KUAT ‘Grandfather’ Helps Protégées Broadcast ArtPosted on: May 5, 2011
There would be plenty of backslapping, handshaking and bear hugging if Fran Sherlock walked into a local commercial television station and many public stations across the nation. These stations all have staff members who started with Arizona Public Media/KUAT and worked with Sherlock.
The “grandfather” of KUAT, Sherlock in 1968 took a summer job wiring the first color television transmitter for KUAT on Mount Bigelow. A native Tucsonan, Sherlock was just out of the U.S. Navy, where he specialized in electronics. The station had just moved into the Modern Languages Building and was using a transmitter behind Herring Hall.
The equipment was big and bulky, and Sherlock’s understanding of electronics helped him land a student job at the station. After receiving his degree in Speech Communications — there was no Radio-TV major at the time — from the University of Arizona in 1972, he continued along path that in 42 years has taken him through almost every production position at KUAT, working with hundreds of students.
He directed coverage of football games, city council meetings and a variety of public affairs shows. He was executive director for 16 years of the award-winning “The Desert Speaks,” which presents stories of the people, plants, animals, geology and archaeology of the Americas’ arid regions. He’s been on the air, too.
An Emmy Award, for “The Desert Speaks,” he acknowledges humbly, is tucked on a bookcase shelf in an office strewn books, papers and electronic gizmos, including a 10,000-watt incandescent light bulb.
He’s eager to talk about the students who have passed through the studios and to show off his favorite mementos: several framed mounting boards crowded with overlapping, fading and color-shifted snapshots of his protégées. He can point out students and tell you their names and where they are today.
“I was able to build successful teams,” said Sherlock, who found great satisfaction when others received awards and landed a job. “I enjoy seeing a student or a producer really blossom.”
“I respect artistic skills,” said Sherlock. He considered the people he worked with, such as editors and photographs, as artists. When ideas and products were discussed and critiqued, Sherlock encouraged viewing the work as art.
He likes to tell people stories, and said he appreciates that the experiences with “The Desert Speaks,” such as visiting the Galápagos Islands and Argentina, which allowed him the privilege of seeing how others manage to live in our deserts.
As director of production services, Sherlock now has the overarching responsibility for television production for Arizona Public Media’s five broadcast streams — six including online. He’s on call 24/7 and could easily get a 3 a.m. call saying that CNN needs to get into the studio by 6 a.m.
Tools and technology have seen the most change in Sherlock’s 42 years in broadcasting.
“Tools are smaller, easier to use and cheaper,” said Sherlock. At one point, only a television station could afford a videotape editor — now there’s one on almost every laptop.
While the once-expensive tools are accessible and easy to use, “the challenge is to have skills to create a product that is art.”
Sherlock said he and his wife of 40 years are family-oriented and active in social service programs such as Habitat for Humanity, Casa Maria, and the youth group at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church, where Sherlock is a deacon.
“I enjoy helping people communicate their stories,” Sherlock said, “and whatever I can do to help.”