Former WGN-TV anchor Allison Payne dies

Was part of WGN’s dominant 9 p.m. anchor team in the 1990s

Chicago’s journalism community – and viewers like myself – are mourning the loss of former WGN-TV anchor Allison Payne, a nine-time Emmy winner who helped lead the then Tribune-owned station to ratings dominance in the 1990s and 2000s. Payne died on September 1 at the age of 57 in her home in Detroit.

Born in Richmond, Va. and raised in Detroit, Payne got her journalism start at WNWO Toledo and became an anchor for WNEM in the Flint-Saginaw-Bay City market. In 1990, Payne moved up to market number three at WGN to replace Pat Harvey alongside Rick Rosenthal in the anchor chair after she departed for KCAL in Los Angeles. 

Later paired with Steve Sanders, the duo would help propel WGN’s 9 p.m. newscast into a dominant ratings force, beating Fox-owned WFLD and at times, even outdrawing CBS-owned WBBM-TV’s 10 p.m. newscast. 

Payne traveled the world doing reports from the Ivory Coast and tracing former President Barack Obama’s roots in Kenya and even did some light-hearted stories, including one on the Macarena. 

“Allison was young, vibrant, sharp, articulate. She was amazing. You looked at Allison and thought here is a young journalist who has the world before her. One could only speculate where that incredible career was going to go,” said WGN chief meteorologist said WGN chief meteorologist Tom Skilling, who was her colleague during her entire run at the station. “She was a delight, a kind human being… so sweet.”

By 2008 however, Payne was dealing with an increasing number of health issues including alcoholism and a series of mini-strokes, forcing her off the air several times. In 2009, she stepped down from her 9 p.m. anchor chair and moved to middays where she reunited with Steve Sanders. WGN bought out her contract in 2011 and started focusing on other projects. Apparently, she moved out of the Chicago area and back to Detroit as she retired from journalism more or less.

Back in 2006, Payne drew made an infamous appearance on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight to review a movie and happened to write a donation check to the station right on the air. It was a thoughtful – but unusual moment.

During her time in Chicago, Payne was quite active in the community, mentoring future journalists- especially those of color and established a foundation for those looking to enter the field of journalism. She was also an active member of the National Association of Black Journalists. 

No announcement has been made on funeral arrangements. 

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1 thought on “Former WGN-TV anchor Allison Payne dies

    • I was saddened by the news of Allison Payne’s passing. Back in the day, I had always thought WGN-TV had the three best female news anchors in Chicago: Allison Payne, Roseanne Tellez, and Jackie Bange. May Allison rest in peace.

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