TV

Remember Ralph Renick? He was a legend on local TV, and then he suddenly quit on air

Ralph Renick, at center.
Ralph Renick, at center.

He was the Walter Cronkite of Miami.

Ralph Renick’s booming baritone rumbled across the airwaves for more than three decades. He was the first anchor for the first TV station in Florida, starting a recent college grad.

Renick was behind the anchor desk until April 1985, when he resigned immediately, and then briefly ran for Florida governor. He died in 1991.

Renick’s signature line at the end of each broadcast: “May the good news be yours.”

Here is a look at the history of Ralph Renick through the archives of the Miami Herald.

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RENICK RESIGNS

Published April 11, 1985

The man who proffered the good news for 35 years in South Florida has taken his leave. Ralph Renick — who has been synonymous with South Florida television since he pioneered evening newscasts here on July 17, 1950, who was the longest-running anchorman in the nation, and who, until last November, had never been bested by a rival newscast — announced Wednesday that he is stepping down immediately from his position as anchor and news director at Miami’s WTVJ-Channel 4.

Renick, 56, said he was leaving the post he had held at the station for more than three decades to pursue the possibility of seeking public office — with a candidacy for Florida governor in 1986 apparently paramount among the options he will explore.

Renick did, however, leave open the possibility that, should he decide not to run for office, or should he run and lose, he might one day return to television.

Renick’s public goodbye to journalism came in the form of a 2 1/2-minute retrospective and explanation at the tail end of Channel 4’s 6 p.m. newscast Wednesday —- the customary position from which he, for years, had delivered his show-ending commentaries, followed by his trademark signoff: “Goodnight, and may the good news be yours.”

Wednesday he added, “And hopefully mine” — a reference to his new life.

Another difference Wednesday was that the spot was taped earlier in the day, in a session for which the veteran anchor gingerly removed the shoulder sling protecting the broken arm that has kept him off the air in recent weeks. He did it in one take, then posed for pictures with his studio crew.

When he entered the Channel 4 newsroom shortly thereafter, the news staff applauded. In his signoff, Renick explained: “I have given thought ... over the past few years about perhaps doing something different, something that would continue to be constructive and rewarding and benefit others — but different. WTVJ management has been aware of this thinking and has tried to persuade me to stay on. Who knows? Maybe for another 35 years. Or if I do leave, they want me to return sometime in the future. But I can tell you tonight, I have made up my mind. It is my decision .... to step down as vice president and news director of WTVJ and also relinquish my duties as newscaster-editorialist on this program.” Later, Channel 4 News Operation Manager Al Buch characterized Renick’s departure right now as “technically, a leave of absence. And he is always welcome back.” Then, Buch asked Renick to autograph for him the teleprompter pages Renick had read.

In his statement, Renick acknowledged the gubernatorial talk, but stopped short of declaring. “I hope you will understand that such a candidacy announcement, given without the necessary research and advice and without carefully examining the needs of Florida, would be premature,” he said. “I will fully examine all aspects of such a campaign for governor before making my decision.”

Renick has been off the air since March 7, when he left for a ski vacation in the Swiss Alps. The leave was extended when he suffered a broken arm so severe that surgery and insertion of a six-inch pin in his shoulder were required.

Rumors had been swirling for months in the South Florida broadcast community that Channel 4, mindful of Renick’s ratings slippage of several years and desirous of a newscast that would appeal to the younger audience, was finally close to bringing in new anchor blood.

The station for nearly a year has been conducting a search for a new 11 p.m. anchor; it was expected that that anchor would at some point move into the 6 p.m. slot as well. In November, WPLG-Channel 10’s Eyewitness News, whose 6 p.m. broadcast is anchored by Ann Bishop and Mike Schneider, edged Renick by a narrow four-tenths of a point in the Nielsen ratings, a feat — and a margin — WPLG duplicated in the most recent February sweeps.

Before that, only Broderick Crawford’s old Highway Patrol series had ever bested Renick in the ratings. Though in both sweeps periods the rival Arbitron service, which uses meters instead of diaries to measure viewing, still had Renick slightly ahead, the erosion of Renick’s once seemingly insurmountable ratings lead was, for all intents and purposes, complete.

During those February sweeps, the first signs of Renick’s own restlessness became apparent when he told the Miami Herald that he envisioned himself in a new capacity. He talked of the financial independence he now enjoyed from the sale of stock in WTVJ’s parent company, Wometco, which was bought out by a private investment company following the death of its founder, Col. Mitchell Wolfson, in 1983.

Wolfson had been Renick’s mentor, and under his reign the newsman enjoyed almost unprecedented power in local broadcasting. He was perhaps the only news director in the business who did not have to answer to a general manager, reporting directly to the colonel.

All that changed when the 82-year-old Wolfson died. The company was sold to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., a New York investment firm, and new management before and since instituted a more conventional chain of command that ultimately stripped Renick of the behind-the- scenes power he had previously enjoyed.

Over the years Renick’s name had frequently been mentioned as a candidate for public office, and, last week, talk surfaced that he was toying with the idea of running for governor. Then last Wednesday came the news that WTVJ had found its eventual heir apparent -- John Hambrick, a highly respected anchor who had recently been given notice by WNBC, the NBC flagship station in New York.

WTVJ said it was close to signing him. Then Renick said he’d be making a decision regarding his own future in a week. That led to Wednesday’s announcement.

Renick came to South Florida in 1939, at age 11, with his two younger brothers and his mother, Rosalie, who had recently been divorced. He lived in a modest stucco home in Hialeah.

He appeared set on a radio career at a Miami Beach FM station when he was fired for having, in the boss’ view, a speech impediment. He ended up at Channel 4 on a $2,000 University of Miami fellowship in October 1949. The era of local news was launched the next year when Channel 4 began a 15-minute local broadcast highlighting the Korean War.

The consensus was “to let the kid do it,” and the skinny young man with the wavy black hair eventually became the silver-maned legend of the airwaves who dominated the South Florida market and cost Channel 4 upwards of $150,000 a year, plus a generous clothing and expense account, a new Cadillac every two years and stock options that, today, have left Ralph Renick, by various accounts, a very wealthy man.

Renick has six children by his wife, Elizabeth, nicknamed Bane, who died in 1964 of a rare respiratory allergy. He has never remarried.



SIGNING OFF

What Ralph Renick said to viewers on April 10, 1985

I promised a week ago, amidst speculation over my future, that I would clarify tonight whether I would remain in TV news or seek opportunity elsewhere. I don’t think anyone has been a TV news director longer than I have — going back to 1950 at this station. I also began the first daily TV newscast in Florida 35 years ago on Channel 4.

I wasn’t called an anchorman then, because at the age of 21, people perhaps thought I hadn’t learned the ropes. And they were right. Many of you watching tonight remember those early TV days — seeing on your screen a tall, dark-haired lanky kid. Thankfully, my boss, Col. Mitchell Wolfson, had faith in me. He was chairman of Wometco, our parent company.

The colonel told me: “Ralph, don’t you worry about Wometco. I’ll run that. And I won’t worry about WTVJ News, I’ll let you run that.”

And he did.

That was our special relationship. It never faltered. But any success I’ve had has been due to my loyal audience — you made me number one through all these years. I’ve also had an outstanding loyal staff to work with in covering the news in South Florida for you.

I’ve always believed in Miami, South Florida and this state. My five daughters and son agree with me. And I think my four granddaughters will think likewise. I hope so. This will always be my home.

All through the years I’ve tried to be a good citizen as well as reporter. I’ve devoted time to organizations and causes, which in turn helped others. Col. Wolfson, who died two years ago, used to tell me: “You can’t grow a crop every year unless you put something back into the soil.” That, I’ve tried to do.

You know, after 35 years in a job, many people just want to retire and get away from it all. That has never been my intention. I want to “keep on nourishing the soil of this state.”

I have given thought, though, over the past few years, about perhaps doing something . . . something that would continue to be constructive and rewarding, and benefit others, but different.

WTVJ management has been aware of this thinking and has tried to persuade me to stay on. Who knows, maybe for another 35 years. Or, if I do leave, persuade me to return sometime in the future.

But I can tell you tonight, I have made up my mind. It is my decision, effective tonight, to step down as vice president and news director of WTVJ and also relinquish my duties as newscaster-editorialist on this program.

Well, what next?

There has been published speculation that I might run as a candidate for governor of Florida. The race has already begun to choose Gov. Bob Graham’s successor even though the election is not until the fall of 1986.

Many people are giving me encouragement to announce as a candidate for governor now. Certainly it would be an honor to run and seek your support.

However, it takes much preparation, organization and financing to make such a statewide race. I hope you will understand that such a candidacy announcement — given without the necessary research and advice and without carefully examining the needs of Florida -- would be premature at this time. I will fully examine all aspects of such a campaign for governor before making my decision.

Finally, I thank you for being the most supportive TV news audience anyone could ever hope to have.

Good night and may the good news be yours. And hopefully mine.

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Ralph Renick, WTVJ News Director, Standing in Fron tof WTVJ Marquee. Photo credit: Bernard Blynder Miami Herald File

MAKING A RUN FOR GOVERNOR

Published May 1, 1985

Accompanied by a political consultant, former Miami TV anchorman Ralph Renick opened his campaign to become governor in 1987 by filling out forms at the state Division of Elections office Tuesday.

Referring to his tender right arm, still mending from a serious break suffered while skiing in Europe earlier this year, Renick said: “It will take about three months to heal fully. So I’m handicapped from this point on, not being able to shake a lot of hands. But if that’s my only handicap in this race, I’ll be very fortunate.”

The silver-haired Renick, 56, said his campaign “will be a full-time job,” since he retired April 10 from WTVJ. He used that to take a jab at another announced Democratic candidate, Senate President Harry Johnston.

“I’ve resigned to run,” Renick said. “Others have not resigned to run. I see some conflicts there that are rather self-evident. ... You have the president of the Senate, who is in charge of committee assignments and expediting the passage of bills — there could be a question of whether those things were done without regard for his campaign for governor.”

Renick said his biggest challenge is getting himself known outside South Florida. But he added, “A lot of people have left Miami for one reason or another. Whenever I travel around the state, I meet people in airports and other places who know me.”

Renick said he does not have a running mate, but will seek the traditional geographic balance.

“I’ll be looking at some people north of Southeast Florida.”

Renick said he will open a campaign headquarters in a Brickell Avenue office building this week. He said he has no campaign staff in place. Steve Fisher, a Miami political consultant, accompanied Renick Tuesday. But Fisher said he has no official role as yet.

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DONE AS A CANDIDATE

Published Nov. 1, 1985

For Ralph Renick, the neophyte candidate for governor and former legend of South Florida television, the good news on Thursday was not his.

He quit.

Barely six months after Renick left his anchor seat at Channel 4 to enter the Democratic primary, he closed his campaign, saying he is accepting the reality that his candidacy appeared doomed.

“Thirty-five years’ experience in broadcasting and as a news director has taught me to face the facts,” he said. “Being a pragmatist, I realize there is no way I can raise the $3 million or $4 million it would take.”

The tall, silver-haired broadcaster’s campaign was plagued by his own medical problems. And, he conceded, it suffered too from a political naivete that even his 35 years in journalism didn’t prepare him for.

“I frankly didn’t know the complexities of the system or the enormity of the task,” he said. Best known Ironically, Renick is withdrawing from the contest nearly 11 months from the primary vote and only days after a statewide poll among Democrats showed that he was the best known and most credible of all the candidates in the race.

The Mason-Dixon Research survey, commissioned by a group of Florida newspapers, said Renick was correctly identified by 37 percent of the respondents -- six points ahead of his nearest rival, Harry Johnston, the state Senate president. But Renick conceded that this recognition didn’t carry with it the checks and volunteers that are any campaign’s lifeblood.

He said he saw “no sense in plowing ahead” with a campaign that was destined, at best, to finish third in the September 1986 primary. By pulling out now, he added, the Democrats may avoid a potentially bloody run-off.

The decision brings to an unexpectedly quick close to a campaign that seemed shadowed from its inception with bad luck, if not bad judgment. Ice accident

Only weeks before he left WTVJ in May, after serving for years as dean of the nation’s television anchormen, Renick slipped on ice during a skiing vacation in Switzerland and shattered his right shoulder.

Complications from this injury, plus an unrelated medical problem with the tendons in his hands, hampered him during the campaign’s early days.

On June 26, barely 60 days into the effort, Renick announced that he was mothballing the campaign while he underwent follow-up surgery to remove a pin from his shoulder and have new surgery on the tendons in his right hand.

It has only been in recent days, he said, that he has been able to resume normal activities. During his absence, his two major rivals, Johnston and Steve Pajcic, a former Jacksonville legislator, continued to build organizations and pile up treasuries.

Their reports show each with about $1.3 million, compared to Renick’s $164,362 — and all but about $48,000 of it from his pocket. Perhaps naive Renick said that, in retrospect, he was perhaps naive in not realizing the importance of fundraising and organization building to a statewide campaign.

And Renick conceded that he has learned that his high name recognition built up during his tenure on the evening news, did not automatically translate into political power.

“You can’t just say I’ve been an anchorman and I want to be in office,” he said.

Renick said he also underestimated the sacrifice required by such a campaign, the so-called “fire in the belly” quality needed by candidates.

“I didn’t know what that really meant until I got into this,” he said. “I now have more respect for people who run for any office, even Hialeah commission.”

Renick said he has no plans to endorse either of his rivals, though he said he might be willing to do so if he concludes that it will be a way for him to “perform in the public service.” Renick left open the possibility that he would allow himself to be drawn back into politics —- possibly even as a candidate for lieutenant governor.

More to his liking, however, would be service on a commission or board that would enable him to promote the region or the state, he said. But his immediate plans, Renick said, extended only to “playing golf tomorrow in the Emerald Isles tournament.”

Beyond that, he continued, he plans to tend to numerous investments in banking and broadcasting and probably return in some way to his first love — television — although not in his former capacity.

One project he intends to explore, Renick said, is the possibility of doing a syndicated public affairs program. In many ways, Renick said, getting out of the campaign frees him from an artificial confinement.

“People seemed to be afraid to call me or go with me to a party,” he said. “It was tantamount to having a noninfectious form of AIDS.”

One thing Renick will not have to worry about is a campaign debt. In fact, he still has dozens of campaign assets — 35 “Renick for Governor” T-shirts — and a credit for 20 commercials on WMBM, a black-oriented gospel music radio station.

“I don’t know what I’ll do with that,” he said. “Maybe I’ll just wish everybody a Merry Christmas.”

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