Amid the flood of congratulatory messages, a particular strain stood out for Bruce Cunningham.
These were the thank yous from viewers in their early 30s who had spent their whole lives seeing his face and hearing his voice on Fox 45. Cunningham was looking for a more permanent home when he moved from Alabama in 1991 to become the sports anchor for a fledgling Baltimore station. The warm feedback when he announced the end of his 31-year run at WBFF told him he had found it.
“Boy, that really jolted me,” he said Monday, less than 24 hours after he had announced his intention to step down as sports director and weekday sports anchor at Fox 45. “To think that I’ve been a part of people’s lives for their entire lives — I don’t allow myself to think that way or take myself too seriously, but it meant an awful lot.”
Cunningham, 63, said he knew the end was drawing near when he signed his last two-year contract. He was tired of coming home after midnight and watching every game with his mind tilted toward that night’s broadcast. He craved normalcy.
So when Cunningham signs off on March 31 — Opening Day for the Orioles if Major League Baseball’s players and owners can work through their current labor impasse — he will close out a 45-year television career that began when he was an 18-year-old college student in Richmond.
He’ll still do radio shows for 105.7 The Fan and perhaps appear on Fox 45 here and there, but he looks forward to being a guy watching games on his couch in Pasadena, where he lives with his wife, Wendy. He’ll put away his hair spray and neckties, maybe grow a beard.
“My entire adult life has been spent this way,” he said. “I’m ready to try something else. It wasn’t a hard decision to make but that’s not to say it was easy either, because this has been such a part of my life.”
Many colleagues offered congratulations on social media after Cunningham announced his impending retirement Sunday.
“We’ve long discussed our existence as TV ‘dinosaurs’ yet you make the glorious call to exit on your terms before we’re deemed extinct,” WJZ sports director Mark Viviano wrote on Twitter.
In an email, Fox 45 vice president and general manager Billy Robbins noted that Cunningham is the station’s only remaining on-air talent from its original broadcast team. “Bruce’s name has become synonymous with sports in the Baltimore market,” he said. “Bruce has always loved Baltimore, its people and its sports with a passion, and it shows. This television station was fortunate to have had him at the helm as our sports director and anchor for an incredible career that spanned four decades in Baltimore.”
Cunningham has covered plenty of remarkable teams and athletes during his run. He witnessed the closing of Memorial Stadium and the opening of Camden Yards. He traveled to Final Fours with the Maryland Terrapins and Super Bowls with the Ravens.
He loved the jocular tone of the Ravens locker room when the team made its first championship run in 2000, with Tony Siragusa on one end and Shannon Sharpe on the other. Cunningham recalled how the quarterbacks would prank one another; he looked down during one interview to realize Trent Dilfer had stuffed Tony Banks’ socks in his pocket.
He cherished the smaller-scale interactions with high school athletes, the excitement in a kid’s eyes when he gave out an Athlete of the Week award and said he’d once handed the same plaque to Carmelo Anthony.
He interviewed some great ones in their earliest years on the public stage, including Michael Phelps, whom he pointed to as the signature athlete of his tenure in Baltimore. Cunningham remembers the most decorated Olympian in history as a teenager from Rodgers Forge hoping to earn permission to trick out his freshly purchased Cadillac Escalade.
“He’s the greatest of all time in swimming and he’s one of us,” Cunningham said. “Man, if you can’t get enthusiastic about that, you better check your pulse. It was just amazing to watch him in the pool and think, ‘That kid went to Towson High School.’ And it all happened since I’ve been here.”
In addition to his work on Fox 45, Cunningham called radio play-by-play for the Baltimore Stallions of the Canadian Football League and for the Ravens when they came to Baltimore in 1996. He went on to spend 20 years as the Ravens’ public address announcer before stepping down from that job in 2019. As much as he liked television, nothing equaled the immediate rush of prompting cheers from a sellout crowd at M&T Bank Stadium.
Cunningham knew he had found his place after a nomadic life that began when he was an Air Force brat, following his father’s career from one stop to the next. This led him to his favorite radio signoff: “Baltimore, I love you madly.”
Cunningham never felt that sentiment more powerfully than he does now, when he’s saying farewell to his signature gig.
“It’s hard to imagine anyone who’s had a better life than me,” he said. “The fan base here is so passionate and they love so hard. I recognized that instantly, and I wanted to break a little piece of that off for myself. It really worked out that way.”