Harry Porterfield: Someone You Should Know

July 30, 2009 (CHICAGO) On Thursday, July 30, 2009, he finished his last report for ABC7 Chicago as he moves on to the next chapter in an already abundant life.

In his typically modest way, Harry asked the station not to say much, if anything about him. This is one of the very rare times ABC7 will disagree with him. After all, Harry truly is Someone You Should Know.

Among the things you may not have known about Harry Porterfield are that holds a degree in chemistry from Eastern Michigan University and a law degree from DePaul.

Fortunately for all of us he chose to make a career in broadcasting. He began in radio and then television in Saginaw, Michigan.

"I became a stage hand for the television side. I ran cameras and set up the stage for Romper Room. I'd come in and do the 10 o'clock news, it was 11 o'clock in Michigan then," said Porterfield.

Then in the middle 1960's Chicago called and Harry joined WBBM television. At one point Harry was anchoring the Saturday weekend news with a small staff and not much news to cover. So the producer had an idea.

"And the producer said, well, we ought to do something through the week that we could hold and save the time we really needed them, particularly on Saturdays. We had no news... nothing... nothing to put in the show. So let's call it Some You Should Know and I thought it was the silliest name I'd ever heard," said Porterfield.

Not so silly now-- some 2,000 "Someone You Should Knows" later.

It was the perfect project for a man who always seems to find the good in others. He introduced Chicago to people who were sometimes unusual but almost always doing something that really does make our world better.

With this project alone Harry Porterfield made television and television news better. But in 1985 Harry's time at WBBM came to an abrupt end. Harry says he left the station but the impression was that he'd been forced out.

As the best known African-American face then anchoring a Chicago newscast, Harry's departure from the station sparked a boycott against Channel 2.

It was an outcry heard across the country.

"The first feeling I have is that I'm humbled because I was the focus of this thing, even though I wasn't there. I was a kind of phantom in all of this. That boycott, and there was a boycott there at Channel 2, there was this picket line in front of that station for ten months. Can you believe it? Ten months... to bring on changes. I wasn't there and to think that I was a catalyst for that is really kind of overwhelming," said Porterfield.

But the impact it had was to create a lot of opportunities around the country and I guess that the one thing I'm really, I guess I'm proud of that because it did cause a lot of people to take another look at this business and say there is some very deserving, very talented folks out there who can fill these jobs."

But, as is his way, Harry never made much of it at the time.

He joined Channel 7 and just went about his job.

Someone You Should Know continued and Harry went on telling stories about people who were using their lives to change other lives... as Harry himself had already done for our industry.

He received the first Outstanding Journalist Award ever presented by the Chicago Association of Black Journalists... and countless other awards including eleven Emmys and the prestigious DuPont Columbia Journalism Award.

It's hard to get Harry to talk about those awards but he will talk about music.

He started playing the violin when he was eight years old and continues to this day. A proud member of the Chicago Federation of Musicians Harry has played in everything from small groups to symphony orchestras. He plays in the "Do It Yourself Messiah" every year. Just listen to how important music is to his life.

"So music has always been with me. I remember one of the conductors back home said one time, he said, you know being involved with music is the most civilizing experience you can have. I thought about it and I thought, 'You're right. It does so much. It's therapeutic. It's civilizing. It does a lot of things. It makes you whole.'"

If music had any part in making Harry Porterfield whole, we at ABC7 are all grateful for the process. For us, knowing Harry has been civilizing and it is one of the things that makes us whole. For that we are grateful.

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