Originally created 08/07/99

Cap'n Sandy still remembered



SAVANNAH -- Before remote control, cable and color there were only two Savannah stations forecasting the weather. But only one relied on the chemistry of such characters as a big, moody clam that hated to give up the tide information and a seagull whose wardrobe would cue the next day's forecast.

"It was back when TV was fun," said Bud Bradbury, who worked in the WSAV-TV studio from 1972-1981.

For more than 20 years, the station's nautical weathercast was led with the words "Ahoy, mateys" followed by the catchy theme song introducing the head of the crew himself, "Cap'n Sandy."

"He was an institution, like Walter Cronkite," Mr. Bradbury said. "A lot of people grew up with Cap'n Sandy. You just turned on the TV every night and there he was."

Like clockwork at 7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, The Weather With Cap'n Sandy would introduce the half-hour local news broadcast.

Dressed in a striped shirt and a windbreaker, Joe Cox put on his captain's hat and emerged as the unflappable Cap'n Sandy.

"I thought it was funny at first. Then, everyone seemed so enamored with me I had to like it," said Mr. Cox. "But I was very serious about weather. I just thought that maybe I would attract more viewers -- kids and all -- as Cap'n Sandy."

MR. COX, WHO PLAYED

the character the longest -- from 1965 until the early '80s -- took over the personality created in 1956 by the station's then-owner, Harben W. Daniel, and the man who played Cap'n Sandy first, the late Norm Strand.

With a black marker, Mr. Cox would draw the fronts and write the temperatures of cities around the nation from The Associated Press and weather wires.

And for the Savannah outlook, the costumed weather oracle would kindly defer to the characters he so often called "little guys" -- a clam, a seagull and a thermometer.

"I love Cap'n Sandy, and I love that clam," said Lisa Meddin, executive director of Savannah Tree Foundation. "I am 38, so you know it had quite an impact."

"I think it was the jingle. It was fun because it had the clam and the bird. It appealed to kids, and he was on forever," she said.

Terry Shaw, a retired Savannah teacher of 25 years, also watched Cap'n Sandy. He remembers the straightforward, this-is-the-way-things-are-going-to-be approach that Mr. Cox employed.

"Cap'n Sandy just reported the weather," Mr. Shaw said. "It was down-home, funny, and it made you feel like the weather may be bad but it may not be all that bad."

Mr. Cox broke into regular programming when severe weather threatened the area. In 1979, he even aired nationally for NBC over the telephone during Hurricane David, which came ashore just south of Savannah.

But it was the day-to-day persona he played and the animal characters he managed that attracted Savannah viewers, who made it their top choice one year.

"I couldn't believe the ratings. I had more people watching me than Raymond Burr on Ironside," Mr. Cox said. "So many people watched Ironside. That show was real popular all over the country and here, too. But in Savannah, it was No. 2."

"It was kind of zany, kind of unusual, different than your run-of-the-mill weather forecast," said Bill Lee, a WSAV crew worker in 1972 and 1973. "We were able to throw something else in there."

BEFORE FIVE-DAY FORECASTS,

there was "Wilbur the Weatherbird" and his stand-in Orville.

The crew would take turns dressing the stuffed animal, which hung down on strings from the studio ceiling like a marionette. Wilbur's outfit, and the card in his bill, would both predict the next day's weather.

"We always enjoyed doing the bird because it gave us a chance to be creative," said Cecil Daniel, who worked at WSAV from 1972-1988.

A coat and ear muffs for cold days. A slicker for rainy days. And on special occasions, the bird would be dressed in his own eveningwear.

"One New Year's Eve we had him in his tuxedo," said Mr. Lee, who was about 24 at the time. "And when I lowered him down on the strings, I had attached a lighted cigarette to his wing and a champagne glass to his other wing."

The seagull told the story. But Cap'n Sandy had to ad lib to the bird on his right that, incidentally, always glanced to its left.

"He was undoubtedly the coolest guy," Mr. Lee said. "You couldn't shake him. We tried, but he always had a comeback for everything we did."

Mr. Cox also talked to Arthurmometer, the thermometer. And he braved Davy Jones' locker, which housed the meanest mollusk of them all -- "Calamity Clam."

The clam, made of two painted salad bowls hinged together, kept tide changes inside. When Mr. Cox would try to get the cards the crewman would slam the clam down on his hand.

"The object was to draw blood," Mr. Daniel said, shrugging.

The character of Cap'n Sandy had faded into television history during the early 1980s, though Mr. Cox continued to do the weather, as himself.

Then, in 1985 -- after 20 years of service -- WSAV fired him for being "boring and predictable," Mr. Cox said at the time.

The public reaction was emotional. Hundreds of letters poured into the newspaper, belittling the station's management and praising Cap'n Sandy.

He was hired a month later by WJCL-TV, which became Savannah's third station in 1970, and the personality he played for so many years was brought back to life. But not for long.

After five years, Mr. Cox hung up his captain's hat for good.

"`I have been off the air since 1990, and people come up to me that I have never seen before to tell me they remember watching Cap'n Sandy," Mr. Cox said.