Johnny signing off: Longtime anchor to retire

Gary B. Gray • Nov 12, 2012 at 10:40 PM

News 5 WCYB’s affable Johnny Wood, who for more than 44 years has made viewers not only more informed, but also as comfortable as those favorite household slippers, announced Monday he will retire on Dec. 12.

Wood, who turned 70 this year, said he made the decision after much thought and a lot of prayers with his lifelong partner, wife Mary. Though his early morning ritual likely played a role in his absence at the station Monday afternoon, he did leave his fans and colleagues with well wishes.

“I cannot tell you how much that you mean to me, you all who have watched my work here all these years,” he said on air as an early morning segment wrapped up. “All the wonderful thoughts and prayers, notes of encouragement and times of fun and laughter mean so much to me. You folks are a large part of what made this such a tough decision to make.”

During his tenure as morning news anchor, he delivered some of the highest ratings in television history, not only for a morning show, but for any locally produced program regardless of airtime. He has delivered consistently high ratings, surpassing all area competition in the 6 p.m. news slot on a regular basis.

“I am one of the luckiest guys in the world to have worked at the same place for 44 years,” he said. “That’s especially true for someone on this end of television news, this end being in front of the camera. It goes without saying that I have been blessed with working for and with some of the most wonderful people in the world. I am proud to say that I have worked for the founding company all the way up to the present owners, and they have all been very kind and supportive of my efforts on their behalf.”

Wood started his career in radio and then made the transition to television. In 1979, he began anchoring an early morning newscast much to the delight of viewers. In recent years, popular segments like Lunch With Johnny and Johnny’s Fishing Report have become local audience favorites.

In March, he was honored by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences during the annual Mid-South Regional Emmy Awards ceremony with The Silver Circle Award. This award is given to broadcasters who have had a significant impact on their communities for over 25 years.

Wood also said during his announcement that WCYB’s Preston Ayres was going have to learn to be “an early bird.”

Ayres will co-anchor with Tarah Taylor once Johnny retires. Ayres will join the News 5 This Morning team Nov. 19, co-anchoring the 4:30 -6 a.m. segment with Tarah Taylor. Ayres will continue in that role until Wood retires in late December.

Jack Dempsey, WCYB vice president and general manager, said Monday afternoon that he might try to get Johnny back, perhaps to serve as “news anchor emeritus.”

“Naturally, these are one of the things you know eventually is going to happen, but we’re happy for him,” Dempsey said. “We’re supportive of him. He’s been a remarkable asset. He started here in 1968. And I can tell you, in the ‘60s, people did a little bit of everything. We hope he’ll come back around once in a while.”

Randall Bongarten, CEO of Bonten Media Group, who owns WCYB, said Wood’s popularity and longevity remain unmatched in the Tri-Cities market. That’s something Bongarten is well aware of.

“While we certainly wish he’d stay longer, we understand his decision and respect it,” Bongarten said in a press release. “We wish Johnny and Mary the very best in retirement. His contributions to our station and community are countless and we will honor him over the next several weeks — on and off the air.”

Despite his retirement, Wood hasn’t ruled out future projects with News 5 WCYB. He said he wants to travel for a while then will see what’s next.

WCYB will celebrate Wood’s career with Farewell to Johnny, a special live audience edition of News 5 at Noon from The Paramount Center for the Arts on Dec. 21 in Bristol. Seating for this special broadcast will be limited, and tickets must be reserved in advance. More program details and ticket information can be found on WCYB.com as it becomes available.

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