Bill Ritter is established as the top anchor at WABC/Channel 7. But since 2001, he has also been the go-to guy for Christmas newscasts.
Ritter, who is Jewish, does not mind logging some holiday hours to help his fellow man (and woman) celebrate the birth of Jesus.
“We now have two Jewish anchors, but before Phil [Lipof] got hired I was the only male Jewish anchor,” Ritter tells FishbowlNY. “You work Christmas Day. It’s the right thing to do.”
Ritter would typically anchor December 25th newscasts in every daypart. However, this year’s schedule is slightly altered. Since it’s a Sunday, there is no noon newscast. And with the NBA kicking off the season on ABC that afternoon, the 6 p.m. broadcast is preempted.
But this is more than about Ritter’s Christmas work ethic. A more impressive WABC holiday tradition is the reading of viewer emails during the morning newscasts from 6 to 10 a.m. (with a break for Good Morning America). It’s a heavy dose of communal experience for Ritter, this year’s co-anchor Jen Maxfield, and meteorologist Lee Goldberg.
“After 9/11, we thought we want to be able to have people express themselves in a way that would be interactive, that they’d have an access to a television station, and it was before the Web took off,” Ritter says.
He says the initial response was overwhelming, and it has remained a major part of the station’s holiday coverage.
“We want people just to be honest about their lives and what the holidays mean to them,” Ritter says. “By its nature, the people watching on holidays and participating in this tend to be reflective, either about the world or their own lives.”
But undoubtedly, for many ‘Tis the season for solemn feelings, and that includes Ritter himself.
“My mother was dying between October and the first week of January in 1989,” Ritter reflects. “So whenever this time of year comes around my thoughts are just filled with her.”
Therefore, those emotional viewer memories have the greatest impact on Ritter.
“I am personally most moved by the letters that have people remembering someone they loved, who died during this period,” Ritter says.
Ritter maintains, though, it is a day of celebration, as they ask Channel 7 watchers what they are grateful for this holiday season.
Taking a lead from social media, this year the audience is encouraged to write on the Channel 7 Facebook page.
However, the standard way to reach Ritter to have holiday wishes read on the air is via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
With many ways to reach Ritter and company, the veteran anchor anticipates a few hundred people sending comments for air, or online posting.
“It’s interesting, people sit around opening presents and watch us on television,” Ritter says.