Warner Saunders, once Chicago’s premier Black broadcast journalist who served as NBC 5’s beloved anchor for decades has died. He was 83.
Saunders collapsed Tuesday night, October 9, in Chicago his wife said. He was taken to Illinois Masonic Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The award-winning journalist spent four decades in Chicago television and 29 years at NBC 5 before retiring in May 2009.
Saunders was considered by his peers to be the most versatile performer in the history of Chicago television. He was the winner of 20 Emmys for news, sports, documentaries, children’s programs, conversation talk shows and community town meetings.
During his final sign-off on NBC 5 in 2009, Saunders thanked viewers as he held back tears.
“I think the first and most important thing to say to the viewers is I’m just in awe that you have allowed me to come into your home for all of these years,” he said that night.
Saunders came to NBC 5 from WBBM-TV, where he was director of community affairs, host of the four-time Emmy award winning “Common Ground” talk show and host of the three-time Emmy Award winning children’s show known to many kids as “The Good Gang Express.”
In addition, Saunders received the Illinois Broadcasters Association Public Service Award, the prestigious Gabriel Award, the Ohio State Award, and the 1999 Hull House Jane Addams Award for his commitment and service to the Chicago community.
His teaching career includes the Chicago Public Schools, National College of Education, Malcolm X College, Northeastern Illinois University, Indiana University Northwest campus, where he was voted teacher of the year for two consecutive school terms.
Saunders was a proud member of the Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame and the Chicago Academy of Television Arts and Sciences’ Silver Circle. He was the past President of the National Association of Black Journalists, Chicago Chapter.
Among the countless stories Saunders filed in his years at NBC 5 was a 1990 series of reports from South Africa on the historic release of Nelson Mandela, culminating in a documentary titled, “South Africa: What Happens to a Dream Deferred?”
Saunders used his many years of experience as a former Chicago Public Schools teacher, youth worker and Boys Club executive director to explore the tough underbelly of street gangs.
His WBBM-TV documentary, “The End of the Line,” spurred investigations into the inner circles of local gang leaders. His startling story “Can’t Get No Job Without No Diploma” earned him another trip to the Emmy stage and shed light on the sad lives of many school dropouts.
As a member of the NBC 5 sports team, he showed his respect for the old Negro Leagues in his 1983 segment honoring Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Paige, Double Duty Radcliff and several other stars of that bygone era.
However, Saunders said none of his television achievements topped co-anchoring with his partner Allison Rosati on the day his beloved White Sox celebrated their World Series Championship in 2005.
He received honorary doctorates of Humane Letters from Rush University Medical School in 2004 and from St. Xavier University in 2007. He also received an honorary doctorate from Governors State University in Chicago.
A native Chicagoan, Saunders held a bachelors from Xavier University, New Orleans, and a masters from Northeastern Illinois University.
Saunders is survived by his wife, Sadako Saunders, and his son Warner Saunders, Jr.
Final arrangements are pending.
This report was provided by WMAQ Channel 5.