Jim Gardner has been the face of local news in Philadelphia for 44 years, and Wednesday’s Action News was no different than any 6 p.m. broadcast he’s delivered on 6ABC during his time in the anchor’s chair.
But at the end of the broadcast, Gardner delivered breaking news of a more personal nature — he’s retiring.
Gardner, 73, is dialing back his schedule a bit beginning in January, when he will give up hosting the 11 p.m. edition of Action News. He’ll continue to anchor the 6 p.m. newscast alongside Ducis Rodgers and Cecily Tynan until he turns in his earpiece for good at the end of 2022.
“I look forward, for instance, to being able to watch a Sixers game on television with my wife, or, my goodness — to even go to a game on a weeknight. Or maybe even linger over dinner, or doze off reading a book before 2 in the morning,” Gardner told viewers Wednesday night. “It is a lifestyle I haven’t experienced in 45 years, and it’s time.”
In an interview with The Inquirer, Gardner said he considered winding down his career several times in recent years but ended up signing two additional extensions with the station because the news was so interesting to cover, whether it was the coronavirus pandemic or the four-year tenure of former President Donald Trump.
“The whole Trump phenomenon was an extraordinary political story,” Gardner said. “I’m kind of a politics nerd, and it was something I wanted to have within the boundaries of my broadcast career.”
It goes without saying Gardner is an institution in Philadelphia, even if he doesn’t think of himself that way. He’s the city’s longest-tenured on-air personality, and for many viewers, it’s hard to hear the famed Action News jingle and not see his face. But he was born and raised in New York City, and after graduating from Columbia University, Gardner landed radio jobs in New York before being offered his first TV job in Buffalo.
There was just one catch: Gardner’s real name is James Goldman, and he was asked by the station’s owners to use a different name on the air because of the small size of Buffalo’s Jewish population.
“It was a weighty thing to do for me and my family at the time,” Gardner said. “But I really wanted a job in television, and that job was a really good one. … After thinking about it for a relatively short period of time, I said, ‘Yes, I can do that.’”
His professional name stuck, and after just two years in Buffalo, Gardner was hired away by 6ABC in 1976 as a reporter and their noon anchor. A year later, he was given the anchor position on the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts vacated by Larry Kane, where he’s remained for the last 44 years.
“For many of us, Jim is the last news voice we hear before ending our day. He has guided us through the good and the bad with calm confidence for more than 40 years, often reassuring us that tomorrow will bring a better day,” Bernie Prazenica, president and general manager of 6ABC, said in a statement. “Thankfully, we have another year with him during the 6 p.m. newscast, and we look forward to his continued presence and leadership.”
6ABC has long been the most-watched station in Philadelphia, and for nearly 45 years Action News has been the dominant newscast. Gardner’s departure leaves a big spot to fill and comes after his longtime colleague David Murphy said goodbye to 6ABC after 31 years as a meteorologist and reporter.
Murphy was replaced on the station’s morning Action News broadcasts by Karen Rogers. It’s too early to know who will have the unenviable position of filling the empty chair left behind by Gardner, but he’s certain the transition will be seamless.
“There is such depth here, and such ability and quality, that there won’t be a dent, believe me,” Gardner said. “It’ll be great.”