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When it was announced last Wednesday that Greg Fishel, chief meteorologist since 1989 at WRAL-TV Channel 5 in Raleigh, had resigned, it reminded me of what it felt like right after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.
People were on the phone, in restaurants, at grocery stores, gas stations and walking around almost in a stupor asking each other, “Did you hear about Greg?” “I wonder what happened.”
The news of his leaving hit like a ton of bricks in these parts, not so much because he’s gone but more about the reason why, which is something the station did not divulge.
While everyone seems to think they know, or at least want to know, the reason behind Fishel’s sudden departure, WRAL has not issued an explanation and chances are that will not be happening anytime soon, if at all.
Whatever the reason, if WRAL executives had wanted everyone to know, I think they would have already told us.
The station called it a “personnel matter.”
As might be expected ever since the announcement, rumors and gossip have been running rampant and likely will for a long time.
Several months ago, Greg and WRAL had announced he was taking a medical leave, which he did, although no details were ever explained about that either.
Greg may eventually explain everything, but personally I neither expect nor require it.
His official statement last Wednesday was enough for me.
It said: “I have been facing many personal challenges over the last year, and these issues have impacted my ability to work effectively and professionally. I take full responsibility for my actions and intend on meeting these challenges head-on. WRAL-TV has accepted my resignation.”
Being involved in the news business over the past couple of decades has allowed me the opportunity to cross paths with Greg Fishel on numerous occasions, and that includes being granted interviews with him.
Greg has always been in person just like he has appeared on the air to his viewers. He is kind, professional, extremely intelligent, fun to be around — a totally likeble package.
While Fishel is sometimes referred to as Mr. Fishel, most people, including those who have never met him, prefer to call him Greg, as in “Greg said last night it might snow today.”
Fishel, a native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and graduate of Penn State University, didn’t have it in mind when he moved to Raleigh in 1981, but he has become something of a cult hero with the kind of status normally accorded a rock star or famous athlete.
Greg Fishel is not a rock star, although he does occasionally play the tuba, as he did in his high school band days.
Nor was he ever a star athlete, although he does play golf, and is a devoted New York Mets fan.
Yet, he was still considered a hero of sorts to the countless viewers who have tuned in to watch him each evening.
Fishel has developed thousands of fans throughout the viewing area during his tenure who have depended on him daily to tell them if it’s going to rain, snow, be hot or cold, or if a hurricane or tornado is headed this way.
Regardless of what he said, even if he sometimes got it wrong, people have totally trusted his words not unlike how viewers felt about newscaster Walter Cronkite in the ’60s and ’70s.
While Greg has always appeared totally comfortable in front of the camera during his nightly forecast, he said it has not always been that way.
“When I was growing up, I was one of the biggest introverts you could ever imagine and only had a couple of friends,” said Fishel.
“That changed around 1989 when I was in the grocery store and someone spoke to me while looking directly at me. I decided from then on, any time I met someone, I’d look them square in the eye and speak to them first before they spoke to me.
“That day basically changed my life. I figured God was telling me, ‘If I can’t get you to come out of your shell any other way, I’ll put you in front of everyone on television.’ ”
Greg has said he has always followed the news philosophy of “content is more important than entertainment” although at times he doesn’t seem to totally ascribe to this with frequent firing off of puns and a great sense of humor being part of his on-screen personality.
According to Fishel, his love of puns is a carry-over from his early childhood “I was always known for having the worst jokes in grammar school,” he said.
Greg said probably the most memorable moment for him during his career at WRAL was being involved in the coverage of Hurricane Fran in 1996, although sitting in the fountain outside the studio after losing a bet about a snow prediction and the Greg Fishel weather masks that were passed out and worn by thousands at the state fair were high on the list.
Fishel explained how tough it can be to make totally accurate forecasts as weather conditions can change by the minute even with the Dual Doppler radar system at WRAL, which Greg said is “very advanced and the best one out there.”
“It frustrates me sometimes, and I would rather just be honest and say ‘I don’t know,’ ” said Fishel.
In fairness and out of respect for Greg, I would prefer not to speculate any further about what happened and furthermore will not be disappointed if I never find out.
Frankly, I feel Greg’s private life is nobody else’s damn business, although I do realize I’m probably in the minority.
Thanks, Greg. You will be sorely missed by many!
Keith Barnes, a Wilson storyteller and writer, is a reporter for the Johnstonian News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.