Life Lessons: Larry Sprinkle
Born to be a weatherman, thankful to be alive
IF YOU'VE WATCHED local TV, you’ve seen Larry Sprinkle. The weatherman has been a fixture on Charlotte’s NBC affiliate, WCNC, for more than 41 years. He’s known for his smooth voice, his wacky Halloween characters, and his steady delivery. And yes, that’s his real name.
Sprinkle was involved in a serious car accident in May 2016, suffering injuries that confined him to a rehabilitation center for more than three months while he re-learned how to walk. Friends and longtime fans heaped get-well wishes upon him.
Sprinkle has been back on the job since October 2016, and he talked to Charlotte magazine about his career and his recovery from the life-threatening accident. Here he is, in his own words. (Edited for clarity and space.)
When I was 9, I went to the TV station up in Winston-Salem, and I met the weatherman. He showed me the station and said, “You know, son, if you stay in school, you study, and you start learning about weather, you can have a job like this one day.” I was fascinated with weather, but that really started my fascination with broadcasting.
The first thing people ask is, “That’s not your real name, is it?” Yeah, it is. And when I met that weatherman, he also told me, “With a name like Sprinkle, what else could you do?” That’s destiny, right there. They did a promo here years ago: “Larry Sprinkle, he was born to do weather.”
But I had a whole other career in radio and commercials before I got into weather. I was in a theater group that traveled the world. I worked on movies such as Firestarter with nine-year-old Drew Barrymore and with Ozzy Osbourne in movie called Trick or Treat.
I came to Charlotte for TV in 1976. For this job, I’m up around 1:30 a.m.-ish every day. I get here 2:30-ish, and you hit the ground running. You start on the computer, where you’re forecasting, you’re doing the graphics, everything it takes to go on the air at 4:30. We have a meeting in the newsroom around 3:30, where I go over the weather for the day and the week. The rest of the time, you’re doing the job. I’m on the air at least 7-8 times per hour.
I never think of myself as anything more than a part of the team on this TV station—I just happen to have been here a long time. Kind of like an old shoe, there’s a comfort level, I guess, that people have with you. They see you for years and years and years and they think, “I guess we like this guy. He’s been here a long time. I guess we’ll watch him.”
I’ve been dressing up as different Halloween characters since 1998 when the Today show began doing it. The first year, I had two or three characters, and now I do nine to 11 per show. Last year, I did them all, even though everyone said I should back off because of my physical limitations as a result of the accident.
Which is a good segue to the accident. On May 4, 2016, I’d been out of town and I was coming back into Charlotte. It was late in the afternoon and I was on I-485. I was tired. In a flash, in an instant, the traffic stopped. And I didn’t. I hit a huge pickup truck. I did almost nothing to the truck, did not hurt the people—thank the Lord for that. But for me, it just took the whole front of the car and shoved it back into the driver’s side. So, the console and the steering wheel were up against my chest. I think there was a blackout moment, but not that long. When I was awakened, there was activity all around me. I could hear someone in the back say, “Man, is that Larry Sprinkle inside that car? That’s him, isn’t it?”
I said, “You guys are going to have to use the Jaws of Life to get me out of here,” and the firefighter goes, “You’re right.” Within a few minutes, they had a blanket they put in front of me, and they started using that and a lot of other equipment to extract me from the car. It was terrifying and it was just an awful, horrendous experience.
They took me to Carolinas Medical Center, and the medical staff at the hospital put me back together. I had fractured ribs, I had a broken left hand, I had a broken right leg, shattered ankle, broken left leg, and shattered knee. Then I had multiple lacerations that were just as bad as it gets.
From the time I started working as a teenager, as crazy as it sounds, I never ever took a sick day. Never. But on that day, my life literally and figuratively stopped. I was dealing with the fact that I had no control of anything, that I had to lean on other people, my family, to help me, the medical staff to help me. If it wasn’t for my family and the medical team, I wouldn’t be talking to you today. You hear that phrase “life-changing,” and there’s no doubt about it. Forever; it changes your life forever.
I went to Carolinas Rehabilitation, where they got me back on my feet, and I learned how to walk again. I didn’t know how to walk. I never in my life thought that I would one day go, “How do I walk?” I said to a therapist, “I don’t know which foot goes first, left or right?” I was in a wheelchair up until September.
I was back on air October 12. The station has been just so supportive and so aware of my situation that it was a comfort level knowing that they said, “You just get well. You come back when you can. Your job is there when you get back.”
And the community, I’m not sure I could ever say enough and say it the right way, to thank people for the support. I received emails, Facebook messages, text messages, letters—so many cards and letters—and phone calls from every part of this community. I guess sometimes being in this job, you don’t realize the impact you have on people’s lives.
There were times when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to walk back into the station. And when I did, it was one of the happiest days ever.
I’ve learned so much about myself. The toughest thing is that I need to slow down. I can’t do everything. I used to say yes to everything, and I need to change that. I’ve learned life is precious and you need to focus on that and be thankful for every moment you live.
At one point when I was in the rehab center in my wheelchair, I was in the garden by myself. I had always heard this expression, so I looked around and kind of looked behind me, both sides, pushed myself over and I stopped and smelled the roses. I’ll do it (more now). Because I’ve been made to stop and smell the roses.
JODIE VALADE is a freelance journalist based in Charlotte. Reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter: @JodieValade.