Despite appreciating that journalistic principle, Winfrey says, "by the time I left Baltimore, I was solidly aware that I no longer wanted to just do television news. I was very uncomfortable doing television news."

A talk show host

Ultimately, Oprah did find success in Baltimore on several fronts. After more than a year in the newsroom, she was paired with Sher, and on Aug. 14, 1978, "People Are Talking" debuted. It quickly found an audience despite a highly critical, opening-day review by then-Sun TV critic Bill Carter.

"Channel 13 unveiled its much-touted new morning show, 'People are Talking,' yesterday," Carter's review began. "There was nothing much worth hearing — or seeing."

But that's not the way viewers saw it.

"The chemistry was there right from the beginning," Sher says. "Whereas Jerry didn't want to work with her, I did. I loved her. … In all those years, we never had a fight."

In addition to a compatible co-anchor, Winfrey also found friends in Sher and his wife, Annabelle. He says Winfrey had her own drawer in one of the kitchen cabinets in the Shers' Mount Washington home.

The drawer was filled with some of Winfrey's favorite things, like chocolate chip cookies and pretzels, and she had an open invitation to stop by whenever she wanted to grab a bite — or talk, or just hang out. Winfrey would often stop off while out jogging from her apartment "to grab a pretzel from the drawer and a Perrier from the fridge," Sher says.

To this day, the Shers and Winfrey remain close friends — talking regularly on the phone, visiting each other despite their cross-country locations and occasionally vacationing together.

In 2009, Winfrey made a surprise appearance at a regional Emmy Awards dinner and presented him with a lifetime achievement award.

"I learned something every day sitting in that chair beside him," she said of their more than five years as co-hosts. "And I laughed more than I laughed at any time in my life. And I learned to love him for his quick wit and charming ways."

Sher will be in Chicago for the taping of Winfrey's last syndicated show on May 23.

She forged a similar lifetime friendship situation with Weiner, who eventually became executive producer of "People Are Talking."

Weiner drove Winfrey to the airport when she left Baltimore for Chicago. Winfrey held a little Oprah Doll that a friend in makeup at WJZ had created for her, and both women were "crying hysterically," Weiner says.

"I was losing a very dear friend, and she was losing some connections, roots, a sense of safety that she had finally gotten here," Weiner says. "You know, most of her life hadn't been so [great] — mine wasn't either, which was part of our connection. So we were losing that kind of feeling. And I was worried. I mean, I knew she would do OK, but I said, 'It's gonna be rough for a while.' And then she got on the plane, and you know after that."

Weiner gets choked up when she starts to talk about her feelings for Winfrey: "She saw something in me that I hadn't quite seen in myself yet. And how old was she? She was 24 or 25. So she was wise at a very young age as most of us who know her know."

Nobody is said to know Winfrey better than King, who spent only 18 months at WJZ before leaving for a reporter/anchorwoman's job in Kansas City. But the two have stayed closely connected ever since.

"Actually, even in Baltimore, we didn't live in the same city," says King, remembering that her home was in Takoma Park, some 40 miles away. "We only worked together for that short period of time, but I'm telling you we're very like-minded and have very similar philosophies about life. And over the years, that's just gotten stronger."

King says that she and Winfrey have a "lot of great memories" from WJZ, despite the 6 o'clock setback and newsroom inequities. She says that Winfrey's strong "spiritual nature" and deep faith helped her keep a sense of perspective through the worst times

"I often think she has a direct pipeline to God," King says, laughing.