Frank Deal, a very punny guy
Most of us dread the arrival of wintry weather, but Frank Deal always thrived on it. That’s because it gave him funny fodder for his cannonade of jokes, such as, “How sleet it is”, and “Be it ever so numble, there’s no place like Nome.” Here in the Triad, Frank’s lighthearted approach to weather was appointment television for nearly 30 years. He died last week at the age of 84.
I first met Frank in 1977. Back then, I was producing special programs and interviews for WFMY-TV, featuring stars like Bob Hope, Red Skelton and Vincent Price. One day I went into program manager Jack Markham’s office and asked if I could produce a latenight variety series to go on opposite NBC’s new “Saturday Night Live” show. Jack greenlit production of a pilot which we titled “Grab Bag.” The pilot included live music, movie reviews and comedy sketches such as a fake telethon hosted by Jim Wigglesworth. But the highlight of the program was a roundtable discussion I had with three TV weathermen: Glenn Scott from WXII; Jerry Merritt, then with WFMY; and Frank who was at WGHP.
“Grab Bag” never aired because WFMY considered it irreverent and too risquÃ© for local standards. Too bad, because with a little tweaking it could have still been on the air today. Spilled milk. Anyway, the weather roundtable was a scream by anyone’s standards, and Frank was a big reason why. I had known Glenn and Jerry for a number of years, but this was my first time working with Frank. Asked if it was his job as a weatherman to inform or perform, Frank responded, “This has the odor of a legitimate question. Certainly it’s both. You have to inform with weather, but after all, this is show biz and you do have to perform. I think even a newscast is, in a sense, a performance, but you are informing too.” I repeated the question for Glenn, who said, “I just try to kill a quick three minutes.” That answer put Frank on the floor laughing, proving that he was not only a great performer, but a great audience as well.
Not long after that pilot program was taped, I was asked by WFMY to do the 11 p.m. weather five nights a week. Following Frank’s example, I tried to be funny. Sometimes I succeeded, other times not. Anyway, a few months later noted author Jim Clark approached Frank, Glenn, and me about participating in a cover story that he was writing for Greensboro magazine which would focus on zany TV weather broadcasters. The interviews were conducted separately, but the three of us came together for the cover photo shoot. The photographer asked us to improvise a funny pose, so I grabbed an umbrella, Frank picked up a watering can, and Glenn placed a stepladder in the shot. Frank ascended the ladder and pretended to pour water on us, as if he was controlling the rain.
In real life, Frank might not have controlled the weather, but he knew it backwards and forwards. Unlike me, Deal was an honest to goodness meteorologist who knew exactly what he was talking about. He commented to Jim Clark, “Understanding the weather is important, so I try to communicate meteorological tidbits to viewers. Humor helps the information go down.” And what humor it was. Even back then, Frank boasted of having a notebook containing more than 4,000 weather-related jokes. To paraphrase Frank, he was “Our man in the Triad.” But he was so much more. Frank was a showman, a singer and a comedic actor, and he was also very serious about being funny. Yes, Frank Deal was a “hail” of a man, and he will be missed.
Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).