Jerry Turner, a 25-year veteran Baltimore television news reporter and anchorman whose popularity helped keep WJZ-TV on top of local ratings for years, died last night at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 58.

Turner, who had suffered from cancer of the esophagus since 1986, admitted himself to the hospital Sunday. He died about 7:15 p.m., a hospital spokeswoman said.

Turner's illness was first diagnosed in December 1986. He underwent a series of radiation and chemotherapy treatments and returned to the air in June 1987.

A native of Meridan, Miss., Turner started for WJZ-TV in 1962. He regularly anchored the 6 p.m. newscast until mid-December, about two weeks before reentering the hospital for the last time.

"It wasn't unusual for him to work a couple weeks and then take a week off," said Kristan Leaterman, spokeswoman for the television station. "Sometimes he would come in and write the newscasts without going on the air. He loved to write."

"Jerry exemplified the true professional in broadcast journalism, and rarely does someone capture, the way he did, the love, devotion and respect of a whole community," said Jonathon Klein, WJZ's vice president and general manager. "We have lost not only a valuable member of our news team, but a very dear personal friend."

Turner was honored during his career by several national organizations, including being named one of the Top Local TV News Anchormen in the country by Broadcasting Magazine.

In August 1987, the station threw an anniversary celebration for Turner in honor of his 25 years with WJZ.

"Perhaps the greatest honor one can receive is to have someone else listen," Turner said during the celebration. "If that is true, I have been given an honor far beyond my expectations. I am thankful for that."

Active in community affairs and organizations, Turner received the Humanitarian Award in 1979 from the Save-A-Heart Foundation and a City of Peace Award from Israel Bonds in 1985.

A park in Israel was named in Turner's honor by the Jewish National Fund and a street leading to WJZ-TV studios recently was renamed "Jerry Turner Way" by the city.

Turner is survived by his wife, Jean, and two sons. Funeral arrangements were not complete late yesterday.