After 25 years at the anchor desk at CBS4, Liz Walker will announce today on the noon newscast that she is moving on. The journalist, an icon in the business who is currently attending Harvard Divinity School, is leaving the grind of daily news to host a locally produced Sunday morning community affairs show for the station.
Walker's departure, effective immediately, represents the end of an era in local news. Although she has maintained a fairly low profile in recent years, coanchoring at noon with Jack Williams, she and Williams were the station's principal nighttime anchor team from 1981 to 1999.
Together, they ruled the airwaves, competing head-to-head with Natalie Jacobson and Chet Curtis at WCVB-TV (Channel 5) during a time when newscasts and their ratings were driven, in part, by celebrity personalities.
A celebrity Walker certainly was, even if she at times resisted the label. Now 53, she made history early in her career when she became the first African-American weeknight anchor at the station. And she was the subject of scrutiny and gossip 17 years ago, when it became apparent that she was pregnant and unmarried. Since then, Walker has endured criticism for everything from her wardrobe to her hair.
"I've survived," Walker said yesterday with a laugh. "Being in the public domain, I've been held to a high standard. Sometimes it's been a little uncomfortable."
But Walker said she was very ready to leave the daily anchor chair behind. "I'll miss Jack and I'm sad to leave the newness and excitement that news brings each day," she said. "It's scary letting go. But I've always believed that each of us can be defined by more than one thing in life. I'm testing that theory."
Her decision -- made, she said, with no prompting from management -- comes six years after she voluntarily stopped anchoring the evening news to spend more time with her son, Nicholas, who is now a junior in high school. There has been no decision by the station about a replacement on the noon newscast.
Walker's new show, to be called, "Sunday with Liz Walker," is scheduled to debut in early March. The 30-minute program will air at 11 a.m. each week. Walker describes the content as a combination of WCVB's "Chronicle," "Oprah," and local news.
Divided into four segments, the show will examine New England personalities who are doing interesting things that fit in with a theme of the week, such as letting go or surviving change.
Walker, who is scheduled to graduate with a master's degree in divinity in June, said the program will have a spiritual tone but won't preach religion. "I will give some reflections at the end of the show," she said. Walker, who is on the ministerial staff at Bethel AME Church in Jamaica Plain, said that "I would at least like to point people skyward although I'm not trying to tell people how to get there."
Williams, who worked alongside Walker for 19 of her 25 years at the station, said he was proud of her courage to walk away. "I think she's had a huge impact on the market," he said. "She was the first African-American woman to become a major hit in Boston. Twenty-five years ago, people didn't expect to see a fair-haired male and an African-American female on air together. She broke down a lot of barriers with viewers."
Looking back, Walker said her fondest memories involved her daily banter with Williams and sportscaster Bob Lobel. "They are just insane," she said. "They prided themselves on being able to make me laugh."
Walker, who has won two Emmy Awards, also recalls covering numerous political conventions as well as the year -- 1986 -- when the Celtics, the Red Sox, and the Patriots all played in championship games.
"This town went crazy all year long," she said.
Despite the good times, Walker acknowleges that with increased competition on television, local news has changed to focus more on crime, traffic, and weather.
"It's really more headline news now," she said. "Nothing is as in-depth as it used to be. There is really a sense of a global village. We cover stories from all over the world all the time. If there's a fire that is incredible visually, we'll do it, even if it's someplace a million miles away."
While Walker started her career reporting on local figures who made a difference in their communities, launching a community-affairs program has plenty of risks today.
The shows, which had their heyday in the 1970s after the civil rights movement, are out of vogue at many stations.
Walker should be commended for trying, said Sarah-Ann Shaw, who worked with Walker for 20 years as a reporter at WBZ-TV which is now called CBS4.
"There used to be public affairs programming on every station," she said. "Now, we know more about train accidents across the country than we know about a particular bill being passed at the State House. Because of Liz's high profile, maybe that will change."
Suzanne Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.