Channel 2 Action News’ veteran evening anchor John Pruitt announced today that he will retire at the end of the year.
Pruitt, the longest-serving anchor in Atlanta, has been a familiar, iconic broadcast personality. He joined Channel 2 in 1964 and became an evening anchor in 1973. He left for WXIA-TV in 1978 but returned to Channel 2 in 1994 and has been there ever since alongside Monica Pearson.
The move had not been unexpected. Pruitt presently anchors the 6 p.m. news, having relinquished the 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. slots to his successor Justin Farmer. Farmer will take over the 6 p.m. program starting early next year.
Pearson, who said she’s going to retire in July, 2012, called him “irreplaceable. Nobody has the institutional knowledge that John has about politics in Georgia. He’s a newsman’s newsman.”
Pruitt is the longest-running on-air news anchor in Atlanta. But at age 68, he said it was the right time to leave. Though he talked about retirement 18 months ago, he said he had no issue staying so Channel 2 could have a smoother transition.
“I’ve got five grandchildren,” he said, “and soon to have six. But I don’t plan to be a man of leisure.”
According to Channel 2, Pruitt will continue to do special assignments covering politics and hosting “Georgia’s Hidden Treasures” as well as taking part in the station’s community events.
He said he’s proud of how he was able to build trust with viewers over the years in a way that helped Channel 2 cement itself as top local news station in the ratings. He also couldn’t deny the chemistry he and Pearson possessed.
“He has a natural authority about him,” Pearson said. “I’m more folksy.”
Chuck Dowdle, a sports anchor at Channel 2 from 1985 to 2009, recalled a few years ago when a reporter uttered an expletive on the air. Viewers, Dowdle said, started inundating the station with calls, infuriated.
“Then John apologized on the air for what happened,” Dowdle recalled. “He did it with such skill and eloquence that not only did the screaming phone calls stop but people began saying, ‘I sure hope you don’t punish that reporter!’ ”
Pearson said when she arrived in 1975, she was Atlanta’s first black and female evening anchor. “The phone calls were horrible,” she recalled. “People were awful. But John not only supported me but was very strong about helping me get my foot in the door. The man doesn’t have a jealous or mean bone in his body.”
When news director Marian Pittman arrived as a 6 p.m. producer in 1995, she said Pruitt was right there “with open arms. He helped me get used to the market. He set a great example. I can’t imagine the newsroom without him.”
Off air, Pearson said, Pruitt actually has a “wicked sense of humor. What you see on air is not what you see off air.” He loves to fly fish, play with his grandchildren and help his dogs deliver puppies, she said. He is also very active in charitable groups, including the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Literacy Action.
“You will not find a finer human being,” Dowdle said, “a man who loves this city more, a man who loves his family more, a man who cares about the craft he practices. When I walked through those double doors into the studio and John Pruitt was there, there was always a sense everything is fine.”