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Former WFLA morning anchor Bill Ratliff has died

billratliff.jpgBill Ratliff, a former morning anchor at WFLA-Ch. 8 who retired in 2009 after 27 years at the station has died at age 63.

According to a member of his family, Ratliff passed away today after complications from surgery.

Ratliff left WFLA after a 40-year broadcasting career, unwilling to accept a pay cut for reduced hours on air. He returned to TV briefly in 2010, offering political commentary on the midterm election cycle for CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10.

WFLA morning anchor Gayle Guyardo, who worked with Ratliff from 1994 until his retirement and kept in touch with him, said the anchor kept his health problems even from friends.

"This didn't catch me completely off guard," said Guyardo, about an hour after learning the news. "I just wish I'd had a chance to say goodbye to him and maybe see him."

Raised in Cincinnati, Ratliff began working at WFLA in 1982 after a successful stint in Dallas, brought to WFLA to co-anchor the station's 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts. He was teamed with anchor Bob Hite a couple of years later, and instead of seeing ratings take off, they tanked.

"The news director called us in and told us one of us would be off the evening newscasts by the end of the year," Ratliff remembered back in 2009, noting the station wanted to add a female anchor.

Hite got the evening job, teaming with current anchor Gayle Sierens until he retired in late 2007; Ratliff accepted a re-assignment covering the 1986 race for the U.S. Senate between Bob Graham and Paula Hawkins.

And while some might have seen it as a demotion, Ratliff enjoyed the chance to practice real journalism, covering one race so much that, the anchor said in 2009, even Graham grew irritated with him. "In 1988, they did research and found that one of the areas of least interest among viewers was political coverage," Ratliff added, ruefully. "Now, we just ramp up coverage when an election gets near."

Ratliff eventually landed on the morning newscast in 1987, a shift he would work until his retirement, excepting a two-year break in 1997. During his tenure, he anchored the stations' Gasparilla Parade coverage for a quarter century and handled everything from Hurricane Elena coverage to speaking on the phone with a gunman named Bruce G. Larson who had called the station, killing himself and his two children after a seven-hour standoff with police in 1993.

Back when Ratliff retired, Guyardo filmed a jokey video for WFLA documenting how he planned his wardrobe so his ensembles wouldn't repeat for at least 50 days; after hearing of his passing, those meticulous ways were what she remembered Tuesday.

"He would be the first to clock in at the start of every day...every pencil and paper clip in place on his desk," said Guyardo, who teared up while talking about her former partner's work habits. "When we first started working together, he was so hard core it was tough to work with him. But eventually he loosened up and we were kind of like that TV show The Odd Couple; these very different people who had great chemistry on TV."

WFLA news director Don North remembered Ratliff as an anchor with a passion for journalism, who acted as managing editor for the morning newscast in addition to co-anchoring the show.

"He was a very important person to the success of WFLA," North said. "He was a rock in the morning newscast and....made a lot of decisions on the content of that show."

Ratliff is survived by wife Linda and children Chet and Shannon. The family has not yet provided any details on funeral arrangements.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 10:28pm]


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