Veteran Chicago television anchor Mark Suppelsa is signing off after 25 years as a local news mainstay and retiring to rural Montana.
The face of WGN-Ch. 9's evening news for nearly 10 years, Suppelsa confirmed Friday that he is leaving the station, Chicago and his TV news career behind when his contract is up at the end of the year.
"I'm ready to unplug, I really am," said Suppelsa, 55.
Suppelsa announced his retirement Thursday afternoon in an email to his WGN colleagues. The plan to walk away from the anchorman's role on his terms had been in the works for a long time, he said.
"You don't walk away from total employment in a month or two," Suppelsa said. "You plan this stuff out, and that's what we've been doing."
His exit is pegged to the expiration of his contract Jan. 1 and should be just ahead of the sale of WGN's owner, Tribune Media, to Sinclair Broadcast Group. The proposed $3.9 billion deal, which is pending approval from federal regulators, has generated pushback over Sinclair's right-leaning editorial views, as well as concerns about media concentration.
Suppelsa said his retirement is not related to Sinclair's pending acquisition.
"Sinclair has nothing to do with it, and if I had two or three years left on a contract, I was going to fulfill it," he said.
A Milwaukee native, Suppelsa grew up in suburban Chicago and graduated from Marquette University. After working at TV stations in Green Bay and Minneapolis, he made his way in 1993 to WMAQ-Ch. 5 in Chicago, where he began his long run as one of the top TV news anchors in the market.
Suppelsa left the NBC-owned station in 2003 to anchor the 9 p.m. news at Fox-owned WFLD-Ch. 32. In 2008, he joined WGN, where he co-anchors the 5, 6, 9 and 10 p.m. newscasts.
"I was one of those guys who just tried to put my head down and do as good a job of TV journalism as I possibly could," Suppelsa said.
The results of his efforts garnered respect from his peers, a track record of high ratings and rapport with his viewers.
"So much of WGN's success can be attributed to the connection he's had with our audience and our team," Jennifer Lyons, WGN's news director, said Thursday in an email to staffers.
Suppelsa took a month off the air in 2012 to enter an alcohol recovery program at Minnesota's Hazelden addiction treatment center, which he disclosed in a letter to colleagues that was also posted on the WGN website.
Now 5 1/2 years sober, Suppelsa said he is feeling better than ever, and he credits the recovery experience with helping him plot a course toward retirement.
"It certainly has cleared the mind, cleared the eyes, so I could figuratively and literally see forward in a better way," he said.
Suppelsa is the latest prominent Chicago TV news anchor to step down in recent years, following WLS-Ch. 7's Linda Yu and Ron Magers and others into retirement.
Throughout his career, Suppelsa said he advanced through "fortune, luck and hard work," leaving each station on his own terms. The decision to exit the business, he said, is no different.
With both of their kids grown and launching their own careers, he and his wife, Candus, are planning to sell their Evanston home and move to their longtime vacation home in Bigfork, Mont., a remote hamlet near Glacier National Park in the northwest corner of the state.
After Suppelsa's more than three decades of the daily news grind, his ambitions do not extend beyond hiking, kayaking, traveling and perhaps taking trumpet lessons.
"I really do not plan on working again," he said. "I really plan to just unplug and decompress and then kind of figure it out as we go along."
While local TV news has been challenged by a splintered audience and digital competition, Supplesa said he believes journalism "done right and done well" will survive.
For his WGN colleagues and viewers facing an uncertain future under new ownership, Suppelsa draws from both his long-tenured news experience and his more recent recovery program for advice.
"Take it a day at a time," Suppelsa said. "It's a credo I've been living by for the last 5 1/2 years."