Longtime Wisconsin Public Radio personality and "Whad'Ya Know?" straight man Jim Packard died Monday after a yearlong battle with cardiopulmonary disease. He was 71.
Packard and his wife, Deb, had theater tickets and planned to spend a couple of extra days in New York City following a live "Whad'Ya Know?" broadcast there June 9.
The next day, however, Packard's health deteriorated, and he was admitted to a New York City hospital, Deb Packard said from LaGuardia Airport, where she was waiting to return to Madison Tuesday. He was in the hospital for eight days, she said.
Packard was a "good-hearted, well-humored gentleman," said his wife of 31 years.
Although he still performed his Saturday "Whad'Ya Know?" announcer role, Packard retired his other WPR duties in December 2010.
Since the first show aired in June 1985, Packard was "Whad'Ya Know?" host Michael Feldman's foil, trading barbs with Feldman, as well as keeping score and awarding prizes for the show's trademark quiz and taking listeners to the "Town of the Week."
"Jim was the best," Feldman said. "As an announcer he was unbeatable. His voice and just his general being is something people — especially in Wisconsin, but all over — I think, could relate to."
Feldman called his relationship with Packard the best he's ever had.
"Jim is like my one successful long-term relationship," he said, laughing. "I mean, it's been almost 30 years and nothing I've ever had has lasted that long and actually worked the entire time."
Packard's voice was heard throughout the day on WPR announcements, and he also served as a producer and fill-in host for "The Larry Meiller Show."
"Jim was a wonderful guy, the consummate professional, always knew the right questions to ask," Meiller said. "He was unerring in his ability to get exactly the right guest for the topics he wanted to cover. Most of all for me, he was just a great friend."
He had "the golden voice," said Kathleen Driscoll, who lived next door to Packard for 26 years.
"He was the kind of guy who would do anything for you," she said. "He always had such interesting stories about his professional life, his personal life."
Feldman called Packard an irreplaceable cohort. "There really can be no replacement for him. We certainly can have other announcers. But there aren't any other Jims out there, I know."