Thursday, December 4, 2008

Suiter stepping aside triggers old memories

Tom Suiter, the dean of eastern North Carolina sports guys (if Raleigh is considered eastern N.C. and it is for my purposes here), will step aside as WRAL-TV's lead sports anchor.

Suiter, a Rocky Mount native, will still host the station's Football Friday telecast highlighting high school football games across the eastern part of the state.

When I first got into this business in 2004, Tom Suiter's face was one of the first ones I saw when I walked off the elevator in the Kenan Stadium pressbox for the North Carolina-N.C. State football game. Seeing him made me realize how cool this job was going to be because Suiter has been THE voice of North Carolina sports for most of my life.

The WRAL release said he came to the station in 1971 which means he was doing sports on Channel 5 before I cared about sports. But back then Nick Pond was the lead sports anchor at WRAL, then Rich Brenner came along and was the top dog. But Suiter was always there and you knew when he got the seat for the 11 p.m. Saturday broadcast, it was like having a first-teamer out there. He was Frank Reich to Pond's and Brenner's Jim Kelly.

Suiter made Football Friday the big thing to watch. It was a must-see for me from middle school to college when I still had a big interest in high school football. I'll never forget him landing in that WRAL helicopter at Hunt when I was a senior to do a pregame piece for the Hunt-Fike battle that night when both teams were ranked in the state 4-A poll.

I was pretty much a WRAL sports guy back then. Oh, I would try to watch them all if I could juggle it. And when I say "all" I mean WTVD Channel 11, WNCT Channel 9 and WITN Channel 7. There was no ESPN in the 1970s. There was no cable TV for half the decade, at least in Wilson. You pretty much got four channels and WTVD was iffy at times.

I preferred WRAL because of the smooth delivery of Suiter, Brenner and Pond. But WTVD had Don Shea ("How do you spell sports? D-O-N-S-H-E-A") who could be a delight to watch as well. There was Dick Jones at WITN, who had the mellifluous tone of an emcee on a game show and reliable Jim Woods at WNCT, who as a friend has reminded me, used to use that old computer graphic to spit out his predictions for weekly college games.

But WITN and WNCT were less focused on Atlantic Coast Conference teams than they were East Carolina University, which is understandable. And while I liked Shea all right, I gravitated to WRAL more often. In time, it was Suiter whom I trusted to bring me the nightly sports news.

I doubt kids growing up today understand how important that job was back then. As an overly avid fan of ACC sports, I relied on television news and newspapers, including The Wilson Daily Times, for almost all of my information. I supplemented that by subscribing to The Poop Sheet and watching weekly coaches shows and listening to radio call-in shows (remember WPTF's Sportsline with Gary Dornberg? I was on that show several times. In fact, I brought up the subject of Georgia Tech joining the ACC and Gary spent at least five minutes talking about it after I hung up to listen with my 11-year-old ears!)

I don't really watch the evening news anymore since I'm usually working and I'm on the Internet so much, there's not much a TV broadcast can tell me that I don't already know. But I'll miss Suiter's face at ACC games and I wish him the best with all the thanks for enriching my life as a young sports fan.

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