Good News, "Southern Sportsman" Fans!
Posted May 14, 2007 11:14 a.m. EDT
Updated June 6, 2007 4:01 p.m. EDT
Thanks for the great response to my Friday blog post about "The Southern Sportsman." I'm glad we could unlock some great memories for you.
I've got some good news! We have permission to put clips of the show on WRAL.com. I'm going to bring in my tapes this week and get them on the Web site. Watch my blog here for the latest. I was watching some this weekend -- it's sublime television.
I just got off the phone with Franc White. A manager here at WRAL-TV had his phone number, so I gave him a call to get permission to put a clip of the show here on WRAL.com.
We had a great conversation. Franc spends the day writing. He's done articles recently for "American Hunter," "Sporting Classics," and he's got some articles out to "The Atlantic Monthly" and "Harper's."
Franc also just finished the first draft of a book about North Carolina's environment. If you remember the show, he had some great commentaries at the end of almost every episode -- usually about the environment and politics. (Remember his "Don't Re-Elect Anybody -- Not Even Your Mama" bumper stickers?) Well, Franc still has the fire about these issues -- from hog lagoons to the falling water table in the eastern part of the state. He says the cleanest place to fish in North Carolina is his septic tank, but the lid's stuck.
(By the way, he's still got the runway for his airplane -- said he'd probably have to mow it today -- but his health prevents him from flying these days.)
Franc was born in Alabama, and some of his recent writing has been about growing up during The Great Depression. He was a correspondent in Italy during World War II. He came back to the United States and worked at The Birmingham News. Franc then started in radio at WSOC in Charlotte. He moved to the TV side of WSOC and worked there as a reporter for 14 years before doing "The Southern Sportsman."
We talked about the history of "The Southern Sportsman." It started in March 1972 as "The Carolina Sportsman" on WITN-TV in Washington, NC. It expanded to 34 stations at the height of its syndication. He would come in and record two episodes every two weeks here at WRAL-TV, usually in the afternoon. In the last few years of the show, it was carried on cable and satellite sports networks in 17 states.
Despite sponsor's pleas for the show to go on, Franc retired 1,086 episodes later -- in August 1996 at age 70. For the next several years, he moved back and forth from his homes in Hokitika, New Zealand, and Hookerton. He's back in Hookerton, but loves New Zealand and said he would love to live there permanently. Franc said it's the most beautiful place on Earth, and he described the incredible fishing down there.
After he retired, the master tapes went in the airplane hangar, and they decayed. So, any shows you have in your private tape collection likely are the only surviving episodes.
On the phone this morning, he was the same Franc White you watched for years. Funny, opinionated and a first-class storyteller. I can't wait to read his book.
Also, he's not active on the Web, so I'm going to send him your comments from these blog posts.
Franc says he doesn't miss having to get up every morning to go fishing and record it for the show. But he misses going to some of the more exotic locales -- like New Zealand and Costa Rica.
"It's been a good run," he said.