Harry Porterfield returns to Channel 2

One of Chicago’s most recognizable faces is coming home after… wait for it… 24 years!

That’s right. Harry Porterfield – who was an anchor at WBBM-TV for 21 years before moving over to WLS-TV in 1985, is returning to the CBS-owned station on August 10, anchoring the 11 a.m. newscast.

The 81 year-old Porterfield is also bringing the Someone You Should Know segments back to the station, as well.

Porterfield’s contract was not renewed at WLS due to budget cuts.

A lot of people in Chicago media circles certainly remember Porterfield’s controversial departure from Channel 2 as a turning point in the ratings in Chicago television.

In 1985, WBBM dropped Porterfield from the station after 21 years, and his firing caused an uproar in the African-American community. The Rev. Jesse Jackson and Operation PUSH led a boycott against WBBM, which cost the station ratings and ad revenue.

WBBM’s ratings were already declining at the time, thanks to its lineup of aging off-network dramas (Hart to Hart and Quincy), the decline of 9 a.m. talk stalwart Donahue (thanks in part to Oprah Winfrey), and the expensive failure of first-run talk show America, which bottomed out in early fringe after three months on the air.

Meanwhile, WBBM’s parent (CBS) had its own problems – a Ted Turner takeover attempt, a drop to second place in prime-time ratings, and cutbacks throughout its CBS-owned station division (by 1988, the network would drop to third place overall in households and adults 18-49.)

When Porterfield joined WLS, their ratings were on the upswing – along with The Oprah Winfrey Show, it added red-hot hits Jeporady! and Wheel of Fortune to the station a year earlier, and the rest was history. in March 1986, WLS swept its news competitors and has done so ever since. Even ABC’s prime-time topped the market at a time when the network was struggling against a strong NBC and a much weaker CBS.

Since Porterfield left WBBM, and excluding books with Winter Olympics, WBBM has never been able to return to the top spot in news or programming, and tried gimmicks including tabloid-influenced newscasts and revamping its news set at least a gazillion times – not to mention a thousand anchor switches.

Note: If you click on the link to the story, scroll down to the bottom and check out a video library of Mr. Porterfield’s work, including a few profiles on Harold Washington and the historic 1983 election when became Chicago’s first African-American Mayor.

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