SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- After 21 years as KCBS news radio morning anchor, Stan Bunger said goodbye on Friday.
"I get to say it one last time," he said into the microphone, as the digital studio clock flipped to the 10 o'clock hour. "I'm Stan Bunger. Thank you so much, Bay Area."
Why retire now?
"I fall back on sports cliches a lot," he smiled. "But there's great joy in being able to still throw the high hard one and hit the strike zone with it and walk off the field. That's what I feel like I'm doing."
His last broadcast, from 5:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. on Friday was a tribute and trip down memory lane.
Susan Leigh Taylor, Bunger's co-anchor for most of the past 21 years, made a surprise appearance at the microphone. Taylor retired last year.
Former KCBS broadcasters Mike Sugerman and his wife Janice Wright flew in from New York and were joined by the newly-retired KCBS sports anchor Steve Bitker in Studio A -- one floor below the KPIX studios on Battery Street in San Francisco.
Among the other guests Friday: former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown and KCBS analyst and Chronicle columnist Phil Matier.
Several guests called in, including Mayor London Breed who declared Friday "Stan Bunger Day."
Bunger, a San Francisco native, started his radio career at smaller California stations.
He first joined KCBS in 1982, took a break, then returned to anchor with Taylor in 2000.
Some of the major stories he's covered include the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the 1991 Oakland firestorms, the Oklahoma City bombing and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"In times of great fear and great need, what radio does well is its immediacy, the immediate, very personal relationship between the listeners' ears and the person at this end. Those are ones I'll never forget," Bunger said.
During the past 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bunger and then-producer (now news operations manager) Nic Palmer started "Ask an Expert," a series to answer questions that worried us all during quarantine, from wearing masks to coronavirus testing to travel.
Bunger anchored the last Ask an Expert segment this week and thanked listeners for their participation.
"Each of your questions has helped benefit me and many others as we've made our way through this together," he said.
He interviewed Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of UCSF Department of Medicine, several times for the segment.
Wachter called the anchor the Bay Area's modern-day Walter Cronkite.
"He's a treasure and an amazing resource," Wachter said. "And I think you find out who the important sources of information are at times like these and he clearly was a key one."
Palmer explained that's because Bunger is an excellent communicator who does his homework.
"He sets the bar for everybody. You just try to reach it as much as you can," said Palmer.
To anchor-reporter Holly Quan, Bunger is like a walking encyclopedia.
"If I have a question, I could look it up but it's easier for me to go ask Stan because he will probably know. If he doesn't, he'll probably look it up and explain it to me in a way that I'll understand. It's just like he does with the listeners," she said.
"Stan is the man. He is who I want to be -- still what I want to be -- when I grow up," Quan added.
Bunger exits with memories outside the studio -- playing guitar for the Eyewitness Blues Band with his broadcast colleagues and serving as pronouncer for the CBS Bay Area Spelling Bee.
On his last day, Bunger said he wouldn't take many things home with him since he didn't have a desk.
He'd take the espresso maker he bought to fuel pandemic mornings and his headphones, which he's been wearing for 30-plus years.
But he can't take his co-workers.
"They're nice people. I like them and I'm going to miss that," he said.
The 65-year-old retiree plans to bike, golf, take up new hobbies, enjoy time with his wife and family and stop fooling himself into rising before dawn."
I'm going to tell you a little secret, which is that it's so painful to wake up at 3:30 in the morning that -- for many years -- I've had my clock set on 'Stan' standard time, which is 37 minutes faster than Pacific time," he chuckled. "I've convinced myself it's 4 o'clock because it didn't seem as painful as waking up before 3:30."
Now, the time is his own.
As he signs off on one chapter, he begins another.
"I'm ready to get into it," Stan said.
Editor's note: In our TV story, Dr Robert Wachter was identified as Dr. Robert Waghter. We regret the error.
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