WJZ anchor Al Sanders hospitalized with cancer viewers voice concern

March 25, 1995|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

WJZ anchorman Al Sanders has cancer, station management said yesterday.

"Al Sanders has been diagnosed with cancer and is resting comfortably. We ask that the privacy of the family be respected at this time," WJZ Vice President and General Manager Marcellus Alexander said in a prepared statement. "That's really all the information that I have," Alexander added, declining to discuss Sanders' illness, hospitalization or how the newscaster's absence will affect the on-air lineup at WJZ.

Sanders, who turned 54 this month, looked exceptionally tired on-air in recent weeks -- to the point that The Sun received several calls from viewers inquiring about his health.

He had been anchoring the late news alone -- while co-anchor Denise Koch was on extended maternity leave -- during an especially competitive February sweeps ratings period. In response to inquiries about Sanders' health, WJZ had said that the anchorman was battling the flu.

On Wednesday, the station announced on its 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts that the flu had led to pneumonia and that Sanders was hospitalized. Sanders' family was informed of the cancer diagnosis Thursday night, Alexander said.

Sanders has been at the WJZ anchor desk for 22 years. During much of that time, he was paired with Jerry Turner. The team of Turner and Sanders was one of the most successful in the country. During its heyday, one out of every two Baltimore viewers watching a television newscast was tuned to Turner and Sanders on WJZ. In 1987, Turner died of cancer.

Sanders is still the most-watched newscaster in Baltimore, despite greatly increased competition, which has eroded the dominance his station once enjoyed.

In the recently concluded February sweeps ratings book, Sanders' 6 p.m. newscast was Baltimore's most watched, while his 11 p.m. newscast tied with WBAL for the top spot. According to A. C. Nielsen, 240,000 area households tune in to watch Sanders deliver the news each weeknight on WJZ.

Since Sanders' hospitalization, Sally Thorner has been anchoring the 11 p.m. newscast on WJZ. But Denise Koch comes back from maternity leave Monday and is expected to take over the 11 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts, which she had co-anchored with Sanders.

Thorner's usual lineup spot is co-anchor of the 5 p.m. newscast with Richard Sher.

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