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The circuitous life of an Alabama storyteller

Alabama Living Magazine

By Stephen V. Smith

“There’s a story everywhere you look for one,” says Fred Hunter. And he’s always looking.

While viewers of Birmingham television station WBRC have long appreciated his delivery of timely and accurate weather news, it’s not meteorology that Hunter is best known for. People across the state recognize the man under his trademark Stetson hat as the face of the program, “Absolutely Alabama.”

Fred Hunter, wearing his trademark Stetson, pauses at the trailhead of the Talmadge Butler Boardwalk Trail during filming of a segment of “Absolutely Alabama” on the Alabama Birding Trail. Photo by Mikel Yeakle

The long-running series took Hunter and his faithful photographer Mike Tucker to all corners of Alabama and everywhere in between, capturing the stories of the people, places, and events that contribute to the state’s character. Originally a 30-minute show when launched in 1997, it was later changed to a series of three- to five-minute pieces that ran as segments in newscasts and as YouTube videos.

“We explored small towns, big cities, and Alabama’s rural countryside to uncover the sometimes hidden but always fascinating stories that comprise our state’s rich cultural tapestry,” says Hunter. “Practically everywhere I go — especially if I’m wearing the Stetson — people stop and talk to me about their favorite episodes.”

“Absolutely Alabama” ended its 25-year run in December 2022. Hunter retired from his life as a meteorologist in April, but is quick to point out that a storyteller never retires.

“I’m a product of Alabama,” Hunter says. “I sprouted from the rich soil of Northeast Alabama and was fed and watered across every region of our great state. I’ll be telling her stories until the day they lower me into the Alabama soil.”

Growing up co-op

Hunter was born in Fort Payne and his parents brought him home to the Chavies community near Rainsville, served by Sand Mountain Electric Cooperative. His father’s work in retail took the family to several towns across the state, including two stints in Opp where they lived on the Covington Electric Cooperative system. They returned to Sand Mountain in the 1960s, where Hunter graduated from Fyffe High School.

“To me, the electric cooperative story has always been one of the greatest examples of neighbors taking care of one another,” says Hunter. “The rural south was so far behind the rest of the country in terms of infrastructure, and the electric cooperative program helped us help ourselves. Some of the finest, hardest-working people I ever met growing up were those linemen and the rest of the folks who ran the co-ops. They were the pillars of the community.”

Hunter visits with innkeeper Cynthia Stinson at the Mentone Inn Bed & Breakfast. Photo Courtesy Fred Hunter

Although today he lives outside of Tuscaloosa, Hunter and his wife Ivy have continued their cooperative connection. They previously owned property on the Baldwin EMC system and today enjoy their cabin getaway on Lookout Mountain near Mentone, served by Cherokee Electric Cooperative.

Texas and back again

Hunter earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Alabama in the mid-1970s, while taking advantage of distance learning with Mississippi State University to become certified in meteorology. Following roles at TV stations in Tuscaloosa, Montgomery, and Myrtle Beach, Hunter landed a position at KTBC in Austin, Texas. He fell in love with the music, food, history, and people of the city.

It was here that Hunter’s life as a storyteller began in full force. “Shortly after taking on the weather duties, I was called to a meeting with the station’s general manager,” Hunter relates. “He told me that the station — like so many others, even to this day — received numerous viewer complaints about all the negative stories they aired. He wanted me to start a series called ‘Positively Texas.’ I began the series where all great Texas stories begin — at the Alamo.”

Visiting with Chris Richardson of Richardson Axeworks in Bluff Park. Photo Courtesy Fred Hunter

For more than two years, Hunter shared positive Texas stories with KTBC viewers. But in the spring of 1997 when he heard of a meteorologist job opening in Birmingham, he knew this was a chance to move back home. “I loved Austin,” he explains, “but as Coach Bryant said when explaining his decision to leave Texas A&M for the head coaching job at the University of Alabama, ‘Momma called.’”

What followed was the most unusual — and shortest — interview of Hunter’s career. “I walked into the news director’s office at WBRC,” he recalls, “where I was greeted by Peggy, a no-nonsense red-haired woman with Texas roots. She said, ‘You’re coming back to Birmingham to be my weekend weatherman, and you’re going to produce a weekly series like ‘Positively Texas.’ We’re going to call it ‘Absolutely Alabama.’ I’ve already spoken to your news director in Austin. You start in two weeks. I can’t give you a raise from what you’re making, but I can get you back home. Do you have any questions?’”

“No ma’am,” was his reply, and the “Absolutely Alabama” journey began.

‘Absolutely Alabama’ and Beyond

For 25 years, Hunter shared stories about people from all walks of life through the popular series. He visited owners of restaurants and small businesses. A specialty sock manufacturer, cracker maker and innkeeper. Craftsmen and entrepreneurs of all ilk. Artists, creators, musicians. From the W.C. Handy Music Festival in Florence to the National Shrimp Festival in Gulf Shores, Hunter was there showing the world all that is special about his home state.

And he isn’t finished. While he’s not returning to television, Hunter plans to continue telling stories in his retirement. His new project is called, aptly, “Fred Hunter’s Alabama.” It features a website, fredhuntersalabama.com, along with an email newsletter. At the center of this personal project is a new podcast, which can be found on all major podcast platforms under the name Fred Hunter’s Alabama.

As he begins a new chapter in life, Hunter is excited to share Alabama stories with old friends while introducing a new generation of readers and listeners to the fascinating people, places, and adventures of their state.

“Storytelling is in my blood,” Hunter says. “It’s part of who I am, and something I hope to keep doing for many years to come.”

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