NBC 5 to stick with Michelle Relerford as solo weekend anchor

Michelle Relerford

Don’t look for WMAQ-Channel 5 to replace the late Dick Johnson as weekend news anchor at the NBC-owned station any time soon.

That’s the official word one week after Johnson died of pulmonary fibrosis while on medical disability in northern Michigan. Johnson, who was 66, had spent the last 18 of his 38 years in Chicago TV news at NBC 5.

Michelle Relerford, who was Johnson's co-anchor, has been solo anchoring weekend evenings since Johnson went on leave in early March — and will continue to do so, according to Frank Whittaker, station manager and vice president of news at NBC 5. “No immediate plans to add a second anchor at this time,” Whittaker said Sunday.

The decision for Relerford to continue solo comes as NBC 5 is dealing with unprecedented declines in advertising revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Employees throughout NBCUniversal stations are said to be bracing for imminent layoffs and other cutbacks.

Dick Johnson and Michelle Relerford

"I will miss my DJ so much," Relerford wrote in a poignant tribute to Johnson on social media. "I am better for having worked alongside such a great man."

Relerford, a Chicago native and graduate of Whitney Young High School and the University of Connecticut, joined NBC 5 as a reporter and fill-in news anchor in 2011. In 2017 she became Johnson's weekend evening news co-anchor after Lauren Jiggetts left to join Nexstar Media Group WGN-Channel 9 as morning news anchor.

Here is the text of Relerford's post:

My heart is broken. It’s hard to find words. Dick Johnson always had the words. He used his words so eloquently. He loved words, he loved journalism. He loved you. Our viewers.

After 40 years in this business he never lost any of that love. In this day of “fake news” Dick Johnson was the real deal. A truth teller, he felt a responsibility to you and he honored that responsibility each and every day.

His writing delivered facts beautifully and context profoundly. He did it all so effortlessly that you knew journalism wasn’t just his job it was his calling.

In the last months, a little more effort was required. He would cough or his voice would fail and he would get very bothered by that. He’d apologize and I didn’t understand why. I’d reassure him that everything was fine, things happen . . . it was not his fault. It wasn’t fine to him. That’s because Dick Johnson always gave his very best to you. He knew that you deserved it. He never wanted to fail you, or fail us, his team.

This . . . hurts . . . so bad. It hurts because Dick Johnson was not finished! He had so many more stories he wanted to tell! Just in the past week or so we talked about him returning to work. That’s what he wanted to do. We’ve discussed his retirement a few times and he’d always say: “I’m just not ready yet.”

He took some time off to tend to his health and that makes me glad that he had a break and time to have some peace, some wine and enjoy life . . . his beautiful wife, kids, grandkids and his dog Summer.

I will miss my DJ so much. I am better for having worked alongside such a great man. When my baby was born he gave him a huge teddy bear. This morning, and for the first time, Khi decided bear needed to go outside.

I’m glad I have his lessons, his stories, his friendship and his bear to hold forever.

Friday’s comment of the day: George Castle: Harold Turner used to helm "Pipe Dreams" at 11:30 a.m. Sundays in the '60s on the "WGN Pipe Organ," leading into an easy-listening music show, leading into "Durocher in the Dugout," and so on. In a way, WGN is back to the future . . . except for loudmouth Leo!