Now safely ensconced as the third wheel to co-anchors Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb on NBC-TV’s The Today Show, there was a time when Al Roker hailed from our neck of the woods, back during the early 1970s when he was attending school at SUNY Oswego and as a weather forecaster on WTVH-Channel 5. And for a very short time, Roker also put pen to paper as a Syracuse New Times cartoonist for the comic strip “Salt and Pepper,” which debuted in the Oct. 3, 1976, issue.
“I want the strip to reflect Syracuse,” noted Roker. “You know, a good time.”
With that, Roker married “Doonesbury”-style drollness to the Salt City scene, as his central characters Gregory Salt (a visual alter ego for the artist) and his Caucasian roommate McFarland W. Pepper lobbed then-timely shots at area politicians, multimillion-dollar edifices (such as the brand-new Civic Center), the deteriorating downtown picture (a background image in one panel depicts the Flah’s department store with a closed sign on its doors) and even local television programs (a spoof of rival weatherguy Bud Hedinger, who hosted Channel 3’s Bowling for Dollars).
Beyond the sometimes spicy seasoning of “Salt and Pepper,” however, Roker’s New Times’ stint was short and sweet. Roker drew just 10 strips before pulling the plug on his characters, as he pulled up his Syracuse stakes at year’s end to head for major-market status at a TV station in Washington, D.C.
This retro sampling of strips from joker Roker’s New Times career provides a glimpse of the observational humor that would eventually propel this wisenheimer weatherman to early-morning stardom.