After 33 years of Baltimore television, Richard Sher says he's finally ready to move on.
And this time, he means it.
"I had done this a few times before," says Sher, whose announced retirement in 2004 lasted less than a month before he asked station management to take him back. "It was tough each time, but I thought this was the time to really do it."
Sher, 67, says he made his decision to retire early this month. Although lean economic times have forced newsrooms throughout the country to cut costs, he insists the decision to leave now was his alone, and that he was not forced out by WJZ management.
"I certainly wasn't fired. This was totally a decision on my part," he says. "There's no ill will. I love this station."
In an e-mail sent to his WJZ colleagues last week, Sher wrote, "I'm just fine thank you. ... You know I've been thinking about doing other things. ... So I decided to move on, with everybody's blessings."
WJZ President and General Manager Jay Newman was unavailable for comment yesterday. In an announcement released by a local public relations firm on Sher's behalf, Newman was quoted as saying, "Richard has witnessed over three decades of Baltimore news. His first-hand reporting and interviews have connected WJZ viewers to the people and events that have shaped our community. We wish him well in the next chapter of his distinguished career." The annoncement said Sher's retirement took effect as of yesterday.
A spokesman for WJZ says the station has no plans, at present, to mark Sher's departure.
Sher, a native of northwest Baltimore who was one of the original "diner guys" immortalized in Barry Levinson's 1982 film Diner, went to WJZ in 1975, after more than a decade on the radio. With his mellifluous voice, gregarious manner and distinctively puffy head of hair, he soon became one of the station's most popular reporters.
In 1978, Sher was named co-host of WJZ's morning talk show People Are Talking, alongside a relative unknown named Oprah Winfrey, who had just arrived at the station a year earlier from Tennessee. The pair remained together on the show for five years, until Winfrey left for potentially greener pastures in Chicago.
Sher remained as co-host for another five years, partnering with Beverly Burke and Linda Harris. He also spent more than 18 years as host of Square Off, a public-affairs round table that had Sher discussing (and often debating) issues of the day with a panel of guests that frequently included WBAL-AM news personality Elane Stein, Baltimore physician Edgar Berman and attorneys Ron Shapiro and Billy Murphy.
While at WJZ, Sher spent time as anchor of both the station's midday and 5 p.m. news broadcasts. But it was as a reporter that Baltimoreans may have gotten to know him best. He specialized in stories that focused more on people than on events, and happily recounts some of the pieces that gave him the greatest satisfaction.
"I did all there was to do," says Sher, "from talking a guy off a ledge to having this relationship with [convicted murderer] John Thanos and witnessing his execution. I was involved in a hostage situation a few years ago in Harford County, where I negotiated with a man over a period of 10 hours." The situation, he notes happily, ended with the hostage's release.
Sher and Annabelle, his wife of 45 years, will be "going to California for Thanksgiving. We're having a fourth grandchild in December. We've got a big wedding coming up in January. There are a lot of things coming up that I wanted to devote my time to."
After that, he plans to work in marketing and public relations with his son Greg's mortgage lending group, Towson-based Citizens Lending Group.
"I might even end up at the station part time, you never know," he says. "I'd be available to talk to anybody, about projects that might be of interest to them, where my experience might be of benefit to them. ... I don't want to walk away from the news business."