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  • Sincerely, Southern

Let me be Frank: How WJCL's 'The Big Guy" came to be

By Eden Hodges, Multimedia Reporter

A little Frank sat in front of his television screen, anxiously awaiting the day’s forecast to see if his little league game had been rained out. Seeing his eyes glued to the screen each season, his parents thought he’d become the weatherman someday. He thought he’d grow up to be the sports guy, but he became something larger. He’s ‘The Big Guy’.

Frank Sulkowski, or ‘Big Frank’ as he’s known around the area, has been with WJCL 22 News in Savannah for 16 years, getting his start covering local sports big and small. If you’ve been to any tiny town’s soccer tournament or football game, you might’ve seen him there.

“I’m a South Georgia guy,” said Sulkowski. “I've only worked in Georgia my entire career, so I mean, I did that specifically.”

Originally from Tifton, this area felt like home to Sulkowski. When his football career at East Tennessee University didn’t pan out, Georgia Southern seemed like the perfect place to go. He took his first television class in freshman year, and he was hooked.

He got his first job at a brand-new news station in Statesboro called Northland Cable News, his first challenge in the business.

“You quickly learn when you're covering a smaller area… that saying that everybody has a story, well that's true,” said Sulkowski. “Especially when you're covering one place, and you need to go out there and find everybody's story.”

Cable 3

Northland Cable News 3 was started by a Statesboro journalist, Dewayne Grice, who noticed Bulloch County was being overlooked in most local coverage. Grice said you had to be special to survive in that environment.

“We really had some smart, bright kids like Frank that worked for nothing,” said Grice. “They worked for pennies on the dollar just to have a byline or the experience to be on television.”

Sulkowski would put together two or three sports stories per day at Northland. Many of those stories he would have to scout out himself in the tiny, young town of Statesboro, which was not easy, he said.

“That's why I think moving forward everything else has been easy in this career,” said Sulkowski.

Josh Aubrey, now a sports reporter with the Statesboro Herald, worked closely with Frank as sports director of Northland Cable News. Grice credited Aubrey with recruiting Sulkowski out of school, and they’ve worked together almost ever since.

“He was real quick to catch on,” said Aubrey. “He wanted to learn how to shoot sports the right way. Which it’s kind of funny now when I watch him and see how good he’s gotten. I remember when he was first being on air and still trying to learn things.”

Being Frank

On air, Sulkowski moved a little stiffly back then, and it wasn’t until after Sulkowski left Statesboro to perfect his craft at WPGA and WFXA in Macon and Albany, when he started to let that Big Guy personality show, Aubrey said.

“He sent me some stuff from when he was down in Albany and I was like, wow, Frank has gotten really good,” said Aubrey. “I kind of started seeing the Frank that we saw around the office, cutting up, you know, funny, good personality.”

Both Aubrey and Grice said one of the best things about Sulkowski is that he is so frank - or Frank, because he’s the same person on and off screen. He said this was something he’s heard before.

“I think that's the biggest compliment somebody can give you is that they can see that you're genuine and you are who you are,” said Sulkowski. “When you go on television and that light comes on, you don't need to change… They want a friend, they want to be able to trust you, and the way you do that is just be true to yourself.”

As a close friend, Aubrey was excited when Sulkowski got the job in Savannah at WJCL. In 2006 he took over as sports director, where he’s stayed ever since.

“People say, you know, ‘Where’s your dream market? Was it at ESPN, was it in New York City was it in Los Angeles?’ No,” said Sulkowski. “Mine was always working in Southeast Georgia and coming to the Savannah market.”

He added that if you stay somewhere long enough people really start to trust you like you’re their neighbor.

“One of the cool things about Frank is that he’s remained very humble,” said Grice. “He’s had a lot of success in the business, but Frank is still Frank. He’s very approachable, he’s very humble, and he’s stayed very grounded.”

Savannah Legacy

Before Sulkowski’s arrival in Savannah, WTOC had a stranglehold on the sports market, Aubrey said, but he really made a name for himself covering all sports with the same energy, even the ones that usually get overlooked.

“I think it was his dedication and the fact that he would go to everything,” said Aubrey. “Whether people considered it a big game or a small game, he was there… I think he really became where people turn to for sports.”

Track meets, girls’ soccer games, you name it, The Big Guy would make an appearance, microphone and camera in hand.

“This is about the moms and dads, the aunts, the uncles, the kids that are coming through the high schools and elementary schools that call that community home,” said Sulkowski. “We have a chance to make their lives better and share their stories, and if they need help, that's what we're here for.”

Sulkowski prided himself on his adaptability when just two years into his job as sports director, people depended on journalists after the sugar refinery explosion in Port Wentworth killed 14 people and put a dark cloud over Savannah.

“I thought I was just a sports guy, but it turns into more than that,” said Sulkowski. “You become a voice for your community, and you get that important information out, updating folks on serious things.”

It's More Than Just the Game

Nowadays, Savannah sees a lot more of The Big Guy, waking up with him as a weekday morning anchor. His new schedule is pretty much opposite of what a sports guy would be used to, Aubrey said.

“We were making a joke when he first took over that a lot of times when we would go to bed is now when he’s getting up,” said Aubrey. “Three or four in the morning he’s getting up.”

With his platform, Sulkowski said he tries to do whatever he can to change people’s lives, whether that means sharing people’s stories or promoting fundraisers and events like the Special Olympics.

“Thing is, when you get to be on television and you're a reporter and people are tuning in, you have the opportunity to help a lot more folks,” said Sulkowski. “Whatever we can do to help get the word out and make our community better.”

Although he’s taken a step back from sports, he still rides or flies with the GSU Eagles to cover their football games.

“I always tell him, you can’t keep it up flying, you’re gonna get tired, you’re gonna wear yourself out,” said Aubrey. “But he’s been able to keep it going pretty well, and you know, Savannah is awfully lucky to have him.”

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