Exit interview: Mark Suppelsa ready to bow out — with no second thoughts

Mark Suppelsa

After 25 years as one of Chicago’s most admired and respected news anchors, Mark Suppelsa is about to sign off for good. And by all accounts, he couldn’t be happier to ride off into the Montana sunset.

December 8 is circled on his calendar as Suppelsa’s last night on the air at WGN-Channel 9, where he anchors the 5, 9 and 10 p.m. weekday newscasts with Micah Materre. In a fitting coda to his career, the Tribune Broadcasting station posted double-digit increases in late-news ratings for the just-ended November sweep.

Although Suppelsa, 55, announced his retirement more than three months ago, his bosses have yet to designate a successor. The decision may be complicated by the timing of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media, which awaits government approval.

“Mark is an amazing anchor and one not easily replaced,” news director Jennifer Lyons said Monday. “We are currently on the search, with both external and internal candidates. As we continue our search, we will be rotating in various WGN News talent to cover the ‘WGN Evening News’ and ‘WGN News at Nine and Ten.’”

Born in Milwaukee and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Suppelsa attended Libertyville High School and graduated from Lincoln-Way High School in New Lenox, and Marquette University in Milwaukee. He began at WFRV, the CBS affiliate in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and later worked at KSTP, the ABC affiliate in Minneapolis. He joined NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 in 1993, jumped to Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32 in 2003, and signed on at “Chicago’s Very Own” WGN in 2008.

As Suppelsa prepares to call it quits on his own terms, he reflected on his decision, the state of the business and what’s ahead.

Q. Hey, Mark, the end is near. Having any second thoughts about stepping down?

A. None. Absolutely none.

Q. What’s the first thing you’re going to do after your last newscast?

A. Get a good night's sleep. It's been a hectic couple of months of work as I finish up my tenure.

Q. You’ve anchored and reported for NBC 5, Fox 32 and now WGN. Which one was your favorite?

A. No favorite, really. They all represented a unique period of my work life. NBC 5 was the new, exciting behemoth of a challenge in the city where my family still lived and where I grew up. When I accepted the promotion to become a main anchor at Fox 32, it was the time to learn how to co-pilot a newscast and newsroom. Coming to WGN was like a walk through history. The first TV station I remember watching most in 1971 when we moved to Chicago after my third grade was Channel 9, “Bozo Circus” and Cubs baseball. I felt blessed to even be invited into the hallways.

Q. How long would it take you to come up with the names of all of your co-anchors?

A. No time at all, dating back to my first anchor job in Green Bay, 1984. They truly are your work spouses where you become partners in your life's work. You don't want to forget them because they're so much a part of your daily routine.

Q. I know you’ve said the timing of your decision was not related to the impending takeover by Sinclair. Why do so many people (myself included) have trouble believing that?

A. Well, do the math. Does a person at 55 announce he's going to retire for good from a career in August because they've heard in June there's going to be a possible change in ownership at your TV station? My agent and friend, Todd Musburger, counseled my wife and me not to tell management last January that we were planning to retire. He wisely said it'd be a long stretch to December [next month]. So we were thinking of telling the bosses in May, but they'd just expanded our newscast schedule and unveiled the new studio. I didn't want to spoil that parade with my news. So we decided to wait until summer — when lo and behold, the Sinclair reports kicked up around June. There's your timeline.

Candus and I have been planning this relatively early retirement for years. Frankly, we have been talking about it as a dream since we bought our cabin in Montana 23 years ago.

Q. Is there one interview or story you still wish you could have gotten?

A. Not one, Rob. Many. Scoring interviews or landing stories you want is a lesson in failure. Like a baseball player who is considered a rousing success by batting .300, the same holds true for a reporter. Seven out of 10 times you fail.

Q. With the way things are now, are you glad your kids didn’t go into the news business?

A. Not necessarily. My wife and I preached to them: Chase your dream. If it was news, so be it. News is a good calling in life.

Q. Think you'll still watch the news?

A. Oh sure. I, like a lot of us TV newsies, enjoy flipping on local news when we travel just to see what they do, how they do it. I will say that I probably won't have the squawk box of cable screamers on much. My ears hurt now from that.

Q. After all the hiking and kayaking and trumpet playing, what will do if you get bored with retirement?

A. Rob, I have been calling myself "boringly undustrious.” I know I can while away a day like nobody. Stacks of books, tons of binge-watchable TV shows, tougher work outs, a little more golf are among a full plate of things I rarely have time to get to now. Watching my kids careers grow, dinner at home with Candus — none Monday through Friday for 26 years of marriage! — and some travel will be welcome routines.

But I also have plans to "give back" for my good fortune, not the least of which is helping others struggling with alcohol addiction learn what I was taught. That, especially, can be a time-consuming but rewarding mission.

Q. OK, tell the truth: Aren’t you going to miss wearing makeup every day?

A. Every time I would host a tour for charity through the TV studios, I would tell the tour group two things: I wear more makeup on TV than your mother ever thought about putting on herself. And we have to apply it ourselves, which is a job I stink at doing. Good riddance!