoimmune disease Oct. 6 in a hospice center, said her daughter, Jenna Walker. She had been a longtime resident of Country Club Hills.

Born in Chicago, Jordan Walker grew up on the South Side and graduated from Luther High School South and received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago.

From the outset, Jordan Walker worked early in her career in various on- and off-air capacities at WGCI-FM, WVON, WLNR, WJPC and the Shadow Traffic Network. In 1988, she was hired as an on-air personality during middays at WNUA, playing smooth jazz records. The station had just changed its format to smooth jazz the year before.

Jordan Walker later shifted to afternoons at WNUA.

“Doing afternoons is where you want some energy, and she was just right for that time slot,” said Rick O’Dell, who worked middays at WNUA while Jordan Walker was afternoon host. “She had boundless energy, and she was a really gifted communicator. She really knew how to engage with the listeners of WNUA, and that came through not only on the air but also in person. We did lots of public appearances then, and Denise was always there — people flocked to her at all these public appearances as though she were the highest-profile personality on the station.”

Gehron said Jordan Walker “fit in beautifully with what we were trying to do — with the music and with the vibe of the radio station.”

For Jordan Walker’s part, she told the Tribune in a 1991 interview that she tried “to treat the microphone like I’m talking to a friend.”

“The listeners think that I know them personally and that I’m their friend. In fact, I have several friends I’ve made from people calling our request line. I love people, and I guess that must come through on the air,” she told the Tribune.

Jordan Walker left WNUA in December 1994, and she resurfaced the following month at Chicago’s WVAZ-FM, hosting afternoons. Later that year, she shifted to middays.

“Her voice is what stood out,” said Maxx Myrick, who was WVAZ’s operations manager and program director from 1993 until 2000. “She was great. She had a great voice, she was easy to work with, and she was very talented.”

Jordan Walker shifted to part-time work on weekends at “V-103″ in 1997 before leaving the station.

A jazz enthusiast, Jordan Walker and her former husband, David Walker, together published a free publication, Chicago Jazz Weekly, which existed for a time in the early 1990s.

Jordan Walker later hosted a talk show, “The Secrets to Success,” each week on WYPA-AM in the late 1990s.

Jordan Walker returned to the airwaves in late 2003 as the morning host at Chicago’s WSRB-FM. She left the station the following year.

After leaving radio, Jordan Walker became a publicist, running her Candid Public Relations firm. One of her major clients was actor Bernie Mac, and she began working as the publicist for Mac and his wife even while she was still in radio.

Other clients included the Walter Payton Foundation, the Hadiya Pendleton Foundation, the Chicago Bulls and the Harlem Globetrotters. From 2009 until her death, Jordan Walker represented Grammy-nominated singer Maysa Leak and also handled publicity for Sophia O. Williams, a cast member on the reality TV show “Belle Collective,” and her husband, J.J.

For a time, Jordan Walker also teamed up with another tour guide to take busloads of tourists on “The King of Pop Hometown Tour,” a four-hour trek through northwest Indiana landmarks where the family of Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 had their origins.

In 2012, Jordan Walker was part of an effort by the Bernie Mac Foundation to place an honorary street sign bearing the late comedian’s name at West 69th and South Sangamon streets in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. The honorary street name had been Jordan Walker’s idea.

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“It’s been a long time coming,” she told the Tribune at the time.

Jordan Walker never retired as a publicist.

“She loved people and what she loved most was being able to help them in whatever way was possible,” her daughter said. “She loved being able to inspire people and to help them become the best versions of themselves.”

A marriage to David Walker ended in divorce. In addition to her daughter, Jordan Walker is survived by two sons, David and Jordan; her mother, Barbara Jordan; and two grandchildren.

A memorial service will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday at Lighthouse Church of All Nations, 4501 W. 127th St., Alsip.

Bob Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.

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