The son sets: Rafer Weigel leaving ABC 7

Rafer Weigel

Rafer Weigel

The handwriting was on the locker room wall.

Rafer Weigel, who once seemed destined to inherit his late father’s legacy as one of Chicago’s top sportscasters, is leaving town after little more than three years at ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7.

He’s accepted a job as news anchor at KTVI-TV, the Fox affiliate in St. Louis, owned by Tribune Broadcasting. His last day on air at ABC 7 will be October 5.

Calling it “a new exciting direction for my career,” Weigel tweeted: “It’s been a privilege and an honor to follow in my dad’s footsteps and cover the teams I grew up with. This takes my career to another level.”

“Rafer has done a terrific job for us as weekend sports anchor, and I know you will all join me in wishing him the best as he makes this transition back to news,” Jennifer Graves, vice president and news director of ABC 7, told staffers in a memo Tuesday.

Despite the spin by his bosses, their willingness to let him out of his contract — and his move from the No. 3 market to No. 21 — suggest a once-rising star was no longer ascending.

Tim and Rafer Weigel

Tim and Rafer Weigel

Weigel, 45, joined ABC 7 with expectations of someday stepping into the top sports job held by the legendary Tim Weigel, who died of a brain tumor in 2001 at age 56. “His father is an important part of ABC 7′s sports legacy and we are thrilled that another Weigel will again be working the sports beat at our station,” Graves said of his hiring in March 2011.

Inspired by his father, the younger Weigel had given up a modest acting career and turned to journalism, first covering sports for the Sun-Times and hosting a weekly radio show on the former WCKG FM. He shifted to television news reporting at independent KUSI-TV in San Diego and CBS-owned KOVR-TV in Sacramento before joining HLN’s “Morning Express with Robin Meade” as sports anchor.

But the third-generation Chicago broadcasting scion apparently did little to endear himself to colleagues or the teams he covered for ABC 7. Talk of him as eventual successor to No. 1 sports anchor Mark Giangreco ended precipitously. (And the station’s No. 2 sports anchor, Jim Rose, a 32-year veteran of the station, wasn’t leaving any time soon either.)

ABC 7 insiders declined to speculate on replacements for Weigel, who anchored sports on weekends and reported during the week. But the vacancy again raises the possibility of the station adding the first female to its sports staff.