Rockford residents might recognize him as the friendly face that greets them every morning on WIFR-23. What they might also recognize is the deep passion that’s kept him here for four decades.
When Andy Gannon showed up for his first day at WIFR-23, the Brown Deer, Wis., native had no idea he was embarking on a 40-year run as one of Rockford’s most recognizable news anchors.
“I spent that summer cheering on the ’82 Brewers as they made their run to the World Series,” he says. “When it was over, I thought, ‘I should get a job.’”
By February, the University of Wisconsin graduate applied for and got that job. It was the only one he’d ever have.
He started out as a general assignment reporter, taking on the role of sports anchor on the weekends. It was a time when the newsroom clattered with the sound of typewriters, and everyone had to maneuver around bulky cameras and giant monitors that didn’t mount on the wall like the flatscreen TVs used today.
“We would type out our news stories on mimeograph paper,” he recalls. “Five pieces of carbon paper between each page for the producer, director, anchors and teleprompter. It was a different time, that’s for sure.”
There have been other changes, too. This was the era when news trucks would converge on the scene, stretching satellite-mounted antennae to beam signals through the sky. That’s a far cry from today, where virtually everyone carries a phone in their pocket that can livestream even the most mundane activities to people around the world.
What hasn’t changed is the professionalism that is expected, and appreciated, by Gannon’s viewers.
“You should have a working knowledge of the community that you’re in,” he says. “You should have a commitment to that community as long as you’re there. That’s something that I hope never changes.”
As a sports anchor in the mid-’80s, Gannon was responsible for delivering scores and highlights to all of the football and baseball fans in the region. It was a task he took seriously, even though it meant covering teams he grew up cheering against.
“At that time, it was all about the Bears,” he laughs. “As a Packers fan, it could be difficult. My Packers didn’t start getting good until the early ’90s. Unlike the Bears, they were still in hibernation.”
Even during those dark days of the Chicago Bears’ domination, Gannon managed to find a silver lining.
“Those teams had so many personalities,” he says. We’d go to their training camp in Platteville, Wis., and everyone from the coach to the kicker was a colorful character.”
On the local front, Gannon has fond memories of covering Belvidere High School football when Vern Pottinger coached the Bucs to back-to-back state championships. He was also there when Mike Miller took the Guilford Vikings basketball team to the state finals. There were even times when he jumped into the action.
“We created a few contests where I’d sub in for a local soccer or softball team,” he says. “We had some fun with it, back then.”
Sports is still a big part of Gannon’s life. An avid golfer, he still does play-by-play for the Hononegah High School football and basketball teams, in Rockton, Ill.
“I’ve been doing the play-by-play in Rockton for about 20 years now,” he says. “It’s been a lot of fun and it helps quench my sports appetite.”
In 1994, Gannon was tapped to co-anchor 23 News This Morning, and he’s been there ever since. While the early hours were an adjustment, it was a responsibility he felt ready, and happy, to take on.
“You’re delivering the news, so it’s important that you do your job and do it well,” he says. “But the morning format does give you some opportunities to be a bit lighter and have a bit more fun. I think we got pretty good at finding that balance as the years went on.”
Gannon and his team really found their stride when his longtime on-air partner, Aaron Wilson, came aboard in 1998.
“Aaron really helped bring the creativity to the show,” says Gannon. “We’ve been together for 25 years now, and we’ve seen and done a lot together.”
One of the things they’ve seen is some very early mornings. And they only got earlier when Gannon started producing. His workday typically starts at 2:30 a.m.
“It’s not as bad as it used to be,” he laughs. “It can be rough in the summer when the sun’s still shining and I’m going to bed. But I knew the sacrifices when I took the job, and there are very few 9-to-5 jobs in journalism.”
Another responsibility that comes with the job is being a local celebrity. As one of the most recognizable faces, and voices, in the region, Gannon has shaken more than a few hands and posed for many photos.
“It’s gratifying,” he says. “I appreciate being recognized because that means people are watching.”
That celebrity also comes in handy when it comes to covering near-and-dear charitable causes. He was a longtime supporter of the Rockford Chariots Wheelchair Athletic Association and has worked on a variety of fundraising efforts for the Special Olympics. He also does work for his church, Aldersgate United Methodist Church, as the lay treasurer and communications director.
He also helps coordinate the church’s annual corn boil and lays down the bass in the choir.“I enjoy giving back,” he says. “I’d love to do more, but my work hours are a bit unusual.”
Another perk to local celebrity is that sometimes you get a day named after you. This past January, Mayor Tom McNamara officially declared Feb. 20, 2023, to be Andy Gannon Day.
“It was a wonderful gesture,” he says. “I asked the mayor if I could run red lights that day, but he said that wasn’t allowed.”
While he was chuffed to receive the honor, as well as other proclamations from Loves Park, Freeport, Winnebago County and State Senator Dave Syverson, Gannon recognizes that not everyone who deserves a day receives one.
“I know at least two handfuls of people who have stayed for 40 years in their jobs, too,” he says. “I’d rather shine a light on the folks who have put in that many years in the factories and industries that have put Rockford on the map.”
When asked if he’s got another 40 years in the tank, Gannon just laughs.
“I haven’t committed to a retirement date yet but I have a few in mind,” he says. “At this point, I’m just going to keep getting up early and see how it goes.”
For anyone who is just starting out in broadcast journalism, Gannon preaches patience and knowledge of the community.
“You really have to know about the issues your community faces,” he says. “And, back before smartphones, it helped to know the geography, too. You never know where a story is going to break, and you have to get there fast.”
As he looks back at a long and successful career, Gannon is grateful for the opportunities that came his way and the people who made it all possible.
“If people didn’t watch me, I wouldn’t be here,” he says. “I owe it all to the viewers who continue to tune in.”