CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Longtime News 2 Today anchor Brad Franko wrapped up a twenty-year career in television news Friday morning.
“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Franko said.
Over the past two decades, Franko has been recognized for his professionalism and investigative reporting and is the recipient of several awards from the South Carolina Broadcasters Association and the Charleston City Paper.
Upon hearing of his retirement, WCBD News Director Tonya Estes said Franko is “irreplaceable” and will be greatly missed in the newsroom.
“He is one of one best journalist I have ever worked with,” she shared. “People trust him and know he’s going to get it right so that’s the kind of reputation that he’s established in this community.”
A start in sports
Since 2004, Franko has been waking up with the Lowcountry as the co-anchor for News 2 Today, but some may remember he got his start in sports broadcasting.
Franko joined the News 2 team in 2001 when he was 22 years old. As a student at Baldwin Wallace University, Franko had worked at the school’s radio station and for the ABC4 in Cleveland.
When he graduated, he said the sports director looked at him and asked what was next.
“I don’t know, I’m working here,” Franko told him. “And he said ‘Nah dude you gotta go’.”
Franko recalls he pulled up journalismjobs.com and saw an opening for a weekend sports anchor in Charleston, S.C., so he decided to apply.
The sports director called him and asked for a meeting. That sports director was Brendan Clark.
“I watched his tape and thought this guy has potential, let’s talk to him,” Clark said. “His voice is what caught me off the top. He’s got great pipes.”
So Franko flew down, but he almost didn’t go through with the interview.
“When I pulled in, I almost turned around,” he recalled, adding that the bare-bones building reminded him of an old Nintendo video game.
But he did go in, and as Clark recalls, stretched the truth a little bit during his interview.
“He did lie to me,” Clark laughed. “I asked him if he knew how to shoot and all of that and he said ‘oh yeah’ and he totally lied to me.”
But nevertheless, Franko was hired and started as a weekend sports anchor on August 3, 2001. Clark wasted no time throwing Franko into the thick of it.
“He left me as soon as I got here,” Franko laughed. “He dropped the keys and went on a vacation.”
Clark admits that’s true.
“He kind of hated me because he came in and I said ‘train up quick. You lied to me, you better train because I’m taking a vacation,” he joked.
Joking aside, both look back on their early days working together fondly.
“It made my job easier because coming into that office was so fun,” Clark said. “I almost didn’t want him to go out on stories sometimes so we could sit in there and talk all day and just laugh.”
“I was learning on the fly, really, learning how to do this but I had awesome people to support me and make sure I was doing the right thing,” Franko said.
Transitioning to news
Franko never planned on leaving the world of sports reporting.
“If you told me I was going to be a newscaster when I first got here, I would have laughed at you,” he said. “I was expecting I’d be here for a couple of years and go on to ESPN, but the Lowcountry gets its hooks in you, and it’s hard to go.”
But then an opening came up in the news department– a morning anchor spot. At the time, the morning show only had one anchor.
So how did Franko end up as the anchor for News 2 Today? According to Franko, he was just having a casual conversation with the news director at the time and said “hey, why don’t I come anchor your morning show.”
“Just that one side comment and laugh we had turned into ‘are you serious,’” Franko remembers and with that, he became the sole anchor in June 2004.
Looking back on the transition, Franko said he was thankful for his time as a sports reporter because he learned to tell stories and now he would just be telling stories of a different kind.
“That part of it wasn’t hard,” he laughed. “Waking up at 2:30 in the morning is hard.”
And since then, Franko said it has been an honor to wake up with the Lowcountry.
“They let you in their house at the most personal time of day,” he said. “Viewers count on you to be there and that’s an obligation I don’t take lightly.”
The greatest moments
When asked, Franko can easily tell you which stories over the years were his favorite to cover.
“Any time I can throw a format out the window, sign me up!” he said.
Franko said he loved doing storm coverage, because although storms and what damage they can cause “sucks,” he felt he was in his element.
“It takes me back to that sports play by play where you’re in watch and describe mode,” he explained. “That’s the adrenaline, that’s the rush.”
But, no experience sticks out more than getting to fly with the Blue Angels in 2005.
“That’s probably the highlight of it all,” he said.
The Blue Angels were in town for an air expo and the news director at the time asked Franko: ‘Do you want to fly with the Blue Angels?’
“What kind of question is that? Of course,” Franko answered.
Franko said he would not even ride rollercoasters, but that “if someone’s going to give you a fighter jet and a tank of gas, you take it.”
“I may have thrown up two or three times but I kept telling the pilot to keep going … I don’t care what I say but don’t turn around, keep going,” he laughed.
The hardest stories to tell
But just easily as Franko can tell which stories he loved to cover, he can tell you which ones were the most difficult.
The Charleston Sofa Super Store fire is one of those moments. On the evening of June 18, 2007, Franko was woken up by a call from a friend who was a firefighter that said, “Franko, nine guys are missing.”
“I’m like what are you talking about,” Franko recalls. “Guys are missing? What do you mean guys are missing?”
The fire, which is believed to have started on the loading dock, would claim the lives of nine Charleston firefighters and be remembered as the deadliest firefighter disaster since Sept. 11.
To this day, Franko gets choked up talking about it.
He said he arrived on the scene around 10 a.m. the next day as they were just starting to confirm the line of duty deaths. He stood in front of the still-smoking building on Savannah Hwy with the fire chief and firefighters from across the county and watched as they carried out flag-draped stretchers.
At the time, the number of deaths was still unknown.
“Nobody had confirmed a number and I sat there and counted ‘there’s two, seven, eight, nine,” he recalled.
Franko had a special connection to those firefighters. His dad is one, his brother is one, and so is his uncle. He never forgot the kindness they had extended to him when he first moved down to Charleston.
Chief Meteorologist Rob Fowler remembers how impactful Franko’s coverage of the fire was.
“He was amazing,” Fowler said. “He was able to present that story, which was such a crazy story, in such a respectful way that I’ll never forget.”
Even today, Franko said, “the feeling around here for weeks, months was something you never really forget.”
Fast forward eight years and another tragedy would strike on June 17, 2015. This time, a gunman opened fire on bible study at Mother Emanuel AME church in Downtown Charleston. Again, nine lives were lost.
Franko remembers a producer called him in the middle of the night and said “there’s a shooting at the church. Senator Pinckney is dead.”
Franko couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He thought to himself “Nine again?”
He can still recall exactly what it was like standing on the corner of Calhoun and Meeting St. that day.
“It was so hot that day,” he remembers. “You’re standing not far from this church and trying to get your head around what just happened there.”
The gunman, Dylann Roof, was arrested the next morning.
“It was awful reporting all morning long and then just that sense of relief when you get that notice that says ‘they got him’,” Franko said.
It is still difficult for Franko to talk about those moments to this day.
“Those two events were by far, obviously, the hardest things that I had to report on.”
The friendships along the way
Franko noted that he would not have had a successful career if not for the friends, colleagues, and mentors along the way.
“Just tremendous people who helped me learn how to do this,” he said.
For more than a decade, Octavia Mitchell has been by Franko’s side at the anchor desk and jokes that he is her “work husband.”
“It’s not going to be an easy transition,” she said. “I will miss, I will miss his news judgment, his professionalism, and I will miss that man’s sense of humor,” adding that he is a “top-notch impersonator.”
Meteorologist Josh Marthers is another one of those people who has been working alongside Franko for many years and admits it will be difficult not to see Franko around the newsroom.
“Every major life moment that he and I have had, we’ve had it together,” he said. “It’s going to be weird not seeing him here. He’s the newsman.”
Carolyn Murray said that seeing Franko leave is a big loss, but that the spirit of his news judgment and commitment to accuracy will be alive and well.
“He really drives us to be our very best so that will be greatly missed,” she said. “Brad flourished in news, we got to see his personality, he raised the standard on the anchor desk, and it was a lot of fun.”
Franko said he is thankful for all the people he has met along the way.
“I generated some amazing friendships here that will last a lifetime.”
As for what’s next for Brad Franko…
“I’m done with news,” he said. “I’m going to be a dad, a coach, and figure it all out after that.”
Franko is the proud father of four boys: Lochlann, Declan, Callan, and Ronan, and said he looks forward to spending more time with them and his wife, Carrie.
“It’s not because I don’t want to do this anymore, it’s because the family stuff is more important,” he explained.
He is excited to get into a normal sleep schedule and coach his sons’ sports teams.
“My dad coached every team, so I have to,” he laughed. “It’s my obligation.”
Reflecting on his career, Franko looks back on his time at News 2 with nothing but fondness and gratitude for the viewers who tuned in every morning.
“It’s just about half my life in this building. I want the people of the Lowcountry to know that I was trying to look out for them. For me, it’s about the story and the person, and no matter what I wanted to do right by the person whose story I was trying to tell. So long as they put that trust into me, I hope I lived up to it. Thank you for embracing me as a part of this community.”