Bill Ratliff caps 27 years at WFLA-Ch. 8 today, ending an era of old-school, mid-level anchors in local TV
After watching Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio declare the day in his honor and sitting through a story explaining the meticulous way he arranges his suits, longtime WFLA-Ch. 8 anchor Bill Ratliff closed his last day anchoring the news this morning with a salute to his family and viewers.
"Had it not been for my wife and kids putting up with these awful hours, I would never have been able to keep this job for so long," he said. "After more than 27 years and three months, it's a tough transition."
Ratliff, 60, retires today after nearly 30 years at the NBC affiliate, noting the bittersweet moment in leaving a journalism world he no longer recognizes. The longtime anchor decided earlier this year to retire instead of accepting reduced pay for reduced work hours in a newsroom that has had a half-dozen rounds of layoffs since the beginning of 2008.
In keeping with Ratliff's low-key approach, much of today's morning news was devoted to the news of the day, with a few select segments devoted to celebrating the Cincinnati native's long tenure in Tampa.
“It’s going to be nice to not get up at 1 in the morning, anymore,” said Ratliff on Wednesday, adding he plans to take many months adjusting to a normal sleep schedule and spending time with his wife of 34 years, Linda.
When he started at WFLA in 1982, Ratliff was fresh off anchoring jobs in Detroit and Dallas. But a stint in 1984 co-anchoring with the guy who would eventually get that job, now-retired anchor Bob Hite, didn’t work out and led to a 12-month reassignment: covering the 1986 race for U.S. Senate between Bob Graham and Paula Hawkins.
Most would have seen it as a demotion, covering one story where you might go days without appearing on camera. But Ratliff enjoyed a luxury that was rare even then in TV news, working one political contest so hard, that even Graham grew irritated with him by the election’s end.
“In 1988, they did research and found that one of the areas of least interest among viewers was political coverage,” said Ratliff. “Now, we just ramp up coverage when an election gets near.”
By 1997, he was working the morning shift and five years later, he teamed with Gayle Guyardo. Already, many of his contemporaries in local news have retired or been downsized -- from Hite and longtime WFLA reporter Rod Challenger to WTVT-Ch. 13 anchors Bill Murphy and Frank Robertson. Ratliff’s departure makes the end of the well-paid, mid-level TV anchor in this market nearly official.
“I think he wants to leave the way he’s always remembered things ... he wants to go out on top,” said Guyardo Wednesday (at left). She'll lead an all-female team in mornings that includes meteorologist Jennifer Hill and traffic reporter Alicia Roberts, making the bubbly anchor the newscast’s centerpiece in a highly competitive timeslot.
“I worry about a three-way female show — you don’t want to come across like The View,” said Guyardo. “The weight does fall on me, and I am a little bit scared.”
Ratliff only knows that for the first time in years, when Friday comes, he won’t have to head into work while the rest of the world sleeps, and maybe that’s enough for right now. “I don’t know what will come next,” he said. “I just hope, through the grace of God, something comes to me.”