Lights, Camera, Action News: Rick Williams Earns a Legacy Spot
By Felicia L. Niven

Photo: 6abc

There are many things that go into being a top newscaster. Empathy. Intelligence. Relatability. Not to mention a flair for fashion and a velvet-toned voice. Rick Williams fills the role easily on 6abc’s Action News, sliding into the coveted spot previously occupied by the beloved Jim Gardner, and he doesn’t miss a beat. That’s not surprising if you know anything about Williams. This smart, serious, funny, theater-loving newsman is ready for anything.

It was January 11 of this year when Jim Gardner officially stepped away from the 11 pm newscast after 4 decades. But it was a year earlier that Gardner first raised the topic internally, which is the first Williams heard of the opening.

“My managers approached me and asked if I had any interest,” says Williams, “and I said sure, I do. From an historic standpoint, there had never been a person of color in that shift. Filling in for someone whom I consider one of the best anchors in the country was a challenge I thought I would relish.” He ultimately was the one chosen for the slot, and took on the new assignment with his signature passion and humility.

Williams joined Philadelphia’s 6abc in 1988, and built a loyal following anchoring the midday and early evening broadcasts on Action News as well as the 10 pm newscast on Channel 17. Now that he’s anchoring the 11 pm news, his nights are marginally later and the job more robust than he ever imagined. “I have a lot more editorial control,” he says. “When I come in, the 5 pm newscast is 75% written. My job is pretty much reading, proofreading and getting up to speed on the day’s news. However, for the 11 o’clock broadcast, I can help mold it from the beginning. It’s a lot more responsibility that Jim previously embraced as well.”

Because his work day doesn’t officially begin until 3 pm, he takes advantage of mornings to work out, catch up on cable news and spend some time with his partner for the morning, Olivia, the family’s rescue dog. Then it’s off to the station.

When he arrives, he immediately begins prepping for the 5 pm newscast. After a dinner break, he dives into shaping the last news show of the day.

The 11 o’clock news is one of the most watched newscasts after the 6 pm broadcast, notes Williams. “You know it’s just a half hour newscast, 22 minutes without commercials. Our other broadcasts are an hour – longer in the mornings. So in 22 minutes, you get a block of local news and a block of mostly national and international news followed by sports and weather. It’s a larger percentage of national and international news than any other broadcast. The idea is for people to get a healthy dose of what’s happening locally, nationally and internationally before they turn in.”

Williams credits God for his signature baritone, even though he spent ample time honing his broadcast voice in speech, diction and theater classes in college. “I felt it was important to speak properly and to present yourself properly,” he says.

His theater training came in handy when he connected with the Moorestown Theater Company. “I’ve been on the board for a dozen years now,” says Williams. “It’s one of the best things I do.” It came about initially because of his son’s interest in being in a show. Due to his son’s young age at the time, a parent had to participate also. Williams volunteered, thinking he’d get a small role. Instead, he was cast as the lead in “The King and I.”

“My wife joined us on stage in the chorus; she was coming to rehearsals all the time anyway,” he recalls. “We made wonderful friends, with whom I still perform and act from time to time.”

Whether his new schedule will allow more on-stage roles, he doesn’t know, but he says he’ll continue to support the theater nonetheless. Along the same lines, he invests his time helping with Philadelphia Futures, a mentorship program where he sits on the board. Community is important, says Williams. It’s at the heart of what he does.

Rick Williams appeared as Gaston in Moorestown Theater Company’s “Beauty and the Beast”
Photo: David Baldwin MTC

Even after all this time, he remains in awe of the job that he is privileged to do. “I get to have this front row seat of history unfolding, whether it was being in the studio when 9/11 unfortunately happened or watching the awakening of our country from the Black Lives Matter movement or covering a pandemic,” he says.

“I’m right there recording it and watching history unfold,” he adds. “People are depending upon us to not just report but hopefully to interpret, give some type of substance to the moment. Also, there is a responsibility of being journalistically fair and making sure everything that you report is correct and factual. I do love the challenge of being an anchor and the responsibility that comes with it, and the fact that when I go in today, I have no idea what I’ll be reporting. I’m sure it will be something about Covid, something about Ukraine, something about politics. But it could be something more that could be historic, and I’ll be right there to record it, report it and that’s just very exciting to me.”

As for his new role, Williams is reflective. “I don’t think you replace a Jim Gardner,” he says. “I think you try to continue on with, hopefully, the same journalistic excellence that he put forth for so many years.”

June 2022
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