After more than four decades at 6ABC Action News, Jim Gardner anchored his last 11 o’clock broadcast Tuesday night. He’ll continue at 6 p.m. through the end of this year.
The longtime Philadelphia icon will be replaced late-night by Rick Williams, who has been with the station for more than 30 years, as co-anchor of the morning news on 6ABC and newscasts on partner channel PHL-17.
“Though born in New York, Williams considers himself a true Philadelphian,” the network wrote in its announcement of his new role, “spending much of his time helping to uplift the community and inspire young people in their academic endeavors
In a coincidence that made viewers happy, the news of the day was such that Gardner began his last late-night show reporting on a “miracle” — the term being used for the Drexel Hill medical helicopter crash in which all four people aboard survived.
At the end of the broadcast, Gardner did his final closing monologue, noting that it was his 16,500th or so turn as anchor.
“It has been a pretty long run,” he said, recounting that one of the big stories on his first stint on May 11, 1977 was SEPTA raising fares from 35 to 45 cents.
Gardner described the goal of the show, whether led by him or Williams or anyone else, as being “to present a responsible, accurate, thoughtful and compelling account of the day’s happenings.”
He noted that the idea is to meld local news and national happenings, but stressed that the local focus is the priority.
“I came to understand if we want to know what people everywhere are thinking,” Gardner said, in his flawless intonation, never missing a single beat, “we can often find out by looking no further than at our communities, our own school boards, and city and town councils, our nonprofit organizations, our law enforcement agencies, business communities, our colleges and universities, our union locals, and our houses of worship.”
The 73-year-old, who got his start in NYC radio and was hired as a reporter at Philadelphia’s WPVI in 1976, went on to thank a long list of people who work with him at the station, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes.
He thanked viewers, describing the “unique” relationship many people have with Action News, to the point where the retro “Move closer to your world” jingle could almost be called the theme song for the entire city. Said Gardner: “I have never taken your hospitality for granted.”
He spoke of helping people navigate the “COVID-19 phenomenon” and brought it up in his final words, before his studiomates stood and gave him a long round of applause.
Said Gardner, before signing off one last time: “My main wish for this next year: To see this pandemic retire before I do. Let’s hope.”