WFLA-AM Tampa reports Captain Mel Berman, who knew both Tampa Bay’s fishing spots and Tampa Bay radio like the back of his hand and made thousands of friends in each setting, has passed away at the age of 81 from complications after heart surgery. He started 970-WFLA’s fishing show, originally called “Tampa Bay Outdoors”, in 1984 and hosted it for more than a quarter-century. While other broadcasters such as “Salty Sol” Fleischman had broadcast fishing reports for years on radio and television, Captain Mel developed the Bay area’s first successful marriage of fishing information and the call-in talk radio format.
Berman was born in Philadelphia and began his broadcasting career in 1952. He was one of the “good guys” at New York top-40 station WMCA and managed WJAS radio in Pittsburgh. Berman arrived in the Tampa Bay area in 1970 as program director of WINQ, a daytime-only station and the first in this area with an all-talk format. After that station changed formats in 1971, he became an afternoon host at WDAE, then on 1250 AM.
Radio’s ups and downs motivated Berman to devote a lot of time to fishing. He became an expert angler and a successful charter captain, getting his Coast Guard license in 1980 and running offshore fishing charters for eight years.
Berman prided himself on attracting an audience beyond those interested in which fish were biting where. Captain Mel referred to his show as a “Town Meeting of Fishing” and took sometimes controversial stands on conservation and environmental issues. Gary Poyssick, who co-authored a fishing book with Berman, said the most important thing he learned from Captain Mel was “the value of our environment and how important it was that we protect it.”
Longtime 970-WFLA host Tedd Webb met Captain Mel at WDAE in the early 70’s and brought him in as a guest on his sports-talk show, “The Sports Huddle”, which led to a full-time slot. “We’d go fishing all the time, out at the Middle Grounds (of the Gulf of Mexico). I used to call him the Master of the Middle Grounds.”
Webb says Captain Mel was “at peace on the high seas” and marveled at his ability to find grouper. According to Webb, “grouper followed him wherever he went. He could go up the Hillsborough River and find grouper!” (Grouper is a saltwater species.)
“As far as a broadcaster is concerned, (he’s) second to none. This guy was a pioneer, a great guy and a man who loved what he was doing. We’re going to miss him. We lost a giant.”
970-WFLA PD R.C. Bauer says he’ll remember Mel for his love of life, love for radio, and love for fishing. “On-the-air, Captain Mel was a consummate professional. He was kind and thoughtful and loved to tell me stories about his radio experiences.” Bauer says Captain Mel introduced him to fishing. “I fell in love with the hobby, in large part due to him.”
For a time Berman hosted a Sunday morning version of his show on 620 WDAE and also contributed to newspaper and TV coverage of recreational fishing.