Jim Gardner: The Legendary Anchorman Reflects on His Career

Jim Gardner (Courtesy of Jim Gardner)

Jim Gardner was neither born nor raised in Philadelphia. He did not start his career here, either. The Jewish anchorman was born, raised and had a bar mitzvah in New York City and spent the first six years of his professional life in New York State with radio and television stations in the city, White Plains and Buffalo.

But when he came to Philadelphia to take a job as a street reporter and noon anchorman with WPVI or, as it’s more popularly known today, 6abc, in 1976, he never left. Gardner (his birth name is Goldman) became 6abc’s 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. anchor in 1977 and has held the seat ever since, becoming the region’s most trusted face and voice in news.

Gardner became part of the city, but Philadelphia also became part of him. Perhaps even the biggest part. During an hour-long interview with the Jewish Exponent, he made sure to clarify that he now roots for the Philadelphia Eagles when they play the New York Giants. And not only does he cheer for the Birds, but he relishes in their victories over his childhood team.

On Dec. 21, the 74-year-old will sign off on his last broadcast. He said it’s time, especially now that the Earth-shattering stories of Donald Trump’s presidency and the pandemic are receding into history.

Gardner kept 6abc at No. 1 in the local TV news ratings for the duration of his tenure, save for one month. But before the Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood member left his anchor seat, he took a look back.

On the trust he built with generations of Philadelphians

The anchorman hears from a lot of people about how their grandparents watched him; their parents watched him; and now they watch him, too. It’s a distinction he appreciates.

“We take very seriously what people are concerned about; what their worries are; what their anxieties are; what their joys are; what their triumphs are,” he said. “And we try to cover that.”

Jim Gardner has reported the news to residents of the Philadelphia region since the mid-1970s. (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

When asked why people trust him, Gardner said, “Because I’m trustworthy.” Then once his smile from his joke receded, he explained that he just sat in that chair year after year.

He said that he does not care so much about breaking a story first. What matters more to him is getting it right. He also explained that he does not try to reflect “what the emotional response will be of a viewer to a particular story.” The reporter just tries to stay even-keeled.

“But if you do have empathy, I think a viewer recognizes that,” he said.

On how he got to Philadelphia

Gardner worked for WKBW-TV in Buffalo when got a job offer in Miami. He told his boss he was going to accept it. But the boss said, “Wait a minute: Would you mind if I talked to the folks at WPVI in Philadelphia?” WPVI was owned by the same company as WKBW.

The reporter said, “Sure,” and the next day, he was in Philadelphia talking to station General Manager Larry Pollock. Within a day, Pollock offered Gardner a job.

“And I came here instead of Miami,” the anchorman said.

On becoming the anchorman

ABC’s previous six and 11 anchor Larry Kane left for a job in New York in 1977, opening up the seat. Gardner said, “It didn’t even appear on my radar screen.” But he auditioned, and it was Pollock who chose Gardner over more experienced candidates from across the country.

Jim Gardner in his cubicle at 6abc’s office in Philadelphia (Photo by Jarrad Saffren)

“For whatever reason, he thought that maybe I was the person to do that job,” the anchorman said. “I think he felt that there was a good chance that I might decide to stay here for a long time.”

Before his promotion, Gardner did not see himself as an anchorman. He just thought he was a reporter.

“Think about being curious. Think about becoming a really good writer,” he said. “Think about the kinds of stories that you want to tell.”

On Philadelphia’s evolution since 1977

Frank Rizzo was mayor when Gardner arrived, and as the anchorman put it, “the Black community felt that he was not their best friend.” There was a question, Gardner recalled, about whether Philadelphia would ever have a Black mayor. Since then, though, it has had three: Wilson Goode in the 1980s and early ’90s and John Street and Michael Nutter in the 2000s and 2010s.

And from a business standpoint, “the city has grown dramatically,” Gardner said. “Just look at the skyline,” he added.

But one thing, according to the newsman, has not changed.

“When I came here, people said that Philadelphia is either the biggest small town in America or the smallest big city in America,” Gardner said, smiling. JE



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