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Epilogue | Mel Berman

Capt. Mel Berman, voice of the Gulf Coast fishing scene, dies at 81

The Capt. Mel Berman Show aired every Saturday morning for 25 years. He died Friday at the age of 81.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

The Capt. Mel Berman Show aired every Saturday morning for 25 years. He died Friday at the age of 81.

To thousands of loyal anglers, he was Capt. Mel, the voice of the Gulf Coast fishing scene. For 25 years, every Saturday morning on WFLA-AM 970, the man with the golden voice talked about everything from trout to tides.

On Friday, after complications from heart surgery, Mel Berman died. He was 81.

"He was a man who told it like it was," said Dave Zalewski, a charter boat captain who fished with Mr. Berman for nearly 30 years. "He had the utmost respect for the environment, and to him, it was just about being on the water, it didn't matter if he caught anything."

Mr. Berman was a journeyman broadcaster long before he picked up a fishing rod. Over the course of his five-decade career, he worked as everything from an all-night disc jockey to a daytime talk-radio host.

The Tampa resident was born in Philadelphia, and after a brief stint in the Navy, he took a job as a beat reporter for Metromedia in New York City.

"One of my first assignments was to cover the United Nations," he told the St. Petersburg Times in an interview last year. "It was just an amazing time. … A lot happening on the world stage."

The young broadcaster interviewed John F. Kennedy before he was president; Adlai Stevenson, former ambassador to the United Nations; Jawaharlal Nehru, the longest serving prime minister of India; and Eleanor Roosevelt.

In the early days of rock 'n' roll, Mr. Berman spun discs in Kansas City and New York. "Back then, everybody was playing Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra," he recalled.

But Mr. Berman played it all, including Elvis and Chuck Berry. "It may seem funny now, but back then it was really pretty controversial," he said.

In 1969, Mr. Berman moved to Florida, bought a 25-foot fishing boat with an inboard diesel and headed offshore in search of grouper. He soon got his Coast Guard captain's license and started running fishing charters.

In 1985, he started a fishing show, with what he described as a "town hall" format. His goal was to give fishermen a voice. And that he did.

During the 1990s, when recreational anglers and commercial fishermen fought a heated battled over netting in inshore waters, Mr. Berman was a loud and vocal voice for conservation.

"I remember coming back from one fishing trip and halfway home the axle on my trailer collapsed," he recalled last year. "Somebody had sawed through it with a hacksaw."

St. Petersburg guide Doug Hemmer said Mr. Berman's reputation as a champion for the environment extended far beyond Tampa Bay.

"He was a real professional," Hemmer said. "He had style, technique, and nobody will ever forget that golden voice."

Mr. Berman stayed active until the end. His wife, Ginny, said he recently had successful heart valve replacement surgery, but had to go back in the hospital after suffering complications. He had a second operation Thursday night.

"He loved to fish, he loved to write, he loved to do his radio show," Ginny Berman said.

Her husband, she said, was also a deep thinker. "We didn't watch situation comedies. … It was always the talk shows," she said. "He was very progressive."

Mr. Berman is survived by his son, Ron, 48, and daughter, Debbie Arkin, 51. Ginny Berman said there are no immediate plans for a memorial service.

His ashes will be scattered at sea. "We think that will be appropriate," she said.

Capt. Mel Berman, voice of the Gulf Coast fishing scene, dies at 81 02/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 5, 2010 9:52pm]
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