Fran: A story told through archival material

Posted August 24


We don’t often do historical documentaries in the WRAL Documentary unit. In fact we’ve only done four since the unit was established in 2004 and three of them have been about hurricanes, Fran, Floyd and Hazel. One of the challenges in doing historical documentaries is locating archival video, film and photos to help tell the story visually. That was a big challenge with Hazel. It hit our state in 1954, two years before WRAL-TV signed on the air, so there was no internal archive of file news footage to pull from. Instead we searched externally at libraries, state and university archives and museums. We also called on viewers to send us any photos or home movies they had of the storm and its aftermath and we actually received a lot of great material from them.

Finding archival footage of Floyd was far easier since that storm hit in 1999, 45 years after Hazel. But while our own vault contained lots of file news footage there were no “air checks”, which is the name given to the recordings of actual live newscasts. Those recordings include anchors live in the studio, reporters’ stories and their live shots in the field. Air checks are rarely saved more than a week, but during Fran some WRAL employee must have recognized the historical significance of the event and saved the air checks of the newscasts that occurred on September 5, 1996, the live reports that occurred during the storm overnight and the newscasts that occurred during the two days that followed. Photographer Jay Jennings found it all in our archive and we were both delighted to have so much great material to work with. He even found one of his old field tapes and was able to send it off to a company that salvaged the footage and had it digitized.

Our documentary “Fran” is told mostly through that archival material with remembrances from some people who experienced the storm in Raleigh and at the coast. You also hear from our Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel and some of our own anchors and reporters who covered Fran. I experienced the storm while living in Cary. Spending days logging that old news footage really took me back to those days in September 1996. I hope watching “Fran” takes viewers back to the experience too and gives those who did not experience the storm a feel for what it was like. No other hurricane since Hazel, taught us how important it is to be prepared, even 140 miles inland.


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