Harry Porterfield, a beloved figure in Chicago’s television broadcast scene, passed away on Oct. 23 at 95. According to the Chicago Tribune, his son, J.J. Porterfield, confirmed that his father died of natural causes at the Hartsfield Village assisted living home in Munster, Indiana.
Porterfield, a Saginaw, Michigan, native, dedicated over half a century to Chicago’s TV broadcasting, leaving an indelible mark as a reporter and news anchor at both WBBM-Channel 2 and WLS-Channel 7. His contributions to journalism and broadcasting earned him the trust and respect of viewers throughout the region.
“Harry exuded trustworthiness when he was on the anchor desk,” David Fell, media manager for Channel 7, told the Chicago Tribune. Fell worked with Porterfield at both television stations. “Viewers felt they could rely on him.”
In the early 1960s, an Army veteran, Porterfield, embarked on his broadcasting journey at Saginaw’s WKNX, hosting a jazz show called Sounds from the Lounge. He was on the brink of leaving television due to the demanding hours. However, during a visit to Chicago in early 1963, he impulsively applied for a position at WBBM, which led to a pivotal turning point in his career.
Porterfield’s career at Channel 2 took off rapidly, with his first job as a reporter in 1971. He started hosting the Saturday evening news in 1972. His groundbreaking moment came in 1978 when he became Chicago’s first Black weekday news anchor, co-anchoring the 6 p.m. program with Bill Kurtis.
Although Porterfield was not the first Black on-air newscaster in the city—he was preceded by Ben Holman—instances of racism marked his early career, as some all-white camera teams initially refused to work with him. In 1982, Porterfield was replaced as anchor.
In September 1985, Porterfield made the transition to Channel 7. His departure from Channel 2 resulted in extended picketing by Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH, which lauded Channel 2 for recruiting Lester Holt from New York, adding a young Black newscaster to the station’s anchor lineup.
One of Porterfield’s most recognized contributions to the Chicago community was his regular segment, “Someone You Should Know,” where he highlighted the stories of unsung heroes and community members. He introduced this feature on Channel 2 and continued it on Channel 7.
“Harry could put any interview subject at ease, showing them respect and asking thoughtful and intelligent questions,” said Fell, the Tribune reported. “His (Someone You Should Know) segments introduced Chicago to some of its most interesting people. I particularly enjoyed the ones about dedicated hobbyists and the detail they’d put into their model railroads, dioramas, musicianship, or a thousand other things.”
Porterfield returned to Channel 2 in 2009 to co-anchor the 11 a.m. program, and he left the station for good in 2015. Throughout his illustrious career, he received several awards, including the recognition of the Chicago Association of Black Journalists as an outstanding broadcast journalist in 1982.
Harry Porterfield is survived by his wife of 55 years, Marianita; his son, J.J.; his daughter, Allison; stepson, Eric Shropshire; stepdaughter, Gina Shropshire; a granddaughter, and one great-grandson.