When another anchor sailed home

Bill Kurtis and Diane Sawyer (1982)

Bill Kurtis and Diane Sawyer (1982)

Zoraida Sambolin isn’t the first Chicago news anchor to come home after bailing out of a network morning news show. Three decades earlier, Bill Kurtis did the same thing.

To the delight of Sambolin’s fans, WMAQ-Channel 5 announced Wednesday that the Chicago native was returning to co-anchor “NBC 5 News Today” after two years in New York as host of CNN’s “Early Start.” She stepped down last December after anchoring the two-hour weekday morning news show first with Ashleigh Banfield and later with John Berman.

Her comeback evoked memories of Kurtis, who reclaimed his old job as the news kingpin of WBBM-Channel 2 in 1985 after three years as anchor of the “CBS Morning News,” where he was paired first with Diane Sawyer and later with Phyllis George. (Steve Deshler, a veteran of WLS-Channel 7, was the show’s weatherman.)

Kurtis, who’d gone to New York with high hopes, returned disappointed and disillusioned. In a Chicago magazine cover story, he famously decried everything from the cockroaches of Manhattan to the trivialities of morning television: “Many thought the program represented an excessive compromise with commercial demands, and a drift away from the CBS News they had known,” he wrote. “I found it difficult to wrestle every morning with my journalistic conscience, knowing that each interview would be followed by the question: ‘Would Ed Murrow have done this?’ ”

His return to CBS 2 should have been a slam dunk, but station bosses bungled it spectacularly. To make room for Kurtis, they demoted Harry Porterfield, the only black anchor on their Monday-through-Friday lineup, while retaining two other white anchors (Walter Jacobson and Don Craig) on weekdays. The miscalculation prompted Porterfield to bolt for ABC 7 and triggered a 10-month black viewer boycott led by the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson’s Operation PUSH.

Today, Porterfield, 85, is back at CBS 2, where he anchors the 11 a.m. weekday newscast with Roseanne Tellez. Kurtis, 73, ended his fourth run at CBS 2 in 2013 after anchoring the 6 p.m. weekday newscast with Jacobson for two and half years.