Jim Gardner ’70: The Toast of Philadelphia

A city bids farewell to its favorite TV news anchor.

Gardner wide


Walking into Philly’s Famous 4th Street Delicatessen for lunch on a recent weekday, Jim Gardner ’70 was greeted warmly by a customer in a flowing white Islamic robe and kufi cap. “We’re going to miss you, man,” the well-wisher said. A short time later, as Gardner tucked into a mountainous half-portion of hot pastrami on rye, an elderly Jewish man stopped by the table to insist, “You’re too young to retire! Stick around.”

Life has been like that for Gardner ever since he announced he would step down at the end of 2022 after more than 45 consecutive years anchoring the evening news at Philadelphia’s Channel 6 Action News on the local ABC station, WPVI. Needless to say, 45 years is an eye-popping tenure in the competitive world of TV news, exceeded only by Chuck Scarborough of New York’s WNBC. “It’s been a great run,” Gardner says.

And then some. Broadcasting in the nation’s fourth-largest media market, WPVI’s news programming has swamped its competition in audience ratings for decades. Gardner has earned enduring admiration and loyalty across the social and political spectrum by consistently delivering a straightforward, responsible news report with authentic charm and humanity. (Not to mention humor, as in his memorable account of the fiery demise of a Channel 6 Action News vehicle.) Job number one, Gardner says, has always been to stick to the facts and report fairly, without artifice. “We give our audience tremendous respect, and they repay us with trust. People can tell right away if you’re faking it, if you’re acting.”

“Gardner built trust among his viewers and never betrayed that through scandal or pandering, through overreach or silliness,” said Larry Ceisler, a former news producer at rival KYW-TV, in a Philadelphia Inquirer opinion piece. “He is likable and sometimes affable, but there is always a weightiness behind what he is saying. He remained objective in reporting the news, telling viewers the facts of each story without inserting his opinion or bias.”

Through the years Gardner has covered disasters and championships, local oddities and national crises. He has interviewed every U.S. President since Gerald Ford and handled assignments in Argentina, Israel, Germany, Russia and Cuba. “Our main responsibility is local news, but I love the opportunity to report, to take a big story and to spend a week or so really unpeeling the onion.”

An early career high point came with the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1979, a huge story in a city with a large Catholic population. The pope spent two days in Philadelphia and conducted a Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for more than a million people. Gardner recalls preparing assiduously for what became more than 12 hours of unscripted television.

“I was a Jewish kid from New York. I was not steeped in knowledge about the Catholic church or Catholic ritual,” he says. “I’ve always told my kids that preparation is the most important part of performance, that you should overprepare. So I went to the University of Pennsylvania bookstore and bought everything I could find about Catholicism and the papacy. I came home with a stack of books and felt like I was studying for a final at Columbia.”

Jim Gardner, of course, is the same person still known to his family, friends, neighbors and College classmates as Jim Goldman. He acquired his professional name when he joined Buffalo’s WKBW-TV in 1974 as a reporter, then an anchor — not because he was trying to disguise his background, but because the station already had two Jewish on-air news personalities, he says. “And there was a concern among some that with a relatively paltry Jewish population in the Buffalo area market, another Jewish name might be excessive.” As an ambitious TV rookie excited about joining a major-city news team, Goldman was inclined to be cooperative.

If the name Jim Goldman sounds familiar to alumni from his era, it could be because he was the stellar voice of Lions’ football and basketball on WKCR. Most memorably, he called the dramatic play-by-play on the night of March 5, 1968, when Coach Jack Rohan ’53’s nationally ranked team — led by future pros Jim McMillian ’70, Heyward Dotson ’70, LAW’76 and Dave Newmark ’68 — beat an outstanding Princeton squad in a one-game playoff to win the Ivy League championship and a trip to the NCAAs.

In the game’s final seconds, with victory in sight, the sophomore’s crisp, authoritative radio voice rose over the roar of the crowd:

McMillian completes the 3-point play. Columbia up by 19. Thirty-eight points for McMillian. McMillian sits down. Listen to the hand! ...10 seconds…Upcourt to Kenny Brown, ahead of the field, lays it up and in! Columbia 92, Princeton 74. Three … two … one … It’s all over! Columbia wins the Ivy title! Coach Rohan smiles. It’s all over. Columbia 92, Princeton 74. Columbia: Ivy title winners!

Even as a child, Goldman had harbored dreams of announcing. “I used to simulate games in the bathtub when I was 5, 6, 7 years old,” he says. “I would do play-by-play out loud of imaginary Yankee games.”

Growing up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, he attended Fieldston in the Bronx, where he played centerfield on the baseball varsity. “I was good field, virtually no-hit,” Goldman recalls, chuckling. “The team was brutally, historically awful.” Closer to home, he often listened to Columbia sports on WKCR with his father, Dr. Joseph Goldman CC 1924, a renowned otolaryngologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center. His dad also brought him to the annual Dean’s Day event to attend lectures by leading professors.

Appetite sufficiently whetted, Goldman applied to the College and hustled over to the radio station almost as soon as he arrived. By year’s end he was sitting courtside running an audio mixer alongside the exceptional play-by-play team of Dave Shaw ’67 and Dave Rubin ’67, which proved to be a valuable de facto internship for the freshman broadcaster. “It was a strong group of upperclassmen, all very smart guys who were good at radio,” Goldman says. “I was studying their every move and trying to get to as many games as possible in whatever capacity they would let me.”

Goldman stepped up the following year, handling play-by-play from courtside. It was an exciting time to begin, with the much-heralded McMillian and Dotson ascending to the varsity. When Goldman began calling football games the following year, another generational athlete helmed the Lions: All-American quarterback Marty Domres ’69, an eventual first-round draft pick who had the unenviable task of replacing the legendary Johnny Unitas on the Baltimore Colts in 1972.

Goldman also attended classes, it turns out, though he admits his WKCR commitments sometimes collided with his academic work, not an uncommon predicament at the station. He majored in government, as the political science department was then known (“I’m still a politics nerd,” he says).

Just seven weeks after the Lions’ basketball victory, politics and radio became one for Goldman. On April 23, 1968, Columbia erupted in mass student protests and building takeovers, an international news story that WKCR and Spectator were uniquely positioned to cover. The climax came on April 30, when hundreds of nightstick-wielding NYPD riot police were sent in to clear the campus in a night of confusion and violence that was covered live by the radio team.

“It just seemed to me that that was the way a reporter was supposed to be.”

“The entire station was conscripted as news reporters,” Goldman says. “It was all hands on deck.” He reported from the area between Low Library and Mathematics, two of the occupied buildings, as all hell broke loose, and he received a journalistic baptism by fire. The station’s widely praised wall-to-wall coverage that week was anchored by future NPR news luminary Robert Siegel ’68, with Goldman as backup.

“The events brought the University to its knees,” Goldman says. “It was not just disruptive, but also in many ways frightening. This was happening in the midst of my home. And I wasn’t really sure where I stood in the political spectrum. I had mixed sympathies. I doubted my own political or intellectual convictions. But then I realized, well, I’m a reporter here, and I had a very important job to do of being fair and accurate and temperate in the midst of all this intemperate stuff going on. It just seemed to me that that was the way a reporter was supposed to be.”

Covering such a significant news story lit a flame for Goldman that even the exhilaration of sports had not. “It was the epiphany that I was searching for, and it set me on a course that gave me a certain passion and direction,” he says.

At a time when the public is subjected to a daily tsunami of deliberate misinformation, conspiracy theories, unverified rumors and outright lies, the old mission of delivering straight news has become more fraught. “Being even-handed, being fair, in a world where tens of millions of Americans believe that the last election was stolen, is no simple matter,” Gardner says. “How do you talk about fairness and objectivity in that environment? The answer is, I’m not sure.”

Gardner + Obama

Gardner (here with Barack Obama ’83 at the White House) has interviewed every U.S. President since Gerald Ford.


Gardner remains firm in his conviction that he should not use his platform to take sides in partisan political wars. He is careful about this: He can’t even be nudged in private to tip his political hand. He will not risk damaging the trust of a large segment of his audience. There is a place for advocacy journalism, Gardner believes. “But that’s not what a local television station is. Everybody already has their little echo chamber. And everybody’s point of view or prejudice is confirmed by dint of their choices of reading, watching and listening.”

Beginning in 2023, of course, he will no longer have to walk that careful line. Instead he looks forward to traveling, playing a lot of golf (handicap: 14) and possibly assuming a role in WPVI podcasts as the station expands its digital reach.

Best of all, he’ll have more time to experience the considerable cultural riches of Philadelphia with his wife, Amy Goldman, president of the Radnor, Pa., school board. The couple lives in the leafy suburb of Villanova; they have two grown children, Emily and Jesse; Jim is also Dad to a son and daughter, Josh and Jenn, from his first marriage, to Julie Gaskill.

The transition to retirement stirs up honest sentiment for Gardner.

“I’m definitely going to miss the human interaction and energy of a newsroom,” he says. “I’m going to miss my colleagues. I’m going to miss those occasions where your heart beats a little faster because you’ve got a big story that you’re trying to report and it’s tough, it’s hard, and you’ve got a deadline and you’re not 100 percent sure that all the elements are going to come together. But more times than not, they do, and you get this feeling of enormous satisfaction. Even 45 years later.”

Gardner will clearly be missed by his adopted hometown, which he came to embrace fully and devotedly, though he knows as well as anyone that it’s a no-holds barred kind of city, notorious for raining boos down on even its most celebrated athletes if they fail to produce.

Gardner put it all on the line at Citizens United Park on August 21, when he donned the Phillies’ red pinstriped jersey — wearing number 6, naturally— and threw the ceremonial first pitch to the Philly Phanatic. “I’m more nervous about this than anything I’ve done in the last 50 years,” he said beforehand. To his great relief, Gardner threw a strike, earning a stadium-wide ovation.

Noting that the home team later blew a large lead to the visiting New York Mets, the Inquirer’s Rob Tornoe summarized the afternoon with appropriate tartness and a tip of the cap to an iconic fellow journalist who always delivered in the clutch. “The Phillies bullpen could’ve used Jim Gardner on Sunday,” he wrote.

Former CCT editor Jamie Katz ’72, BUS’80 has held senior editorial positions at People, Vibe and Latina magazines and contributes to Smithsonian Magazine and other publications. His first time on the mic in a 15-year radio career came on a program hosted by Jim Goldman at WKCR.