Harry Porterfield was a fixture on Chicago TV for more than 50 years as a reporter and anchor for both WBBM-Channel 2 and WLS-Channel 7.
Porterfield was believed to be the first black weekday news anchor in Chicago TV history and was also known for his regular feature called “Someone You Should Know,” in which he profiled sometimes unsung community members.
“Harry exuded confidence when he was at the news desk,” said Channel 7 media manager David Fell, who worked with Porterfield at Channels 2 and 7 for nearly 30 years. “The audience felt like they could trust him.”
Porterfield, 95, died of natural causes Monday, Oct. 23, at the Hartsfield Village assisted living facility in Munster, Ind., said his son JJ, a Munster resident who previously lived more than half the time in Gary’s Miller Beach area. century.
Born in Saginaw, Michigan, Porterfield earned a degree in chemistry from the University of Michigan. He later earned a law degree from DePaul University in 1993 while working full-time in publishing. He was in the army and was stationed in Germany in the early 1950s.
In the early 1960s, Porterfield was working at WKNX radio, a daytime-only radio station in Saginaw, where his duties included hosting a jazz show called “Sounds from the Lounge.”
Tired of working long hours and considering returning to a job in science, Porterfield was on the verge of leaving publishing altogether. But he still felt the pull of the job, especially in a larger city.
While visiting relatives in Chicago in early 1963, Porterfield told the Tribune in 1986 that he applied for a job at WBBM “as a joke.” He heard nothing from the station for a year. Then, in January 1964, he received two job offers almost simultaneously.
“I don’t know how this came about,” he said in a 1986 Tribune interview. “I’ll never know. But I know it’s the worst thing.”
Porterfield signed on as a news writer at Channel 2. But one day, when no reporters were available to cover a story, he “walked out the door with the team,” he told the Tribune. “I guess the management didn’t like it. They were surprised to see me on the air,” he said.
A few years later, Porterfield began doing on-air reporting more regularly. He wasn’t the first Black on-air member of Channel 2’s news team; that privilege belonged to Ben Holman a few years ago. But he encountered racism early on, with some all-white camera crews refusing to work with him.
Before long, Porterfield became a key part of the station’s news team. He signed his first contract as a reporter in 1971 and began presenting the Saturday evening news the following year.
Porterfield reportedly became the first Black weekday news anchor in Chicago history when he began anchoring the station’s 6 p.m. newscast with Bill Kurtis in 1978. Porterfield would also serve as co-host of the station’s “Two on 2” weekly newsmagazine show. Susan Anderson and the show’s host, Bob Wallace.
“I have to admit he felt pretty good,” Porterfield told the Tribune in 1979, referring to his weekday pairing with Kurtis. “I enjoy it because it’s fun to work with Bill Kurtis and also because the 6 o’clock show gets better and better every day. Everything starts to fit together like parts of a beautiful clock.
“I think it took me a while to get used to the idea of working with an assistant. You get so used to performing alone on the weekends. But Bill makes it easy. “I think it helps a lot that we’re good friends, too.”
At Channel 2, Porterfield also served as news anchor on the station’s daily “Noonbreak” talk segment, hosted by Lee Phillip.
Porterfield gained a new co-host in 1982, when Kurtis left to host CBS’ morning show and partnered with Don Craig on the 6 p.m. newscast.
In 1985, when Kurtis returned to Chicago to continue Channel 2’s 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts, Porterfield lost his anchor, although he continued to host “Two on 2” and several other feature-length programs.
“I guess I have to get philosophical about it,” Porterfield told the Tribune’s Clarence Page in 1985. “I may end up completely unemployed.”
He jumped to Channel 7 in September 1985. His demotion and departure sparked a lengthy picket by Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH; This operation greeted Channel 2’s hiring the following year of Lester Holt, a young black news anchor from New York, to join the station’s staff. anchor sequence.
Porterfield continued the “Someone You Should Know” segments, which he began developing on Channel 2, at Chanel 7.
“Harry could put any interview subject at ease by showing them respect and asking thoughtful and intelligent questions,” Fell said. “His (Someone to Know) episodes introduced Chicago to some of the most interesting people. I especially liked the ones dedicated to the hobby and the detail they put into model railroads, dioramas, musicianship and a thousand other things.”
Channel 7’s former political editor Andy Shaw said Porterfield was “the most extraordinarily calm and relaxed broadcaster I have ever met, sensitively celebrating ordinary folk and eschewing political royalty”.
Former Channel 2 news writer David Finney recalled Porterfield working on the first two “Someone You Should Know” episodes.
“The first one was about an antisocial man who lived in a cave with a dirt floor and a fire pit for warmth,” Finney said. “The second was about a retired opera singer who lived in a small house and decorated its walls with colorful broken glass pieces. “It was a wonderful madness.”
“I thought I won a Pulitzer,” Finney said when Porterfield told him the script he wrote for “Someone You Should Know” was good.
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“This man was the embodiment of elegance,” Finney said.
Porterfield left Channel 7 in 2009 and returned to Channel 2, where he began co-anchoring the 11 a.m. newscast. He left Channel 2 completely in 2015.
Throughout Porterfield’s long career, he was given many awards. In 1982, Porterfield was named outstanding broadcast journalist by the Chicago Association of Black Journalists.
Porterfield is also survived by his wife of 55 years, Marianita; one daughter, Allison; stepson Eric Shropshire; stepdaughter Gina Shropshire; one grandchild and one great-grandchild.
Services are pending.
Goldsborough is a freelance reporter
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