After more than 27 years at WFLA, Channel 8, news anchor Bill Ratliff is leaving the station in June, station officials announced today.
"It's been a great ride but the economy did me in," said Ratliff, who has been on the News Channel 8 morning newscasts for 20 years.
Ratliff said he was offered a new contract for fewer hours and much less pay.
"I decided that it made more sense financially to leave now and take a severance package," he said.
Faced with declining advertising revenue, media chains such as Media General, which owns WFLA, The Tampa Tribune and TBO.com, have been cutting costs.
Ratliff becomes the highest profile television personality in the Tampa-St. Petersburg television market to exit. He will leave the NBC affiliate June 25, when his contract ends.
"I understand the economic challenges, and I'm not angry," he said. "I'm grateful for the 27 wonderful years that I've had."
Channel 8 News Director Don North said Ratliff will be missed because he has been a valuable part of the News Channel 8 team.
"We really wanted him to stay," North said. "But the news business is changing at an unprecedented pace, and in this tough economy we've had to make some difficult decisions.
"We are sorry to see Bill leave us. His experience and professionalism helped make WFLA-TV one of the country's great stations."
Anchor Gayle Guyardo, meteorologist Jennifer Hill and traffic reporter Alicia Roberts will remain on News Channel 8 morning newscasts.
"I will miss all my co-workers at Channel 8," Ratliff said. "I won't miss getting up at 1 a.m. everyday, but I do enjoy the morning shift. I have a close relationship with Gayle. We have a chemistry that few anchors share."
"I am so sad about this because Bill has been my partner for 15 years; we can finish each others sentences," says Guyardo. "It's the end of an era. For me and many of the viewers it's a loss that we will have to overcome."
Ratliff is on vacation and will return to the newscast on Wednesday.
Ratliff, 60, came to WFLA in 1982, and over the years has anchored every weekday newscast.
He said he had one year left on a 10-year contract, but there is an option that allows the station to renegotiate. Because he declined the offer, his contract will expire June 25.
Ratliff said he had a feeling this year that this might happen.
"Having worked in this business since I was 19, I'm a student of the industry, and I can see what is happening," he said. "I cleaned out my desk two weeks before they made the offer.
"Actually, I think they may have done me a favor by forcing me to make the decision to start a new career," he said. "I plan to take six months to a year off and then see what's out there. I may consider jobs in broadcasting if someone makes an offer, but I will be exploring other things."
A native of Cincinnati and a University of Cincinnati graduate, Ratliff has worked in broadcasting for more than 40 years. He worked in Dallas; Detroit; Lexington, Ky.; and Cincinnati before coming to Tampa.
"I don't know what the future holds," he said. "It's scary and exciting at the same time. And whatever I do, I will stay In Tampa."