Art Franklin has become one of Birmingham’s most-recognized figures due to his legendary tenure behind the news desk in our beloved city. As much as the CBS 42 anchorman is admired for his on-screen accomplishments, the beloved anchorman’s community involvement has always gone beyond the television. Years of working with Birmingham youth, highlighting area influencers, and investing his knowledge, finances, and time into a city as much as one human can hope to do turned into a blessing for Art. The local figure has received endless waves of support since opening his new custom clothing line, the Art Franklin Collection.
Merchandise can be found on the company’s website, but the news anchor turned entrepreneur was purposeful in the one physical location he chose to sell his products–Tres’ Fine Clothing in Ensley. “I want people to go to Ensley, and to buy the clothes in Ensley at that store,” Franklin shares, saying he wants people to visit the murals and local business-filled commercial district and patronize stores that they might not always shop at. Things have been off to a great start, with famous friends like former Alabama football then Indianapolis Colts star Chris Goode coming by and spreading the word about the shop’s opening to their friends. “It’s been really good, because it’s fulfilling the mission that is to push people there,” Art states after reflecting on a first month that witnessed city council members, dentists, members of his tennis community, co-workers, and friends from other stations visiting the happening fashion spot.
The Art Franklin Collection sells men’s fashion items like neckties, bowties, pocket squares, and suits–things the anchorman has become known for during his years on local news screens. “I’ve always loved to wear nice things. I remember in the early days when I didn’t have a whole lot of money, but I would always have a nice tie,” Franklin comments. “I wanted to make sure that I stood out. When you saw me on television I wanted to look different from the others on TV.”
He partnered with Tres’ Fine Clothing after what he thought was a casual visit to the store after a business meeting. Art entered the store with some pants to get hemmed “and ended up walking out of there with three jackets, some ties, and a conversation about me wanting to do a clothing line.” He quickly got to work studying everything that was involved in operating a clothing line, and was able to receive priceless advice from one of Tres’ mentors, Remon Danforah of Remon’s Clothier who “really laid out the business of a clothing line, and the apparel business.” The lessons paid off as Franklin has enjoyed a successful first couple months and has exciting plans including an athletic wear release in spring followed by a full suit line later in the year.
While Franklin’s built a reputation on reputable news and fashion sense, that was not always the life he saw for himself. “Journalism was not my first choice at the time. Even though I was a writer for the school newspaper in high school, I was also a part of the biomedical careers curriculum,” he shares. After entering the University of Michigan as a pre-med student, Franklin switched to Radio, Television, and Film “on a whim after watching television news and seeing Max Robinson, who became one of my idols. Max Robinson was the first African-American to anchor at network news with ABC World News Tonight.”
The more Franklin learned about Robinson, the more he related to how his hero became a journalist. “His desire to cover stories in communities that look like us and stories about us that weren’t being covered in the way that we felt they should be covered with a certain context and perspective that only we could bring those stories because we have lived those lives. And stories that have been untold.”
Franklin felt a call to cover stories that gave voice to the voiceless, and told stories about people of color that went beyond crime stories–something that dominated news at the time. “That’s what sparked my desire to be a journalist, and inspired me to work hard to be a credible journalist.” He understood the importance of being trusted by a community, and was ready to begin the long uphill battle that it would take to become a history-making and award-winning anchorman.
The road to primetime anchor is difficult for all who take the journey, but many stations across the country had yet to hire even one non-white male anchor when Art was entering the industry in Michigan. “I started in radio because I couldn’t just walk in a job. They weren’t looking to hire people who looked like me,” Franklin shares of his experience. Even in radio he’d have a hard time getting the opportunities he desired.
Although he wanted a radio news job, he was told he had the voice of a “Weekend Announcer” -- aka a DJ. He took the position and eventually became the midday announcer, then the midnight announcer. As his fame grew, he was still pressing to be in news segments. He was eventually hired for a sports radio show on WDZZ-FM in Flint, Michigan, where he received credentials to cover spots. He updated Michiganians on the inaugural year of the original USFL with the Michigan Panthers (both are coming back!), the Buick Open, and high school athletes and future sports legends like Glen Rice, Andre Rison, and Anthony Pendleton.
Franklin finally got his chance to cover local news while still keeping his 7 p.m. to midnight announcer job. His days got more hectic, with city council meetings often coming early in the morning after his late-night shifts. But the work was paying off. Franklin next prepared for his attempt to cross into television by recording an audition tape that covered the homelessness in Flint. He wrote and edited the piece, which was filmed by a local photographer, and was eventually hired at WILX in Lansing as a part-time reporter. Three months later he was promoted to business reporter, three months after that he was the capitol reporter, and right after that he made history as the first black man to head a regularly broadcast newscast in Lansing as the station’s weekend anchor.
His career took off from that moment. He moved to North Virginia to work as the military affairs correspondent for Norfolk-based WAVY-TV 10, where he also hosted a community affairs show called “The Bottom Line” and was the news director at a radio station in town. He was lovingly nicknamed “Mr. Broadcaster” by many in the city due to his constant presence on the information waves.
“That’s where I really grew up as a journalist,” Franklin states, recalling how “a kid from Detroit, Michigan” was now covering overseas assignments, going on deployments with sailors, flying with Blue Angels in a F18 fighter jet, and even being lowered onto a military ship from a helicopter near Morocco to cover how junior officers were spending time away from their family on holidays. “It was great. That’s how we have to get there, then that’s how we have to get there.”
Franklin did an investigative journalism piece on the USS Iowa explosion in the Number Two gun turret that killed 19 sailors, and the events that followed. The piece brought awareness and information to the tragedy, created an impact, and started a chain of events that eventually ended with Franklin moving to Birmingham, Alabama. He was hired at WBRC, which was with ABC at the time, where he eventually moved to weekdays at 5 p.m. with Brenda Ladun. The next year he was told, "We are going to make you a main anchor. We’re going to move you to the 6 and 10 o’clock newscast. You will be the first Black man to anchor in primetime in this market.”
Franklin recalls being shocked that it was 1993, and he’d be making this historical role as a black anchorman in primetime once again. He remembers his news director telling him he’d be more popular than the mayor, and soon every other station in Birmingham joined in hiring a Black male main anchor. “The city that was once considered the most segregated city in the world had a black male anchor in [primetime on every station] at 6 o’clock. It was me at WBRC, Mike Moore at Channel 13, Josh Thomas over at ABC 33/40, and Chris Shauble over at WBMG. It was quite an accomplishment for any market in the country to have that be the case, and the story was because I broke through the door that opened the door for everyone else.” While he was later told stories of his news director fielding racist phone calls, the city at-large was ready to embrace Franklin, his fellow anchormen, and forward progress on local television.
Franklin has continued to have an eventful life. He eventually moved to Atlanta for nine years, where he worked at two stations WXIA and Fox 5 weekend anchor before starting a public relations company. He would also author a book titled “Give It All You Got: A Message To My Young Brothers”, which was written after the tragic killing of his nephew. His entire family was devastated, and Franklin began pouring lessons he learned in life onto pages in his nephew’s memory. “A book to really try to give some guidance to young men on the choices that they make, and how those choices impact their lives either positively or negatively,” Franklin shares, saying many of his own good decisions were “born out of what my mother distilled upon me and also demanded of me academically and the way you treat others.” He’s nearly finished with his first fiction book, which allows him to enter more mythical worlds and entirely new premises than his nonfiction writings.
Art Franklin is also distinguished as an Emmy Award winner, and for that he is forever thankful. He says that his photographer Bill Castle, who is still working in the market at ABC 33/40, deserves every bit of those recognitions as well. Franklin’s received even more inspiring honors in recent years. “While the Emmy was great, the thing that was really good for me was when I was inducted into the Silver Circle for the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. That was in 2019, and that’s for 25 years or more of service that you have in the industry.” He went on to share that the Silver Circle features a flat Emmy, indicating a whole body of work–not just a single project or period of time.
Franklin as anchor also won an Edward R. Murrow award, alongside his producer and executive producer of digital, for their “Coronavirus House Calls” series in “Excellence In Innovation in Large Market Television, Region 9” in 2021. “That was the one that really showed that we worked hard,” Franklin states, noting how recent interviews with prominent national figures like Dr. Anthony Fauci, UAB’s Dr. Michael Saag, and Mark Cuban–and the coverage these moments bring to our state–meant a lot to him.
In all that he does, Franklin aims to uplift the neighborhoods around him. “I’ve got to do things in my community and for people who look like me because I think it’s incumbent upon me to give back because so many people fought for me to get to where I am. Whether it’s the civil rights movement or whatever, people fought–some people died–in order for me to have the right to do what I do that I have to give back.” He’s done so in a multitude of ways including breakfast clubs, tutorial programs, scholarships, his U-Turn program at juvenile detention centers, gang lock-ins at 4th Avenue YMCA, advisory boards at Lawson State, and even stepping with Rickey Smiley at Woodlawn football games.
As much as he’s poured into the city, Art feels the love poured right back into him. “Birmingham has been like a good friend. Someone that you can depend on. Who is always there in your corner and will lift you up.” Franklin can’t help but be proud of the city that has given him so much support over the years.
“Birmingham today is a Birmingham that is much more progressive from the way it was when I was first introduced to this community in 1991. It’s a community that is closer than it’s ever been, that I’ve seen, in terms of how we get along with one another. It is a city that is on the rise. When you think of all the greatness that is coming to this city with the USFL being based here, with the World Games coming, with the Birmingham Squadron. I see a community that is really a hidden gem, that people are going to learn more about with the focus on this city.”
“This city is really taking off. I’m so proud to be in this city, to see the growth here in Birmingham, and to be a part of the future of Birmingham because I think it’s really bright,” Franklins reflects. We agree – and we thank the Birmingham figure for his role in making this city shine.