Fred Toucher returned to 98.5 The Sports Hub’s top-rated morning show Thursday, almost exactly a month after he took a leave of absence to seek treatment for a throat problem that was affecting his voice.
Toucher said at the top of the “Toucher and Rich” program that he was diagnosed with leukoplakia, a condition associated with smoking that causes thick, white patches in the mouth and throat. A longtime smoker, Toucher said he has quit.
But the show, which had a massive 25.6 share in the most recent Nielsen Audio ratings, was not fully intact. Cohost Rich Shertenlieb was absent. He did not immediately return messages asking why he was absent.
Toucher and Shertenlieb have had remarkable success as cohosts in the Boston market, first on rock station WBCN starting in 2006, then on the Sports Hub’s morning-drive program beginning with the station’s launch in August 2009.
But there has been public tension between the hosts recently. In late April, Toucher posted a series of tweets lamenting what he said was a lack of support from Shertenlieb and other show personnel.
Show personnel learned at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday that Toucher would return. Several hours later, they learned Shertenlieb would be out Thursday.
Rick Radzik, the Sports Hub program director, said in an email, “Pleased to have Fred back, his voice sounds so much better, though it will still require monitoring in the coming weeks. Rich had a sick day today.”
Radzik did not immediately respond to a question regarding Shertenlieb’s status for Friday.
During the 8 a.m. hour Thursday, Toucher detailed what his last few weeks have been like, and apologized for the sequence of tweets accusing his coworkers of not being there for him.
Toucher said when he first began having voice problems, he went to doctors who “scoped it and were like, eh, it’s no big deal, whatever, just keep doing what you’re doing,” he said.
But his voice worsened, and eventually he saw Dr. Steven Zeitels at Massachusetts General Hospital on the recommendation of a listener who worked in the doctor’s office. Zeitels is well-known for helping Adele, Steven Tyler, Dick Vitale, and other celebrities overcome voice problems.
“So I go in there, and they put the tube down your nose, and he starts poking around like, ‘Your throat has blown up,’ ” said Toucher.
Toucher said the doctor found a mass on his vocal cords that he believed was cancerous. Because the swelling around it was so bad, surgery wasn’t immediately an option. The doctor told Toucher not to talk for two weeks and get back to him.
Toucher also was told he needed to quit smoking (he said he began smoking as an 11-year-old). When he returned to see Zeitels, he was told his throat looked much better.
When he apologized for his tweets, Toucher, who was joined on the show Thursday by Jon Wallach and Ryan Johnston, explained that he was afraid he had cancer and his career might be over and that he was in a poor frame of mind.
The tweets, he said, were “completely unfair. I talked to Jon, I talked to Rich, [he] had offered his connections at Dana Farber [Shertenlieb’s wife is a cancer survivor], he had offered these things. In retrospect, it was a stupid thing to do.
“I was sitting home scared of all this happening, not that this is an excuse. So there you go.”
At the end of Thursday’s show, Toucher mentioned Shertenlieb once more while signing off.
“I’m hoping Rich is back tomorrow,’’ he said.