Channel 13's sports department boasts two legendary names in Tampa Bay broadcasting....'Salty Sol' Fleischman and Andy Hardy. Fleischman reigned from 1957 through 1974, and appeared on the station weekly for years after his official retirement. Andy Hardy was an exceptional sports broadcaster with an encyclopedic mind and a sharp sense of humor. More about this dynamic duo later...first, meet WTVT's first Sports Director, Guy Bagli.
Guy Bagli, WTVT's first Sports Director
Guy Bagli started his broadcasting career at Tampa radio station WDAE. After serving in the Air Force during the Korean War, Bagli was hired at WALT radio as a sportscaster. He free-lanced on announcing local sports pickups for the ABC radio network.
Bagli joined WSUN-TV as sports director in 1953, and left for Channel 13 when it signed on in April of 1955. Bagli's lead guy on the sports team was Paul Reynolds, who split his time between WTVT and WTSP radio. Reynolds handled sports duties up until the time he left the station in 1968. (For more on Reynolds, see 'Shock Theatre').
Sports reporting included the usual national coverage of major league sports plus local college and high school athletics. Bagli was able take advantage of the fact that Florida is a winter training camp for the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox and interview nationally famous ball players. Florida's golf courses also attracted celebrity pros, and the University of Tampa football team (The Spartans) were always good for a story. Bagli's nightly closing on his sports segment was "Remember, whether you win or lose...be a good sport!"
A REALLY BIG FISH
WTVT's sports department got a big boost on April 15, 1957, with the arrival of 'Salty Sol' Fleischman, 'The Dean of Florida Sportcasters.' Sol had long been associated with WDAE radio as sports director and chief announcer (in fact, he first worked there at the age of 11, spinning records on a primitive turntable). Sol, who managed three or four fishing trips a week, also wrote a fishing column for the Tampa Daily Times newspaper. His association with fishing and salt water is where his nickname 'Salty Sol' originated. Larger than life and full of personality, Sol became sports director and a mainstay at WTVT for the next 20 years.
"Salty Sol" Fleischman and an early
Sol always appeared on TV wearing his signature boating cap. "I was already bald," explained Fleischman, "and the makeup man wanted me to powder my head because of the glare. I didn't want my head powdered. I suggested a cap."
Along with his cap and 1920's era microphone (proudly displayed next the real one he used), Sol brought his 'Best Bet' to television. 'Best Bet' was Sol's tips on where the best fishing would be found the next day. Another Sol special feature was "Where Am I?" Sol would show ambiguous 16mm footage of some sporting location or hunting spot, and viewers would have to mail in their guesses for a prize Zebco rod and reel. The segment was so popular sometimes 5,000 postcards would pour into the station. Later, the format was reversed when the staff selected the film and Sol would have guess the film's location. More often than not, he was right! A friend to mayors, governors, and presidents (he once took Truman fishing), Sol was also famous for being the local commercial spokesman for Budweiser beer. In the 60's, Sol's segment was preceded by a film of him riding a Budweiser coach pulled by a team of beautiful Clydesdales.
'Salty Sol' Fleischman (1974)
Sol wasn't the kind of fellow who liked to stick too closely to the script, and this gave his directors a dilemma...when to go to the film of an interview or "B" roll (silent film narrated live). To solve the problem, a foot switch was installed under Sol's desk. When Sol stepped on the switch, a bell would go off in the control room and the director would roll the film.
THE DYNAMIC DUO
Andy Hardy became sports director
One of the best things that Sol did for Channel 13 was to hire a young sportscaster named Andy Hardy. Andy had a background with a championship Army baseball team before joining the sports staff on October 20, 1962. With an encyclopedic mind for sports trivia, a devilish sense of humor, and a rapid fire delivery, Andy was the perfect match for "The Dean"....he and Sol were an unbeatable team. Under Fleischman and Hardy's watch, stories included the rising career of Pete Rose and Chris Everet, Stan Musial's exploits with the St. Petersburg Cardinals, 'Babe' Zaharis' golfing exhibitions, and the creation of a new football team, The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The most frequent sports guests to appear live on the program were wrestlers. Channel 13's mobile unit provided facilities for Gordon Solie's "Championship Wrestling from Florida" program, and Fleischman's segment was a regular open house for the over-the-top wrestling community. Andy Hardy was particularly well equipped for verbal sparring with the wrestlers, and especially with Gene Kinski, who would appear ready to boil over and thrash Hardy, the set, and anyone in the studio vicinity.
Along the way, Fleischman and Hardy were assisted by sports reporter Pete Johnson, and the station's first female sports reporter, Sherry Taylor. Ann Carlon joined the sports department later on, and WTVT announcer Bob Stone was also a regular sports anchor.
Channel 13 history was made on September 30, 1974, the day that 'Salty Sol' retired from WTVT. Accolades poured into the station during Sol's last 6pm sports segment. Local celebrities, state officials, family, and staffers who were off for the day arrived to witness the end of a broadcast era. It was the ONLY time Pulse news ran long and joined the CBS Evening News 15 minutes late.
Sol didn't retire cold turkey; he still taped five short appearances every week until 1981.
Andy Hardy became sports director upon Sol's retirement, butthe veteran sportscaster experienced many personal ups and downs culminating with his departure from the station due to failing health in the mid 1990s. Ironically, Hardy died in the late 1990's, and was outlived by Fleischman, a man twenty years his senior.
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Pete Johnson has kindly sent us some memorable stories from his days at Channel 13 sports.
CLICK HERE FOR PETE JOHNSON'S SPORTS MEMORIES
"Not long after I got back to WTVT in 1977 as GM, we bid for and won the rights to televise the Buc's pre-season football games the following year. It was a given that Andy Hardy would do the play-by-play announcing, but we didn't have an obvious choice for the analyst's spot. About two weeks before the first game, we still had not filled that position and were about to go with a sports guy at one of the local radio stations. Andy walked into my office and said, "How would you like to have Burt Reynolds work with me on the telecast?" My first reaction was that a very big joke was being pulled. Burt Reynolds was at the height of his fame at that time, making every female heart flutter whatever he did. Andy finally convinced me that he was an old friend of Reynolds when both attended Florida State University, that Burt was a football nut who really knew the game, and that he would be in Florida that weekend and would love to do the game with his old buddy Andy. My next thought was that even Mr. Gaylord didn't have enough money to pay the fee Burt Reynolds would want for something like this, but Andy assured me he would do it for for free ('for the hell of it' was what Andy actually said) and we could make a modest contribution to some charity if we wished.
Former Chief Photographer Jack Cosgrove tells this entertaining Andy Hardy Story:
"When Andy Hardy joined the station, he was given an old Bell and Howell and told to go shoot some film. There's a strap on the bottom so you know which way to hold the camera. Andy went out and when we processed his film, everything was shot upside-down."
For some personal memories of some of the above people, click here.