This week, Jim Gardner calls it quits from Action News after a truly remarkable career at 6ABC. He came here in June, 1976 after two years anchoring and reporting at WKBW-TV in Buffalo, but he was a radio guy first. Early in his career, he did writing and producing at 1010 WINS in New York before becoming a reporter and, later, news director at WFAS radio in White Plains, NY.
There is no one like him on TV, and there probably never will be. He has such an authoritative, yet reassuring style that has kept him on top of the TV ratings for over 45 years. FORTY FIVE YEARS. At number one. Not too shabby!
He’s a pretty private guy, so there aren’t a slew of stories from people who’ve met him.
But I have a doozy.
It was my one and only meeting with Jim, and it lasted a good 30 minutes. To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he totally blew me off, considering my situation at the time, but he couldn’t have been more kind or accommodating.
Back in the late 80s/early 90s, while I was working the 6pm-10pm shift at 94 WYSP, we did a holiday food drive each November/December, called the Marathon For Meals. It was similar to the hugely successful Campout For Hunger, hosted by my 93-3 WMMR colleagues, Preston And Steve, but on a MUCH smaller scale! I’d set up in a class A RV, parked in the back of the old Adams Mark Hotel parking lot, where I would live day and night for 14 days. Next to me was a 48′ tractor-trailer that we’d fill up with food donations from listeners who came by with canned goods.
Of course, donation traffic was highest during the day and, after my show was over at 10pm, things usually got a little quieter. As a younger (and dopier) man, that was a chance for my friends and me to throw it down a little bit inside that RV until the wee hours of the morning, with our two huge security guys “T” and “Truck” keeping watch over us.
On one particular Friday night, right after my show ended, I was hanging with a couple of pals when a friend of mine showed up to the RV with the most dank, fragrant and potent cannabis I had come in contact with in a long, long time. Not long after, we opened up that vacuum-packed bag and went to town on it. It did not disappoint. By 11:00pm, we were completely and totally baked, laughing hysterically and playing music in the RV, figuring we’d wrap things up in a bit, my friends would book home and I’d get the hell to sleep.
All of a sudden, there’s a knock on the RV door. We stop and look at each other and I say to my friend, still giggling, “ok, it’s probably someone dropping off can donations. I’ll quickly open the door, thank them for the donations, and we should be cool.” I open the door, as a HUGE plume of cannabis smoke goes billowing out of the RV, like a scene from a Cheech And Chong movie.
It was Jim Gardner.
He had just wrapped up his 11pm Action News newscast and wanted to come by to say hi and lend his support to our food drive. I am 99% sure the weed smoke that poured out of the RV totally hit him in the face, but he didn’t flinch. He said hello, we invited him into the RV to hang out, and he came in. The dude could not have been nicer or more accommodating. We called up the DJ on the air at WYSP (Robin Lee, who is now our digital guru and does weekends on WMMR) and asked if we could go on live with Jim, and he came on and gave us a killer segment on the air.
Afterward, he recorded a few bits for our drive that we could run, posed for two polaroids with me that my friend took, and he was on his way. He never said a word about our conditions, nor the obvious pungent odor emanating from the cabin of the RV.
My friend and I just sat there for a few moments after Jim left, shaking our heads in amazement that we not only got to meet one of our media heroes, but that we did it while in this condition, and we (probably) didn’t make asses of ourselves.
Years later, while taking a tour of the beautiful new 6ABC studios, I saw Jim’s desk. No huge, fancy office, no team of people at his beck and call, just a simple desk, next to all the other cubicles in the newsroom, with family pictures, a picture of Dave Roberts (!) and a simple name on the divider: Jim Gardner. Of course, I had to be a galoot and sit in his chair for a picture, which he teased me about on social media shortly thereafter.
I’m sure going to miss Jim, and I know lots and lots of Philadelphians will, too. He’s the real deal.