New Beginnings – Chateau Chic November 2023November 7, 2023
l’Assemblée de la Louisiane – Point of Vue November 2023November 7, 2023
It all started with the flip of a coin.
That’s right. HTV exists today because of a coin toss. It makes you stop and think “What if that coin had fallen to heads?” Nearly 40 years of our community’s history wouldn’t be here and possibly neither would Martin Folse if fate had brought him down another road.
Let’s back up a few decades, shall we?
Martin Folse was born in Thibodaux and raised in Houma. He grew up one of six children, raised in Mulberry subdivision by Eugene and Lorraine Folse. A graduate of Vandebilt Catholic High School and Nicholls State University, Martin has made a career with HTV and the programming that brings our community more than just the news. But his love for film and journalism started well before his college years, when an 11-year-old Martin purchased his first movie camera.
“Dr. Jerry Haydel had a movie camera,” Martin recalled. “He had an old 8mm camera, and he would film everything and play it on a projector. I asked my daddy if he would buy me one. He said no, but ‘I’m going to let you work around the neighborhood to earn the money to buy one.’ So I started knocking on doors and seeing if people wanted their grass cut. I charged 50 cents.”
After some time, Martin earned the $56 to purchase the camera from L&N Camera Center. With not quite enough in his pocket to cover the taxes, Mr. Eugene pitched in to help his son with the purchase.
“The first thing I ever filmed in my life was my dad, right there in the store,” Martin shared. “I put the film in the camera while we were standing there and filmed him. It’s nostalgic to me, even to this day. Those are the things I cherish the most – all those films I have of my family from the early days. Myself, the Haydels, the Thompsons – we made movies around the neighborhood. And that set the tone for what I wanted to be.”
But the ultimate decision was still made by chance.
According to Martin, it came down to a coin toss at Dr. Bobby Haydel and Mrs. Fe’s home. As Martin and Bobby Jr. were filling out their applications to LSU, Dr. Bobby asked Martin, “Well, Martin, what are you going to do?” At the time, Martin was torn between pre-med and mass communication.
“I asked Dr. Bobby for a quarter and I flipped it – heads, pre-med, and tails, communications,” laughed Martin. “And it was tails. So I went into mass communication. Otherwise, I might have been a doctor, and would have had better hours!”
Martin began his college career at LSU, walking onto the track team his first semester. Soon after however, he realized, “my jumping ability, which was pretty good in high school, was only mediocre in college!” and began to focus on his education. At the time, the journalism department had been placed on probation, so Martin returned home to attend Nicholls State University.
The return to the bayou put Martin in the right place to launch his first career highlight, his movie, “Nutria Man” which is now known as “Terror in the Swamp”.
“People thought I was crazy, and rightly so! But after a hunting trip where a nutria was killed, I started thinking about what would happen if there was a nutria that turned on people? And that’s how Nutria Man got started. I conspired with another person and wrote up the script,” shared Martin. “We got to work filming it and then it was time to get it out there. I flew to California, and snuck into Warner Brothers studios.”
While Warner Brothers passed on the chance, the studio president did send a then 22-year-old Martin to a friend at New World Pictures who bought the film. While it wasn’t a blockbuster, to Martin, it was a success.
“Nutria Man broke even, almost to the penny,” smiled Martin. “I was able to bring each of my investors their check back. And to me, that’s what was most important.”
Coming off the success of Nutria Man, Martin planned on being in the movie business for the rest of his life. But Hollywood was a different place than the small Louisiana town of Houma. “There were certain things happening in the movie industry, where other people were trying to make movies and taking advantage of people to do so. I didn’t believe in that,” explained Martin. “I always told people this has to be money you are willing to, say, put in a garbage can, then in a couple of years open it up. It might multiply or it might be gone! I didn’t want peoples’ life savings. Things didn’t work out, but that all led me back to my degree, and got me to thinking ‘What am I going to do now?’”
HTV FINDS A HOME
Vision Cable in Houma was looking for someone to produce their shows at the time, to film things in the community like council meetings. Martin took the job, but was quickly bored, only producing two shows a month. An always energetic person, Martin was determined to make something out of nothing and created a portfolio of ideas for the channel. In the fall of 1985, he flew unannounced to New Jersey to meet with the president of Vision Cable.
“He granted me two hours of his time and went over the ideas,” said Martin. “When we were through, he said it’s still not something he was wanting to do on a local level. So I asked if I could lease the channel. He agreed and we drew up the papers the next day.”
From there, Martin needed to acquire the FCC licenses for the area. There was one for Houma and one for Morgan City. Both were owned by Woody Jenkins at the time. After a bit of conversation with local business owners, he agreed to sell them both to Martin. The license for KFOL is for channel 30 in Houma, and the license for KJUN is channel 7 in Morgan City. However, on cable TV, they are combined onto channel 10, which reaches 12 parishes.
In 1985, Martin began broadcasting with two hours of programming a day.
“I was the only employee!” he chucked. “I would film myself, do the research, clean the toilets – everything was in an old back room on Hwy. 311 that Mr. Burt Cook rented me.”
From that location, Martin moved to a space rented to him by Mr. Ronnie Haydel on Barrow Street. From there, he moved to a larger building on St. Charles, rented to him by Mr. Jimmy Buquet. It was a tough business to break into, a hard sell in a world that was accustomed to advertising in the local newspaper. But Martin worked hard to create good programming that would bring something to the community we are a part of. His goal was to tell the good stories of the people who live here, and to maybe have a little fun while doing it.
“I started going around and just interviewing people,” Martin said. “I thought I was a comedian, and would let people tell jokes on tv. I would even play practical jokes on people, like asking people to eat a meatball and then tell them it was [dog food]! As payback for that stunt, I had to wrestle the bear at Fantasies. There was a lot of fun stuff in the early years. But I had to cover the hard stuff too. Political debates, local tragedies – things we still cover today as part of the news. Although we’ve had some doozy stories on HTV, 90 percent of the stories I do are about the good people have done. I was told ‘you’ll never survive by just telling good stories.’ But I’m still here, 40 years later.”
Programming at HTV has always been focused on the people that call the community home. From religious broadcasts, to bayou time, to late night musical talents, there has always been something for everyone on our local cable channel.
A few of the shows that have stuck out over the years include “Cover Story”, “The Beat”, and “Laid Back.”
“The Beat” was immediately a success, in a time before reality tv, two years before the syndicated show “Cops” hit the airwaves. In this program, a camera crew and Martin rode along with local police, mostly the Houma Police Department, and filmed arrests of local suspected criminals. Despite its success on the air, The Beat was eventually canceled for what Martin feels was the right reason.
“The Beat was our number one show. You couldn’t go anywhere without people saying, I saw The Beat! One day, a gentleman came into my lobby. He had been arrested for a DWI and was on The Beat. We always had a policy: First DWI, we are not going to show. Second one, we blur your face. Third one, we don’t blur your face. When the police arrested him, they made a mistake. They said it was his third, but it was his first. He came in the lobby and shared: ‘Martin, Let me tell you what happened.’ He explained and then he said, ‘I thought about committing suicide last night when I saw that piece’. And it hit me. [This show] has that kind of power over people and their families. I walked in the back that day and I canceled The Beat. It was a money maker! But it wasn’t worth it.”
Martin and HTV have continued to go off the beaten path of what other news stations in the area did when it came to programming. For Martin, it was always his compassion in a tug of war with what a “real news person’s supposed to be”. It’s a continuous battle that rages internally. But as compassion wins out again and again, we continue to tune in for the content we know and expect from our resident journalist.
Hurricanes have always been a big part of our lives here on the bayou. It’s part of the gig when it comes to reporting, as hurricanes take center stage for six months out of the year. Martin has continued to stay in the eye of the storm, staying on air as long as the storm allows, not to be a stunt, but to be a voice of reason as the national news stations sensationalize the impact on our area. Over the years, his hurricane coverage gave him tremendous credibility and built an audience that won’t tune in anywhere else to hear about what’s happening during a storm. And you can’t forget the stick.
“I’ve been covering hurricanes since 1985. And the stick – the stick was so simple,” Martin smiles. “There’s a formula I follow and about four different maps I look at – I can pretty much place a stick on it and be correct on landfall within about 25 miles. I’ve got the last seven or so correct. But that stick – man, people love that. And it’s just a reference tool to point to landfall. But now it’s famous.”
During Hurricane Ida, Martin felt it was important to continue to stay on the air and continue to report as the storm passed right over our hometown. People tuned in from all over through social media to continue to get the facts about the damage and the aftermath.
“At one point we had 696,000 people watching for Ida. People said, well, yeah they are watching, waiting on you to walk outside and do something ridiculous, because the storm was being touted as one of the worst ever. But they were watching to hear it from a team they know and trust. I wasn’t going to overplay it or oversell it. We stayed on the air with what was actually happening for five weeks straight.”
As the only local television station since 1985, Martin has recorded what must be one of the largest collections of this area’s visual and spoken history, with personal interviews, coverage of community events, and other recorded footage. Through his one on one interviews with some of our area’s notable individuals, we are able to preserve their stories for future generations. HTV is currently in the process of archiving old footage digitally to ensure its preservation.
“The first one on one interview I did was called Cover Story,” explained Martin. “I started them in 1985. I’ve done thousands of interviews with people who are no longer here. When I find out someone has passed, I call my team and say ‘pull the tape.’ I didn’t think about it then, when I was young. As I get older, I think about all the things I’ve captured on tape. I think the uniqueness of HTV is our local niche. New Orleans stations aren’t coming down. But HTV is here every day, covering groundbreakings, the debates, the games, the store openings – we don’t get to them all, we’re still too small to do that. But I guarantee we try our best!”
Martin recalls the three most important interviews he’s ever done in his life: his grandparents, his dad and his mom. “I sat them down and did extensive interviews. My grandparents have passed away. Dad’s passed away. My mom is still living, but it’s still amazing to look back at those films. To see my mawmaw and pawpaw and hear their stories. To hear my daddy talk about World War II and the atomic bomb. It’s something to hear them opening up and telling their stories.”
THE MUSIC MAN
Martin is also well known for his love of music. A songwriter and musician himself, he feels the music in his soul and it moves him to write. A member of the band The Canebreakers, you can often find him gigging on the weekends along with a crew of bandmates who also have full time day jobs. But the dream lives on through the sound of music.
“I don’t make a living playing music, but I write songs all the time,” shared Martin. “I’ve written 150 songs. And I love it when people pick up the songs and they play them. I’ve heard a few of my songs on somebody else’s CD. I was on a date one night and one of the songs came on and the girl goes, ‘God, I love that song.’ I never told her it was mine.”
His love of music also led to the HTV program “Laid Back.” This show welcomed many well-known and famous musicians into the HTV studios for jam sessions. Over the years, the show hosted Rick Springfield, Eddie Money, Little River Band, Cowboy Mouth, Marshall Tucker Band, Tab Benoit, Randy Jackson, and many more. Local musicians were able to go on the show and launch their careers.
“This area just has so many incredible musicians, and they want to do this for a living,” smiles Martin. “We were always willing to put them on the air. It was such a fun time, such an amazing show. I loved hearing the music and the harmonies. Hearing the music now still brings me back to those days.”
INTO THE FUTURE
As HTV races into its 40th year of broadcasting, it’s natural to begin to wonder about its staying power. How will a local television station continue to meet the needs of the community? Simply by staying local.
“There may be a point where we can’t survive anymore, but what a loss that would be,” sighed Martin. “To have no one local going around and getting interviews from people and recording the news – what a loss. We will survive by continuing to be the credible source for news, by asking people into the TV station to do the interviews. They sit with me and trust me. We bring a certain credibility by doing the interview.”
When social media began to take off, Martin implemented a new plan. Every show taped goes on Facebook and YouTube. By adding the digital element to his broadcasts, HTV is able to reach a wider audience and continue to bring credible news from our area, across the country.
With the future of the broadcast settled, what about the future of Martin Folse? A spry young man in his 60th decade, the world is still wide open for his creative mind to continue to keep up with the television station he breathed life into. Looking back on his life and his career, Martin finds no real regrets, having accomplished the majority of what he set out to do. His only lament is perhaps being a workaholic got in the way of a personal life.
“It’s hard work. When other people work, we work. When people play, we work. We are there on the holidays,” explained Martin. “You know, everybody’s enjoying the 4th of July and we’re out there covering the event. And it’s been a great career for me. I love what I do. I don’t think I could’ve picked a career that would’ve suited me better. I love to do this. But I think the reason I don’t have any heirs, and this is a very truthful statement, is that I was married to HTV. I’m still married to HTV. I’m a workaholic.”
Looking back on all of his years at the news desk and in the community, Martin reflected back on what he feels were his two largest stories, one on a local convenience store and its connections to the Middle East in the 2000s and the other a school bus fight in the early 1980s.
“A good news person in the business will always look back at their stories and identify their regrets,” shared Martin. “[The school bus fight] changed politics in the area. It was so intense that it was a community divided on the issue. I look back and think, was it all worth it? Could we have settled it over a cup of coffee? Some people come to me now, and they’re mad at someone, and they’re ready to sue, and I tell them go have a cup of coffee with the person and if in 15 minutes, if you still want to sue, there you go.”
Martin also remains proud to have always honored his parents. He shared that it is important to honor them and thank them while our parents are still with us. Sure, we can do it in prayer, but why not let them know every day what they mean to us. He is also reminded daily of the blessing that it is to work in a career that he loves.
“My grandmother before she died said, don’t ever stop putting God on your channel. To this day, the rosary still plays in the morning. We have God all over the channel in our choice of programming. I’ve always thought, you know, the reason the channel is still open is not because I’m such a great salesperson. The reason we are still open is because of God. Without God, none of it’s possible. And I’ll leave it at that.”