KUAT 'Grandfather' Retiring After Four Decades at UA

KUAT 'Grandfather' Retiring After Four Decades at UA

By University Relations Marketing
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Fran Sherlock
Fran Sherlock

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.

Known as the "grandfather" of KUAT, Sherlock will end his career at the UA when he retires at the end of this month.

His work on campus began in 1968, when he 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 from the UA in 1972 in speech communications – there was no radio-TV major at the time – he continued along a path that in nearly 42 years has taken him through almost every production position at KUAT, working with hundreds of students.

Sherlock 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 with 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 jobs. "I enjoy seeing a student or a producer really blossom."

"I respect artistic skills," he said. He considered the people he worked with, such as editors and photographers, 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 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 deserts.

As director of production services, Sherlock had the overarching responsibility for television production for Arizona Public Media's five broadcast streams – six including online. That's meant he was on call 24/7 and could easily get a 3 a.m. heads-up that CNN needed to get into the studio by 6 a.m.

Tools and technology have seen the most change in Sherlock's four decades in broadcasting.

"Tools are smaller, easier to use and cheaper," Sherlock said. 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 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."

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