This week marked the end of an era for TV news in Philadelphia, as 6ABC’s Vernon Odom stepped down from his anchor position to enter retirement.
The son of prominent Ohio civil rights leader Vernon L. Odom Sr. and the grandson of a woman who was the the second African-American to ever publish a daily newspaper, Odom cut his teeth covering activists in the 1960s South. He was a 19-year-old radio reporter when he covered Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, and was with Coretta Scott King when she learned she’d been made a widow.
After a few years in broadcast journalism in Atlanta, he moved to Philly and joined WPVI in 1976, per his bio on the station’s website. In the 42 years since, he’s become a beloved part of the Action News team, helping Philadelphians be aware of and understand everything happening in the city and beyond.
His deep baritone voice, which became a regular part of the evening soundtrack in many Philly-area homes, could be at turns skeptical or encouraging, damning or appreciative. By the end of his storied career, he was not afraid to let his feelings show.
Odom was inducted into the Philadelphia Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame in 2004, and he was named the organization’s 2018 person of the year.
Here’s a look back at some of Odom’s memorable on-air moments over the past four decades.
Delivering news about colleague Jim O’Brien’s death (1983)
Channel 6 was shaken up by the unexpected death of their anchor and weatherman in a skydiving incident. Odom had the unlucky duty of traveling to the site where it happened for the in-depth report.
“It was into this same ploughed field that Jim O’Brien took his first parachute jump more than five years ago,” Odom intones. “He loved this sport. Now, it has taken his life.”
Early reporting on Councilman Jimmy Tayoun’s corruption (1988)
In the middle of the evening news in January 1998, Odom does a segment [starts around 5:45] on early rumblings of impropriety swirling around recently re-elected Councilman Jimmy Tayoun. Tayoun would go on to become a Philly political legend, eventually serving 40 months behind bars for corruption and then founding the Philadelphia Public Record, a newspaper of politics and gossip.
Back then, the issue was Tayoun’s appointment as chair of Council’s L&I committee — seen as a potential conflict of interest because Tayoun’s Old City restaurant was the subject of two continuing enforcement issues by the department.
Talking up Joe Sestak’s primary challenge to Sen. Arlen Specter (2009)
Remember how Sen. Pat Toomey got elected? It started with Arlen Specter’s switch from Republican to Democrat, which didn’t sit well with Congressman Joe Sestak. So, as Odom put it, “defying party bosses like Obama and Rendell,” Sestak put up a primary challenge — and eventually won, but then got beat by Toomey in the general.
“Specter has over $7.5 million in the bank, but Sestak has $4.5 million, and the potential to give Specter a serious run,” Odom presciently notes, “mainly by questioning his credentials as a Democrat.”
Remembering radio icon Joe “Butterball” Tamburro (2012)
When WDAS disc jockey Joe “Butterball” Tamburro in 2012, the whole city mourned. Odom was on scene [0:45] during a huge tribute show hosted by Patti Jackson, helping memorialize the man whose “silky smooth and charming voice” made him “a Philadelphia radio icon for a half-century.”
On local Muslim leaders condemning the Paris attacks (2015)
After the coordinated terror attacks in Paris in fall 2015, for which ISIS claimed responsibility, Odom did a report on how local Philadelphia Muslim leaders felt about the situation.
“Many of them are condemning these attacks,” says then-6ABC anchor Monica Malpass.
Odom realizes that isn’t quite accurate. “Monica,” he says, “all of them are.”